Fertility Acupuncture & IVF Research
A layman's review of current research about the effectiveness or non-effectiveness of acupuncture in treating infertility and preparing couples for IVF makes it immediately clear that research on acupuncture often focuses on narrow windows of timing with acupuncture treatment used like a "fertility pill." However in real-life clinics acupuncture is a multi-pronged approach to achieve pregnancy and safe delivery.
None the less, a recent meta-analysis (essentially a study of studies) makes it clear that even in such a restricted treatment plan, acupuncture has a place in IVF treatment.1
The 2015 study discusses some of the factors that go into acupuncture treatment and successful pregnancy:
- Psychological and environmental factors.
- Stress relief at the time of embryo transfer
- Enhanced blood flow to the uterus
- Enhanced hormonal balance
- Release of neurotransmitters
- Stem cell factor regulation which improves quality of sperm and egg
The IVF Cycle
Acupuncture treatment in IVF research commonly involves only the final steps of IVF. Let's go through those steps.
- Day 1 of the woman's period.
- Ovary stimulation with follicle-stimulating hormones.
- Egg retrieval
- Sperm collection
- Fertilization, in the lab
- Embroyo development, in the lab
- Embroyo transfer to the woman's uterus
- Blood test two weeks following to judge sucess
Research Views a Narrow Window
Research generally conducted on acupuncture to support the IVF process looks only at providing treatment in a narrow time window of specific points of time around egg transfer. For treatment to be considered beneficial it must be "statistically significant." That means that depending on the size of the group tested the results have to be significant enough to be beyond the possibility of coincidence.
- Treatment given 25 minutes before and after egg transfer (ET). The results of treatment given only around the time of egg transfer showed little difference between such treatment, sham treatment and no treatment.
- There was no difference between treatment and controls for treatment given at the follicle phase only.
- But for treatment given at the follicle phase and also 25 minutes before and after ET benefit was statistically significant.
- For treatment given 30 minutes after ET there was no noteable difference compared to controls
- But for treatment 30 minutes after ET plus during the implantation phase there was positive benefit.
Effectiveness of treatment was judged only by ultrasound after IVF treatment, not by pregnancy outcome.
The results of the analysis of many research studies shows that even in the absence of a wholistic treatment plan, acupuncture can be beneficial for IVF patients provided it is given at more than just one or two treatments around the time of egg transfer.
The value of a more wholistic acupuncture program for IVF patients lies in the fact that the entire physiology is being treated. Every part of the body impacts the health, balance and well-being of every other part of the body as well as overall mental and spiritual well-being. Extending therapy therefore, to encompass a fuller aspect of good health benefits the process of fertilization as well.
The goal of conceiving a baby is the aim of many couples who may be considered infertile. Getting pregnant is a multi-pronged approach. Beginning with basic medical examinations, counseling, and tips for conception, even if the road to parenthood includes expensive Western medical fertility treatments. Couples often turn to acupuncture for fertility, either on its own or to improve their odds with fertility treatments.
Learn about our wholistic program to support fertility through IVF.
Shen, C., Wu., M., Shu, D., Zhao, X., Gao, Y. (2015). The Role of Acupuncture in in vitro Fertilization: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, 79:1-12.