Can complementary therapies really increase your chance of getting pregnant?

Complementary therapies such as acupuncture used in conjunction with fertility treatment are growing in popularity. However, acupuncture isn’t a new technique – it has in fact been used as an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 3000 years. Therapies such as this are normally used as a course of treatment between the day of egg collection and the day of embryo transfer in an effort to try and increase the chance of the fertility treatment leading to successful pregnancy.However, there is mixed opinion about the efficacy of these techniques. Much of this mixed opinion has been present in the media.

Over the last few years there have been several news headlines reporting that acupuncture can increase IVF success, but equally there have been articles stating that it offers no benefit at all. The problem of such discrepancy seems to lie in the way in which the studies are carried out and the control groups they use. Any study testing the efficacy of a new technique will split participants into two groups; the test group (who receive the new technique) and the control group (who receive a placebo). With the nature of acupuncture being very physical, it is difficult to devise a control method or placebo. Control methods vary from sham acupuncture (using real needles in non-acupuncture points on the body), to placebo acupuncture (using blunt needles in real acupuncture points), to no acupuncture at all. It seems that placebo acupuncture may not be an accurate control and therefore studies that have used this type of control in their methodology may have to be excluded from systematic reviews and meta-analyses (which are the gold standard for comparing several small scale studies in an effort to elucidate an overall answer).

A recent systematic review and meta analysis published in March 2012 in a leading fertility journal has concluded that when studies using a placebo acupuncture control are excluded from comparison, acupuncture significantly improves clinical pregnancy rates when used in conjunction with fertility treatment but live birth rates are not significantly different.

The positive effect of acupuncture on clinical pregnancy rates during fertility treatment may be due to an increase in blood flow to the uterus, a change in uterine contractility or just a general feeling of relaxation – but in truth no one really knows this for sure. Fertility treatment can be a very stressful experience and any technique that promotes relaxation can only be of benefit. Since acupuncture hasn’t been shown to cause any harm during a cycle of fertility treatment, we at the Herts and Essex Fertility Centre are happy if our patients want to try out this technique alongside their treatment.

If you feel that acupuncture may be something you are interested in then please be aware that we have launched a new Fertility Spa service at the Herts and Essex Fertility Centre. We have a number of local vetted acupuncturists that we can offer based on patient’s positive experiences. More details are available on our website, or alternatively you can give us a call on 01992 78 50 60 for more information.

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