For many women undergoing in vitro fertilization, or IVF, getting acupuncture treatments is seen as a way to help improve their chances of having a live birth by increasing blood flow, among other health benefits.
But does the procedure actually yield positive results? Research has come to varying conclusions. Some studies have shown acupuncture can affect the levels of pituitary and ovarian hormones, while acupuncture advocates say it can help relax the woman’s uterus and reduce contractions that could expel the transferred IVF embryos.
A new study that compared women who had acupuncture to those who had a sham treatment with fake needles, however, found no significant differences in the rate of live births between the two groups.
The trial involved 848 women undergoing a fresh IVF cycle at 16 IVF centers in Australia and New Zealand. More than half of the women received acupuncture at the time of ovarian stimulation and embryo transfer, while 404 women received a sham treatment. This consisted of using a noninvasive needle, one that did not penetrate the skin, in places on the body away from true acupuncture points.
The results: 18.3 percent of the women receiving acupuncture had live births, compared with 17.8 percent who received the sham treatment.
The researchers said there was some evidence that using acupuncture was better than no treatment at all, but overall, they found it did not significantly improve the prospects of a woman having a live birth.
There is some reason to think that acupuncture can have a positive psychological impact among women undergoing IVF, such as helping them to feel less stressed. The researchers plan to analyze that in a future study.