Alternative therapies - especially acupuncture - are employed by a substantial proportion of Americans trying to get pregnant, say researchers. Nearly a third of couples followed in a Californian study tried acupuncture, herbal therapy and massage, often alongside conventional conception assistance such as IVF.
'We suggest that couples struggling to achieve pregnancy are more likely to seek out any treatment that offers hope', said Dr James Smith of the University of California, San Francisco, USA, who led the study.
Rather than looking at the effectiveness of complementary therapies, the scientists wanted to understand what motivates people to pursue them. They followed 428 couples from eight reproductive clinics for 18 months, using questionnaires and interviews. This was the first US study to quantify the use of these therapies for infertility, a condition which affects 7-17 per cent of American couples.
During the study, 29 per cent of the couples reported using some form of complementary and alternative medicine: 22 per cent underwent acupuncture, 17 per cent used herbal therapy, five per cent had body work such as chiropractic or massage, and one per cent tried meditation.
The team concluded that complementary therapies were most commonly chosen by wealthier couples, those not achieving pregnancy and those with an existing belief in the effectiveness of the treatments. However, they say their results may not be suitable for generalisation to the larger population, as the couples were self-selecting and there were low numbers of certain racial and ethnic groups.
The last few years have seen contradictory evidence about the benefits of using alternative therapies to aid conception. As reported in BioNews, previous studies have claimed acupuncture increases, reduces and has no effect on IVF success rates. However last month the British Fertility Society reviewed the available evidence and published new guidelines stating there is 'currently no evidence' acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine increase conception in conjunction with IVF.
The use of acupuncture as a fertility treatment has even been popularised in a 2003 episode of the New York-based TV show Sex and the City.