A study undertaken in Sao Paulo, Brazil suggests acupuncture and moxibustion can improve the chances of becoming pregnant, in women for whom IVF has previously not worked. Eighty-four patients who had experienced at least two unsuccessful IVF cycles, were randomly allocated to receive either no treatment, sham acupuncture (superficial needling of the arm and thigh at points not associated with reproduction), or true acupuncture with moxibustion. Acupuncture was given four times: on the first and seventh days of ovulation induction; on the day before egg collection; and on the day after embryo transfer.
The pregnancy rate of 36% in the acupuncture group was significantly higher than in either of the two control groups, which were 7% and 11%.
(Influence of Acupuncture on the Outcomes of In Vitro Fertilisation when Embryo Implantation has Failed: A Prospective Randomised Controlled Clinical Trial. Acupuncture in Medicine, on-line 2013.)
Results from a meta-analysis by Chinese authors, indicate that acupuncture, especially around the time of controlled ovarian stimulation, improves pregnancy outcomes in women undergoing IVF. The research also suggests that a more positive outcome is likely when the acupuncture is given according to an individualised treatment plan for the patient, as is the case with traditional Chinese acupuncture.
A total of 23 trials, covering 5598 women, were included in the study; the trials had been conducted across nine different countries, including Germany, the US, Australia and Sweden. The pooled clinical pregnancy rate from all groups treated with acupuncture, was found to be significantly higher than that in the control groups. The live birth rate was not significantly different.
(The Role of Acupuncture in Assisted Reproductive Technology. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, epub 2 July 2012.)
Researchers in Brazil have concluded that acupuncture can reduce the symptoms of anxiety in women undergoing a course of IVF treatment. A total of 43 women were randomly allocated to receive either true acupuncture, or sham acupuncture using needles inserted in the vicinity of, but not actually at, acupuncture points. Treatment comprised four weekly sessions, after which the mean IVF anxiety score in the acupuncture group was significantly lower compared to the sham treatment group.
(Effect of Acupuncture on Symptoms of Anxiety in Women undergoing In Vitro Fertilisation: A Prospective Randomised Controlled Study. Acupuncture in Medicine, April 2012, epub ahead of print.)
American researchers have investigated the effects of acupuncture during IVF on cortisol and prolactin levels in patients undergoing the associated drug treatment. Sixty-seven women were randomised to receive either standard IVF alone or IVF plus acupuncture. Levels of cortisol and prolactin in the blood, were measured regularly during the treatment cycle. Cortisol levels in the acupuncture group were significantly higher on IVF medication days 7, 8, 9, 11, 12 & 13, compared with the control group. Prolactin levels in the acupuncture group were significantly higher on IVF medication days 5 ,6, 7 & 8, compared with the control group.
The authors of the study conclude that acupuncture appears to achieve beneficial regulation of these hormones during the medication phase of the IVF process, and a trend towards more normal fertile cycle characteristics. They add “With the data presented in this study, there does appear to be biochemical changes associated with the use of acupuncture in IVF that may explain the demonstrated improvements in reproductive outcomes. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years, and while modern technology has assisted many couples to create families, we can expect even greater outcomes when both Eastern and Western medicines are combined.”
(Changes in serum cortisol & prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation-embryo transfer treatment. Fertility & Sterility, December 2009.)
You may have seen the wide publicity recently given to the IVF research below, which looked at acupuncture given within one day of embryo transfer. However, research only answers the question which was asked, and if you ask about the effects of a single treatment close to transfer, then that is all you can draw conclusions on.
Based on my experience of using acupuncture for infertility, and support through the IVF process, it is my belief that success rates are even higher when women commence acupuncture treatment a minimum of three months prior to embarking on IVF. This allows us to identify from a Chinese medical perspective, any subtle causes of difficulty conceiving, and to try to correct these with treatment, usually once a week. Along with this goes some important and individually-tailored lifestyle advice as well. In the best cases, this approach can open up the possibility of a natural conception, without IVF proving necessary. Otherwise, I often feel that the same factors which have impeded natural conception to date, can continue to operate to reduce the chance of a successful IVF outcome.