IVF discussion about how acupuncture can assist

You may have heard your friends talking about IVF and using Acupuncture alongside IVF. In fact, many IVF clinics now recommend using Acupuncture along side IVF.

In previous systematic reviews Acupuncture was proven to enhance the outcome of a positive pregnancy when used alongside IVF cycles. Further reviews were performed – and the results that were published were – NO, Acupuncture does not assist with increasing pregnancy rates when using IVF. Pretty confusing isn’t it. These reviews devasted us as Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture practitioners.

However, the latest review of evidence has been released and finally, the results are clear. It seems it has been missed by many though, as it was published in the holidays on the 2nd January 2019, so I want to make sure you can see it!

These systemic reviews are considered the most up to date evidence from a systematic review and meta-analysis and should help to clarify the benefits and rectify the recent misunderstanding from a study published in 2018 that put the use of acupuncture under question where there was much debate and conflict between previous studies.

If you would like to read the current research in full, please follow the link to the review and jump to the discussion section for details on the effectiveness of Acupuncture. 

Here is the link: “Acupuncture performed around the time of embryo transfer: a systematic review and meta-analysis”  Smith, Caroline A. et al. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, Volume 38 , Issue 3 , 364 – 379

In this most recent review from English speaking publications, Smith concludes that:

  • Acupuncture with IVF may have potentially significant benefits when compared to IVF only in regard to both clinical pregnancy AND live birth rates.
  • Acupuncture seems most effective when there are more treatments (higher dose) than just pre and post-transfer acupuncture – especially with treatment in both the stimulation and implantation phase.
  • Further benefits are seen when points selected are tailored to the individual rather than using a pre-prescribed treatment protocol.
  • Benefits are especially true for women who have had multiple previous IVF cycles.

What has been confusing in previous research and is highlighted by Smith, is that when Acupuncture has been used in conjunction with “sham Acupuncture”,  where sham acupuncture has been used as a control group – this means that they are measuring the effect that the “sham Acupuncture group” had compared to those who were given true acupuncture. Sham acupuncture – is where an acupuncture point may or not be inserted into the body – so the whole Acupuncture treatment is carried out in exactly the same way, except needles may or may not be inserted into the sham acupuncture group, or the point selection criteria is not acupuncture points that would be used to assist with fertility. 

The trouble with this use of “sham Acupuncture” as a control group is the placebo effect. People who had “sham acupuncture” also had positive pregnancy results in the studies, but the question that wasn’t answered was – was this due to a placebo effect and that fact that a treatment enabled them to feel heard and nurtured? The whole acupuncture treatment process was kept exactly the same as the real acupuncture group and sometimes, it is having a one on one chat with someone that can make the biggest difference.  Thus, the placebo effect was not taking into consideration in these previous studies. 

It seems acupuncture is in fact considered effective when compared to IVF alone and worth pursuing for IVF patients.

Smith also mentions how acupuncture may be working via relieving stress and enhancing relaxation, increasing blood flow to the uterus and releasing endorphins into the body which all enhance our bodies to improve their optimal health function and aid with reproductive health.  The overall benefits of a treatment (the holistic nature of a consultation with touch, education, self-care and diagnosis etc) are discussed too.

Smith also reiterates and states that Acupuncture remains a low-risk intervention. 

While it is so good to read this review which validates the use of acupuncture during IVF, for us although our desire is for our patients to have their dream of a baby in their arms come true, the benefits of Acupuncture treatments are not only about the pregnancy and live birth rates. Acupuncture also assists to improve mental health. It can also give patients an increased ability to cope with Infertility and IVF. Acupuncture when used alongside IVF and in general reduces anxiety and stress levels, improves menstruation, as well as improving patients emotional state – which when undergoing IVF or any fertility treatments is often very fragile.

The holistic effect of Acupuncture treatments cannot be underestimated. Sometimes it can be the difference between patients feeling like they have the internal resources to take on the next cycle, or whether they may need a break. Regular acupuncture with practitioners skilled in working with IVF patients can provide the support that they need to navigate their experience as seamlessly as possible, potentially with fewer side effects and positive outcomes more quickly. Quite often, in a treatment, I may just spend 20 minutes explaining what a patient test results mean so that they know exactly what is happening and what can be done to help. From my experience and based on my patients’ feedback – IVF can feel like you are on a bit of a roller-coaster and it can be quite clinical.

An acupuncture treatment as mentioned above, can assist with negating all of this, as patients are able to come in and we will treat patients according to where they are in the cycle as well as what is occurring within in their day to day lives. Treatment is holistic and individual. 

Please also don’t forget that men need to be treated weekly as well and need assistance to ensure that sperm morphology and motility are optimal.

We generally recommend patients come in at least a month before an embryo transfer – both male and female patients, as the follicles are stimulated, one to two times on the day of transfer, and another around five to seven days after transfer for implantation support.

Even more ideally where possible and time permitting, we recommend weekly appointments for approximately 2-3 months prior to an IVF cycle. 

I Hope you find this helpful. If you would like to book a consult to discuss a personalised treatment plan for you then you can do so here:

Please help us share this information with anyone you know involved with IVF whether they are a specialist, practitioner or patient to ensure they know about choices available for appropriate supportive treatments.