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 the journal Human Reproduction.
For the Prentice Women's Hospital study, led by Irene Moy, 124 women were split into two groups. One group was given real acupuncture, while the other was given 'sham' acupuncture, both before and after embryo implantation. The patients undergoing sham acupuncture had needles inserted into the body, but not at known acupuncture points. Of the women taking part in the study, 43.9% given genuine acupuncture conceived, while 55.2% of those given sham acupuncture conceived.
The study published in Human Reproduction took place at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Hong Kong, where real and sham acupuncture was given to 370 patients. In this study the sham acupuncture used a placebo needle, which gave the appearance and sensation of piercing the skin, but was blunt and retracted into the handle of the needle when pressed on the skin. The ensuing pregnancy rate for sham acupuncture patients was 55.1% versus 43.8% for real acupuncture.
Dr Ernest Hung Yu Ng, who led the study, commented: 'we found a significantly higher overall pregnancy rate following placebo acupuncture when compared with that of real acupuncture. In addition, there was a trend towards higher rates of clinical pregnancy, ongoing pregnancy, live birth and embryo implantation in the placebo acupuncture group, although the differences did not reach statistical significance.'
There was also a suggestion that the sham acupuncture was having an effect on pregnancy rates, as both sham and real acupuncture appeared to result in a lowering of stress hormones, conducive to pregnancy. Dr Mark Hamilton, chairman of the British Fertility Society said: 'this study illustrates the uncertainty about the role of acupuncture in the treatment of infertility. The jury is still out and there is not enough evidence to suggest this should be a definitive and resources adjunct to traditional treatment.'
The results of the two studies support earlier work that suggested there was no link between IVF success and acupuncture. In what was 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 led 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.
Professor Peter Braude, from King's College London, said of acupuncture: 'there isn't a disadvantage to it, to the best of our knowledge, but we mustn't say it will make a difference as there is no evidence to support that. I also can't see a mechanism that would explain any positive effects.'