No evidence acupuncture during IVF increases chances of pregnancy

Neelima Choahan

18/05/2018 10:36:44 AM

A new study has cast doubts on acupuncture’s effects on a woman’s chances of having a baby through IVF.

Chief investigator Professor Caroline Smith says acupuncture treatment during the IVF cycle makes no significant difference on the chances of women having a baby.
Chief investigator Professor Caroline Smith says acupuncture treatment during the IVF cycle makes no significant difference on the chances of women having a baby.

A short course of acupuncture during in vitro fertilisation (IVF) makes no ‘significant difference’ to a woman’s chances of having a baby, according to a new study.
The study, ‘Effect of acupuncture vs sham acupuncture on live births among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: A randomized clinical trial’, involved more than 800 women who underwent acupuncture treatment during their IVF cycle in 16 centres across Australia and New Zealand.
Chief investigator Professor Caroline Smith, of the NICM Health Research Institute University of Western Sydney, told newsGP the researchers were evaluating the use of acupuncture as an addition to IVF treatment.
‘What our result showed is that, for women who are doing a fresh IVF cycle, there was no difference in their live birth and clinical pregnancy rates,’ Professor Smith said.
‘We had 74 births in the acupuncture group, compared to 72 in the control group.’
The clinical trial included 848 women aged 18–42 undergoing an IVF cycle between June 2011 and October 2015.
Half of the participants were given acupuncture on the stomach, legs and arms to stimulate blood flow to the uterus and control stress, while the other half had ‘sham’ acupuncture where a non-insertive needle was placed away from the true acupuncture points.
Patients were not told which group they were in until the analysis was finished. 
The first treatment was administered between days six and eight of ovarian stimulation, with two treatments given on the day of the embryo transfer.
Professor Smith said the study has its limitations.
‘In clinical practice, acupuncture treatment is individualised with variation in dosing, including more frequent treatment prior to and during the IVF cycle – the lack of frequent treatments was a limitation of our trial,’ she said.
‘Although our findings do not support acupuncture as an efficacious treatment compared to sham, some studies suggest reproductive outcomes may be improved when acupuncture is compared with no treatment.’
Professor Smith said researchers have also analysed the psycho-social effects of acupuncture.
‘These findings … [show] women [in the study] generally feel a lot more relaxed, less stress and generally feel better about themselves while they do an IVF cycle,’ she said.
‘And women will say … they highly value those outcomes. They are an important part of the … care that they receive as part of going through and dealing with the rigours of an IVF.’

acupuncture-hero.jpgThe clinical trial had 74 births in the acupuncture group, compared to 72 in the control group.
However, Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association President Waveny Holland told newsGP that even a slight pressure near acupuncture points will have an effect on the patient’s body.
Ms Holland said the study isn’t conclusive and she has seen positive results in her own patients.
‘There is empirical evidence to suggest … [acupuncture] increases the blood flow to the uterus, therefore creating a thicker endometrium lining,’ she said.
‘It been done in China for years … it’s not necessarily western medical study.’
Brisbane resident Amanda Hyde said she tried IVF for eight years before she saw Ms Holland.
Ms Hyde, who now has a 21-month-old daughter, said she fell pregnant within six months of beginning her treatment.
‘At that point, when I saw [Ms Holland], I had pretty much given up on ever trying to conceive naturally, Ms Hyde said.
‘That was my first attempt of trying to conceive by combining … natural therapies with IVF … and I was successful.’
Ms Hyde said though she believes she would not have had a child without acupuncture, it is hard to say whether it would have happened anyway.
‘I basically spent eight years trying to conceive my daughter. So for all of those cycles I just did normal western medicine … I thought, “You know what, I am just going to give this a go, what’s the harm?”
‘If you are going to walk away from [IVF] and it is your last hurrah, my opinion is give acupuncture a go. But I also believe you need to go to someone who is extremely proficient in what they do.’
Dr Carolyn Ee, GP and Chair of the RACGP’s Integrative Medicine Specific Interests network, is also an acupuncturist and an acupuncturist researcher. She told newsGP it is clear that the particular ‘acupuncture protocol’ used in the study does not improve birth rates for the women.
‘It comes back to that conversation that doctors, in particular, or acupuncturist as well, need to have with women [in which] they are given the information that they need to make a decision,’ Dr Ee said.
‘And the information they need in this case is that if they are having acupuncture this way it is not going to increase their chance of having a baby as opposed to just having blunt needling.
‘The key thing is that GPs know about the evidence regarding the timing of this acupuncture and they can provide this to their patients when they are asking about what increases the chance of live birth rate with IVF.’

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