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Study casts doubt over the use of acupuncture to improve IVF success rates

14 July 2008
Appeared 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.'

Acupuncture 'does nothing to boost IVF success rate'
The Daily Mail |  8 July 2008
Acupuncture does not improve chances of pregnancy
The Daily Telegraph |  8 July 2008
Acupuncture has 'no effect' on pregnancy rates following IVF, say experts
The Times |  9 July 2008
Acupuncture 'no help for IVF'
BBC News Online |  8 July 2008
Unclear whether acupuncture helps fertility: studies
Reuters |  8 July 2008
31 January 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Israeli researchers have shown a correlation between successful IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and 'medical clowning'. In a small-scale study a 'medical clown' was used to entertain women immediately following embryo implantation. A rise in the pregnancy rate was observed in the women subjected to medical clowning compared to controls...
2 August 2010 - by Nick Dalton-Brewer 
Sarah Guy's bold statement 'acupuncture does not increase the chance of IVF success' is based on the conclusions of a study which is arguably flawed in many ways...
15 March 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine do not provide any benefit to women trying to become pregnant, the British Fertility Society (BFS) has found after reviewing the available evidence. The new guidelines, published in the journal Human Fertility, state that there is 'currently no evidence' that these methods increase the success rate of assisted conception, when used in conjunction with IVF (in vitro fertilisation)....
17 November 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
By Katy Sinclair Two new studies have found that acupuncture does not increase the chances of conception through IVF. The first study was conducted by Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago, and was presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in San Francisco, and the second was published in...
29 September 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
Researchers at the University of Southampton and Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, UK, have found that women undergoing acupuncture at the same time as IVF increased their chances of having a baby from one in five to one in three. The research, published on the Cochrane Library's...
11 February 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
By Katy Sinclair: A team of doctors from the University of Maryland and the University of Amsterdam have published a report in the British Medical Journal, claiming that acupuncture could increase IVF success rates by as much as 65 per cent. The team, led by researcher Eric Manheimer, reviewed seven...
23 October 2007 - by MacKenna Roberts 
By MacKenna Roberts: Contrary to the widely held belief that acupuncture enhances a woman's chances of successfully becoming pregnant whilst undergoing IVF treatment, a study at the University of Oklahoma found that women who combine acupuncture and IVF were 37 per cent less likely to conceive than those who underwent...
10 July 2007 - by Katy Sinclair 
A study has found that women undertaking fertility treatment as well as complementary therapies were 30 per cent less likely to fall pregnant than women undertaking fertility treatment alone, raising concerns that some complementary therapies may be harming women's chances of becoming pregnant. The findings, by a...
22 April 2002 - by BioNews 
Research published in the journal Fertility and Sterility suggests that the use of acupuncture before and during IVF treatment may improve the chances of success. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medical practice that is believed to stimulate the flow of energy throughout the body. The scientists, from the Christian-Lauritzen-Institut in...
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