A new study was published on May 15 2018 looking at acupuncture performed three times during a stimulated IVF cycle to see if this type of acupuncture would improve live birth rates (Smith et al, 2018).
The study included 824 women with an average age of 35.4 years old. It looked at acupuncture performed once during ovarian stimulation (between day 6-8), and then before and after embryo transfer. The participants were split into two groups, a) true acupuncture and b) sham acupuncture (fake acupuncture so to speak).
Not to my surprise, the results showed that there was not a significant change in outcome between the two groups. The pregnancy rate was 25% in the true acupuncture group vs 21% in the sham acupuncture group. The live birth rate was 18.3% in the true acupuncture group vs 17.8% in the sham acupuncture group. Although there was slight improvements in the true acupuncture group over the sham, these were not considered statistically significant (strong enough).
The conclusion is that low dose acupuncture performed two to three times during an IVF cycle has very little to no effects on improving IVF outcomes, other then for relieving stress and anxiety related to the IVF process (Smith et al, 2018). Whats interesting about this is that all acupuncturists working with IVF patients would agree with this. The true value of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or natural medicine, is in changing the uterine environment BEFORE an IVF cycle begins. Once an IVF cycle has begun, it is almost too late to have any effect on the transfer environment and thus on IVF outcomes. This is how acupuncture is practiced in real world situations (Hullender Rubin, Anderson & Craig, 2018).
If you had a headache you wouldn’t take quarter of a tablet of panadol and expect it to work, the dosage is too low. Much the same you wouldn’t expect two to three acupuncture sessions to significantly raise the success rates of something as complex as IVF and fertility, a higher dose would be required.
We recommend a full course of IVF support to be conducted weekly or fortnightly over a 3 month period before starting an IVF cycle. Recent research published this year demonstrated the benefits of following this type of approach (Hullender Rubin, Anderson & Craig, 2018). Research reviews such as those performed by Shen et al 2015 and Qian et al 2017 have shown improvements in pregnancy rates and IVF outcome from acupuncture – but only when performed in weeks leading into IVF, and not just around embryo transfer time only.
For more information on this topic, please read our detailed page on acupuncture and IVF here.
Written by Robert Gentile OMD.
Hullender Rubin, L.E., Anderson, B.J. & Craig, L.B. (2018). Acupuncture and in vitro fertilisation research: current and future directions. Acupuncture in Medicine, BMJ Journals. Published Online First: 10 February 2018. doi: 10.1136/acupmed-2016-011352
Qian, Y., Xia, X.R., Ochin, H., Huang, C., Gao, C., Gao, L., et al (2017). Effect of acupuncture on the outcomes of in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arch Gynecol Obstet, 295(3), 543-558.
Shen, C., Wu, M., Shu, D., Zhao, X. & Gao, Y. (2015). The role of acupuncture in in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gynecol Obstet Invest, 79 (1), 1-12.
Smith, C.A., De Lacey, S., Chapman, M., et al (2018). Effect of Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture on Live Births Among Women Undergoing In Vitro Fertilization A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018;319(19):1990–1998. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.5336