Acupuncture with IVF ‘doubles the chances of getting pregnant’
- Over 46 per cent of women undergoing acupuncture treatment conceived
- While only 21.7 per cent of the women became pregnant in the other group
- Treatment may be offered as a possible method of improving IVF outcome
- Expert says it may only work due to patient spending time with practitioner
Acupuncture with IVF may double the chances of a woman conceiving, a study has found.
Among couples undergoing the fertility treatment, the likelihood of pregnancy was greatly improved if the woman also had acupuncture with IVF.
Scientists at Homerton University Hospital studied 127 women aged between 23 and 43, on their first or second cycle of IVF.
They were split into two groups – one having four sessions of acupuncture with IVF, and the other having none.
Among the treatment group, 46.2 per cent conceived – more than twice as many as in the other group, where only 21.7 per cent of the women became pregnant.
The needle technique was used before any eggs were retrieved from the woman’s body – and then again before and after the fertilized embryo was implanted.
The researchers, led by Karin Gillerman, said previous clinical trials have ‘precluded any firm conclusion’ about the treatment.
But they added: ‘The results of this study imply acupuncture may be offered as a possible method of improving IVF outcome.’
However, they warned that simply the act of paying more attention to the group who had acupuncture may have acted as a placebo effect.
In research presented at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, the authors wrote of the study’s limitations: ‘The additional attention paid to the acupuncture group as opposed to controls may have had a positive psychological influence.’
The NHS advises on its Choices website that acupuncture is safe when practised with good hygiene by a qualified practitioner.
The main risk to pregnant women having IVF acupuncture is from blood-borne diseases caused by unclean needles – similar to the risks from getting a tattoo or a body piercing – and the chance that these could infect the baby.
Local authorities have bylaws that govern the cleanliness of acupuncture premises, their instruments and equipment.
Mild side effects include pain, bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin, drowsiness, and feeling sick or dizzy.
Gynaecology consultant Stuart Lavery, who was not involved in the research, said there was strong patient demand and interest in acupuncture during IVF treatment among many couples attending IVF clinics.
‘It is an area sadly lacking in the area of rigorous assessment,’ he said. ‘The study is interesting as it does seem to show a significant difference.’
But he added: ‘The most important thing is it doesn’t control for the placebo effect. One would like to see in the clinical trial a test of “sham acupuncture”.’
This attempt to eradicate any placebo effect would involve making the patient think they are undergoing acupuncture, when really the needles retract without piercing the skin.
Alternatively, needles are placed randomly, rather than at the pressure points usually specified for the treatment.
Mr Lavery said: ‘The placebo effect is very real and we see it in every branch of medicine.
‘The power of the human mind to produce improvement is very real and everybody who works in medicine understands that.’
He added that acupuncture may only be effective because it involves a practitioner spending time with the patient, and listening to them, something that is difficult in much of the NHS.
‘Patients are looking for someone who can give them that time and listen to what’s going on in their lives, and that may have some therapeutic benefits,’ Mr Lavery said.