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 online database, involved looking at 13 studies comprising 2,000 women worldwide, who underwent acupuncture at the same time as a course of IVF.
Every year 33,000 women undergo IVF, when an embryo that has been fertilised in a laboratory is transferred into the womb. Acupuncture, the practice of inserting fine needles into specific points on the body corresponding to qi energy channels, was found to significantly increase a woman's chance of successful embryo implantation if it was undergone around the same time as the embryo transfer. However, the procedure was not found to have an effect if it was performed after the embryo transfer.
Ying Cheong, lead researcher of the study, stated that 'whether acupuncture helps women achieve a live birth is a controversial issue, and opinion has been divided upon it'. She added that the study shows 'that acupuncture performed at the right stage can have significant benefit. A woman who does so has a much greater chance of having a live birth than a woman who doesn't have acupuncture'. The study revealed that acupuncture around the time of embryo transfer ruled in a live birth rate of 35 per cent, as compared to 22 per cent without acupuncture.
The research contrasts with the recent findings by Dr Sesh Kamal Sunkara, who lead a team of scientists from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust. In July, his presentation to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) conference in Barcelona cast doubt upon the efficacy of acupuncture in increasing success rates of IVF.
Studying close to 2,500 women in 13 trials, Dr Sunkara and his team concluded that there was no link between the acupuncture and IVF success rates. Paul Robin, chairman of the Acupuncture Society, stated that the findings did not support his own experience of treating patients, commenting at the time, 'in my experience treatment does seem to improve their chances of becoming pregnant'.
Professor Peter Braude, who supervised Dr Sunkara's 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'.
However, the latest research supporting the efficacy of acupuncture in conjunction with IVF has been welcomed by fertility experts, with Susan Seenan of Infertility Network UK commenting that 'anything that helps improve success rates for people going through infertility treatment is good news. Many of our members report that alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, can help them to cope with the treatment and the general stress'.