Although some women may try acupuncture hoping it will help them conceive, new research suggests it won’t.
The study compared outcomes for more than 800 Australian and New Zealand women who underwent either real or “sham” acupuncture along with their in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments.
The women ranged in age from 18 to 42 and underwent IVF cycles using fresh embryos, according to an Australian team led by Caroline Smith, of the NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University.
In the sham acupuncture group, needles were placed away from true acupuncture points.
Nevertheless, the study found that live birth rates really didn’t differ depending on whether a woman got the real or the sham acupuncture.
Rates for live births were 18.3 percent in the real acupuncture group and 17.8 percent for those who got the fake treatment — a statistically non-significant difference, the researchers said.
However, Smith said further study might still be needed, especially when looking at outcomes for women who received acupuncture more frequently.
And she said that the powerful “placebo” effect of acupuncture can’t be ignored. “Some studies suggest reproductive outcomes may be improved when acupuncture is compared with no treatment,” Smith noted in a university news release.
Two U.S. experts said the ancient therapy might have other benefits for stressed-out women undergoing fertility treatments.
“I believe that any method that promotes relaxation and lowers the stress levels of patients undergoing fertility treatment is blessed — whether it is acupuncture, massage, physical and sexual activity [when permitted] or seeing a professional to discuss and treat anxiety and stress,” said Dr. Tomer Singer. He directs reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Singer also noted that acupuncture may help women deal “with bloating and nausea, which are sometimes associated with fertility drugs.”
Dr. Avner Hershlag is chief of Northwell Health Fertility in Manhasset, N.Y. The jury might still be out on acupuncture’s role in boosting fertility, because the live birth rates in the new study were too low and the study groups differed in “many important ways,” he said.
“At this point, acupuncture’s validity and how it relates to female physiology is still unknown,” Hershlag said.
The findings were published May 14 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.