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The evidence supporting the use of acupuncture in fertility

posted on 11th October 2012 by Stefan Chmelik

There is now a large body of scientific research that has shown the effectiveness of acupuncture as a treatment to increase natural fertility in women, increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy, and improve the chances of IVF success. Shown below is a quick summary of some of that research.

Most of this research has shown how acupuncture improves the likelihood of IVF success, but because of the mechanism of action, this research is equally applicable to IVF and to those trying naturally.


The scientific research

  1. Paulus et al (2002) demonstrated that women having acupuncture had an increase in pregnancy rate of over 60%, compared to women not having acupuncture. This paper was published in the highly-respected Fertility & Sterility journal, and was a prospective randomised study of the impact of acupuncture given pre- and post-embryo transfer.
  2. Quintero (2004) found that in addition to duplicating the 60% increase in ongoing pregnancies of the Paulus study, there was a 180% increase in implantation rates and a significant reduction in the amount of gonadotrophins (IVF drugs) used (for an average cost savings greater than the cost of acupuncture for the cycle).
  3. A 2008 British Medical Journal  systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that there is evidence to suggest that acupuncture improves rates of pregnancy and live birth in women undergoing IVF. When taking all factors into account the investigators found that “acupuncture increased the odds of clinical pregnancy by 65% compared with the control groups.
  4. Zang et al (2011) investigated whether all this is down to placebo. They compared the effect of real and sham acupuncture (i.e. it looks like acupuncture but it isn’t) on implantation and live birth rate. They found significant improvement in the real acupuncture groups versus sham.
  5. Dieterle et al (2006) found that luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle) acupuncture had a positive effect on the outcome of IVF/ICSI.
  6. Westergaard et al (2006) again demonstrated that properly applied acupuncture results in IVF ongoing pregnancy increases of over 60%.
  7. Cheong et al. (2008) in a Cochrane Database systematic review concluded that acupuncture improves live birth rates.
  8. Stener-Victorin (2011)showed that acupuncture treatments performed twice per week for four weeks significantly increase blood flow to the uterus and may explain one mechanism for the substantial increases in pregnancies when acupuncture is incorporated.
  9. Improving uterine lining. Yu (2007). Participants in the study all had poor uterine linings in prior cycles (less than 8 mm). Although it was only a pilot study, all subjects achieved lining thickness of 10 mm or greater. Lining thicknesses of 8mm or less have been shown to have substantially lower pregnancy rates than those over 9mm so this is a very significant finding and may be another mechanism by which acupuncture is improving pregnancy rates.
  10. Acupuncture versus Clomid. Song et al. (2008) compared acupuncture to Clomid and found that both induced the same effects on ovulation, however, in the acupuncture group, the pregnancy rate was higher and the miscarriage rate was lower.
  11. Acupuncture & poor responders. Magarelli (2004) found a significant increase in IVF pregnancy rates with acupuncture (40% increase). Though these increases were not as high as in the Paulus and Quintero studies, this study did not have exclusion criteria. Of particular interest in this study was that poor responders that received acupuncture had the same pregnancy rates as normal prognosis patients. In this study, poor responders were defined as those with elevated Peak FSH, longer history of infertility or poor sperm morphology.
  12. Why fertility acupuncture should always be done by highly trained practitioners. Stener-Victorin (2003) demonstrated that acupuncture can significantly increase ovarian blood flow. It also demonstrated that, even using the same acupuncture protocol, by a small modification in manipulation, you get the exact opposite effects. That is, you can decrease the ovarian blood flow. This study, therefore, is very important to illustrate the importance of using acupuncturists that have very thorough training in both acupuncture and infertility.


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