14 July 2008
ByAppeared in BioNews 466
Scientists have failed to establish a link between the use of acupuncture on fertility patients and IVF success rates. In what is said to be one of the most thorough studies into the issue, close to 2,500 women were studied across 13 clinical trials looking into the effect of using acupuncture on implantation success rates at both the time of embryo implantation and egg extraction. The findings of the studies were presented by Dr Sesh Kamal Sunkara, who lead the team of scientists from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust, at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Barcelona last week.
The study casts doubt over the efficacy of acupuncture, which involves the placing of needles on strategic positions on the surface of the skin, to increase success rates for women undergoing IVF. Many believe that the alternative therapy can improve fertility for a number of reasons, including improving the blood supply to the womb, controlling hormone levels and by generally decreasing the stress associated with infertility and efforts to conceive artificially. It is also believed acupuncture may improve the quality of eggs produced.
The technique has been used in fertility treatment for many years in China and has most recently gained popularity in the UK, although no official statistics on its use are collected. Many fertility clinics in the UK, as well as the NHS, now offer courses of acupuncture with the provision of IVF at an additional cost of up to £300. Critics say this is taking advantage of sometimes desperate women, making financial gain out of scientifically unproven techniques.
The new findings may raise ethical questions over the provision of acupuncture to fertility patients if, as Dr Sunkara says, 'women are investing hope, emotion and time in something that has shown no benefit.'
Paul Robin, chairman of the Acupuncture Society, was 'surprised' by the findings because they did not mirror his own experience of treating patients. 'I've been treating people for twenty years and in my experience treatment does seem to improve their chances of becoming pregnant,' he said.
A review of various studies looking into the use of acupuncture was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) last February which pointed to a 65 per cent improvement of IVF success rate if acupuncture was used at the time of implantation. However, the researchers at Guy's and St Thomas' claim that the study was flawed. Professor Peter Braude, who supervised the team said: 'We can't turn around and say it does not work, but there is no evidence it does and hand on heart we can't come out and recommend it.'