Acupunc­ture ‘can dou­ble the suc­cess rate for IVF mums’

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Colin Fer­nan­dez Sci­ence Cor­re­spon­dent

ACUPUNC­TURE may dou­ble the chances of a woman con­ceiv­ing with IVF, a study has found. Among cou­ples un­der­go­ing the fer­til­ity treat­ment, the like­li­hood of preg­nancy was greatly im­proved if the woman also had acupunc­ture.

Sci­en­tists at Homer­ton Univer­sity Hospital in East Lon­don stud­ied 127 women aged be­tween 23 and 43, on their first or sec­ond cy­cle of IVF.

They were split into two groups – one hav­ing four ses­sions of acupunc­ture while un­der­go­ing IVF, the other hav­ing none.

Among the acupunc­ture group, 46.2 per cent con­ceived – more than twice as many as in the other group, where only 21.7 per cent of the women be­came preg­nant.

The nee­dle tech­nique was used be­fore any eggs were re­trieved from the woman’s body – and then again be­fore and af­ter the fer­tilised em­bryo was im­planted.

The re­searchers, led by Karin Giller­man, said pre­vi­ous clin­i­cal tri­als have ‘pre­cluded any firm con­clu­sion’ about acupunc­ture.

But they added: ‘The re­sults of this study im­ply acupunc­ture may be of­fered as a pos­si­ble method of im­prov­ing IVF out­come.’

How­ever, they warned that sim­ply the act of pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the women who had acupunc­ture may have acted as a placebo ef­fect. In re­search pre­sented at the Euro­pean So­ci­ety of Hu­man Re­pro­duc­tion and Em­bry­ol­ogy, the au­thors wrote of the study’s lim­i­ta­tions: ‘The ad­di­tional at­ten­tion paid to the acupunc­ture group as op­posed to con­trols may have had a pos­i­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal in­flu­ence.’

The NHS ad­vises on its Choices web­site that acupunc­ture is safe when prac­tised with good hy­giene by a qual­i­fied prac­tisick tioner. The main risk to preg­nant women hav­ing the treat­ment is from blood-borne dis­eases caused by un­clean nee­dles – sim­i­lar to the risks from get­ting a tat­too or a body pierc­ing – and the chance that these could in­fect the baby.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have by­laws that gov­ern the clean­li­ness of acupunc­ture premises, their in­stru­ments and equip­ment. Mild side-ef­fects in­clude pain, bleed­ing or bruis­ing where the nee­dles punc­ture the skin, drowsi­ness, and feel­ing or dizzy. Gy­nae­col­ogy con­sul­tant Stu­art Lav­ery, who was not in­volved in the re­search, said there was strong pa­tient demand and in­ter­est in acupunc­ture among many cou­ples at IVF clin­ics.

‘It is an area sadly lack­ing in the area of rig­or­ous as­sess­ment,’ he said. ‘The study is in­ter­est­ing as it does seem to show a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.’

But he added: ‘The most im­por­tant thing is it doesn’t con­trol for the placebo ef­fect. One would like to see in the clin­i­cal trial a test of “sham acupunc­ture”.’

This at­tempt to rule out any placebo fac­tor would in­volve mak­ing the pa­tient think they are un­der­go­ing acupunc­ture, when re­ally the nee­dles re­tract with­out pierc­ing the skin.

Al­ter­na­tively, nee­dles are placed ran­domly, rather than at the pres­sure points usu­ally spec­i­fied. Mr Lav­ery said: ‘The placebo ef­fect is very real and we see it in ev­ery branch of medicine. The power of the hu­man mind to pro­duce im­prove­ment is very real and ev­ery­body who works in medicine un­der­stands that.’

He added that acupunc­ture may be ef­fec­tive only be­cause it in­volves a prac­ti­tioner spend­ing time with the pa­tient.

‘Pa­tients are look­ing for some­one who can lis­ten to what’s go­ing on in their lives, and that may have some ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fits,’ Mr Lav­ery said.

‘Psy­cho­log­i­cal in­flu­ence’

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