Study casts doubt on whether acupuncture can boost IVF success
Women having acupuncture to increase their chances of having a baby through IVF might be wasting their time, new research has found.
- Study finds acupuncture didn't increase birth rate in IVF
- Many IVF clinics offer acupuncture as an added treatment
- IVF mum says treatment is "relaxing" and gives her "sense of control"
A landmark Australian study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found no difference in birth rates in women who had regular acupuncture, compared to those who did not.
The study's lead author, Professor Caroline Smith of Western Sydney University, said acupuncture might help to improve relaxation and reduce stress for women undergoing IVF treatment.
However, she said the "rationale that maybe acupuncture might help increase blood flow to the uterine tissues and ovarian tissues … (which) may have had an impact on fertility" was debunked by the study.
In the trial of more than 800 women, half received real acupuncture, whilst the rest of the participants received what is called "sham" acupuncture, in which non-invasive needles are placed away from acupuncture points.
Just over 18.3 per cent of the women given acupuncture became pregnant and had a baby, compared to 17.8 per cent in the other group.
The rates of pregnancy were also similar, with 25 per cent in the real acupuncture group falling pregnant compared to 21 per cent in the sham group.
Acupuncture is for relaxation, IVF specialist says
Senior IVF specialist Professor Michael Chapman said the view that acupuncture increased chances of becoming pregnant was probably wrong.
"Women should view acupuncture as a form of relaxation, not to improve their chances of a baby," Professor Chapman said.
The trial was held at 16 IVF centres in Australia and New Zealand.
Acupuncture was given while women were taking hormones to stimulate ovulation, then before and after embryos were transferred.
Importantly, women and medical staff were not told whether the women were receiving real or fake acupuncture.
The acupuncture points were on the abdomen, arms and legs, designed to stimulate nerves to the uterus and areas in the body that reduce the stress response.
President of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society Peter Berryman said the latest study was a single piece of evidence, and other studies had shown benefits of acupuncture for IVF.
"A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 showed when women had acupuncture two days before an embryo transfer, success went up by 65 per cent," Mr Berryman said.
He added that acupuncture had been proven useful for thousands of years.
'I was willing to try anything to help the IVF process'
Carmel Parente tried IVF for two and a half years to get pregnant before taking part in the acupuncture study published in JAMA.
"At that point, I was willing to try whatever I had to do to help things along a little bit," Ms Parente said.
She was not told whether she was having the real treatment or the placebo.
While taking part in the study, Ms Parente became pregnant with her son Aidan, now almost five years old.
"The acupuncture was quick, I found it really relaxing so if that helped a little bit, I don't know," she said.
"It just helps to know you are doing something and gaining back a little bit of control."
Now the results have been published, Ms Parente has been told she received the real acupuncture.
"That's surprising. I was sure I had been given the placebo," she said.
When is acupuncture effective?
Patients use acupuncture for a range of health issues, but the evidence is mixed. In 2017, Australian researchers found acupuncture was effective for back and ankle pain.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom only recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic tension-type headaches and migraines.
Other recent evidence also suggested that a course of acupuncture consisting of six treatment sessions can be a valuable option for people with migraines.
Acupuncture might be helpful for head or neck pain, according to another review.
In that study, Kien Trinh of McMaster University in Canada, and colleagues, reviewed 27 studies of 5,462 people with neck pain from various causes.
They found acupuncture worked better than fake treatments or no treatment at all in reducing pain. It has also shown helpful for people with knee osteoarthritis.