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Acupuncture does not increase IVF success rate: new guidelines

15 March 2010
Appeared in BioNews 549

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.

Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the BFS Policy and Practice Committee, advised that women should be informed of the findings before considering such complementary methods. 'The British Fertility Society wants to ensure that all women receive the safest treatment when undergoing fertility procedures, while also maximising their chances that the treatment will be successful', he said. For any treatment, 'it is essential that it has been tested in randomised controlled trials to ensure that it does actually work and does not cause any harmful side-effects,' he added.

Traditional Chinese remedies such as medicinal herbs and acupuncture, in which fine needles are inserted into the skin along energy channels called 'meridians', are widely used to treat many conditions and are among the alternative treatments sought by those looking for help to conceive.

The review included data from 14 trials, involving 2670 patients, and concluded that there was no beneficial effect on live birth rate or clinical pregnancy rate compared to controls, regardless of when the acupuncture was administered. However, they also found no evidence of harm as there was no significant difference in miscarriage rates.

The authors ensured only the highest quality of data was included in the analysis by only using data from published randomised controlled trials - considered the gold standard of clinical trial. Such trials compare the experimental treatment (in this case acupuncture) with a 'control' - usually the standard treatment or a placebo (fake treatment). Participants are randomly allocated an intervention to eliminate any experimental bias.

The guidelines highlighted the large amount of variability in the experimental design of trials. In particular they identified the uncertainty over what constitutes an appropriate placebo for trials involving acupuncture as an area which warranted further investigation. They also emphasised the need to control for any placebo effects in future studies, as the added relaxation experienced by those receiving acupuncture may affect outcomes.

Responding to the new guidelines, the British Acupuncture council said: 'Fertility focused acupuncture treatment has been found to help increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, balance hormone levels, regulate the menstrual cycle and help improve the lining of the uterus and quality of eggs released…as a holistic therapy, acupuncture helps to identify underlying health issues which may cause disruption to the body's natural balance, resulting in symptoms such as infertility'.

Acupuncture 'does not aid fertility treatment'
The Telegraph |  10 March 2010
Acupuncture 'provides no help with IVF' say fertility doctors
Daily Mail |  10 March 2010
Acupuncture 'useless' for fertility
Google News |  10 March 2010
British Fertility Society Issues New Guidelines On The Use Of Acupuncture And Chinese Herbal Medicine In Fertility Treatment, UK
Medical News Today |  10 March 2010
'No evidence' acupuncture boosts chances of IVF baby
BBC News |  10 March 2010
20 September 2010 - by Harriet Vickers 
Women with poor egg (or oocyte) quality could double their chance of becoming pregnant through IVF if given melatonin, researchers have found. The work was presented at the World Congress of Fertility and Sterility in Munich last week...
16 August 2010 - by Chris Chatterton 
One of the biggest problems facing patients and doctors during fertility treatment is when to decide to switch to an alternative method, after the failure of a particular approach....
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...
19 July 2010 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Women given acupuncture during IVF treatment are no more likely to become pregnant than their counterparts who undergo needle stimulation to body areas not used in acupuncture, a US study has shown...
19 April 2010 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Exposure to air pollution has been linked to a lower chance of IVF success, a study has found. Nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter and ozone posed a particular risk, according to the researchers from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, US...
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...
14 July 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
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...
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