An analysis of research conducted on acupuncture as an adjuvant (booster) treatment to in vitro fertilization (IVF) found that, overall, acupuncture did not increase pregnancy rates. However, acupuncture did seem to increase pregnancy success rates at IVF clinics with baseline pregnancy rates that were lower than 32 percent. This review, funded in part by NCCAM, was published online in the journal Human Reproduction Update.
The review analyzed 16 randomized controlled clinical studies (4,038 participants) from around the world since 2002 that compared actual acupuncture with simulated (sham) acupuncture or no additional treatment. Actual acupuncture consisted of one to three treatment sessions of needling at traditional points (and, in some trials, at tender points). In all trials acupuncture was given within one day of the IVF procedure. The primary outcome was clinical pregnancy rates.
When all the trials were combined, the reviewers found no statistically significant improvement in the rates of clinical pregnancies, ongoing pregnancies (pregnancies beyond 12 weeks of gestation), or live births between women receiving actual acupuncture and the control groups. The reviewers observed heterogeneity (i.e., variability) between studies in the effects of actual acupuncture, with noticeably larger effects on clinical pregnancy rates in one subgroup: IVF clinics that had lower pregnancy rates. For example, one potential factor for this may be related to the number of embryos transplanted per cycle—fewer typically are transferred per cycle in European countries compared to IVF practices in the United States. However, the authors noted that this finding could have various explanations and needs further study. They also suggested that acupuncture could benefit IVF patients beyond potentially improving rates of IVF pregnancy success, noting that it is relatively safe and inexpensive and may aid these patients in coping with the emotional and psychological challenges related to IVF and fertility.
Manheimer E, van der Windt D, Cheng K, et al. The effects of acupuncture on rates of clinical pregnancy among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction Update. June 27, 2013; Epub ahead of print.