Acupuncture May Help Infertile Couples
By Kathleen Doheny
TUESDAY, April 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- Adding acupuncture to the treatment regimen of women having in vitro fertilization (IVF) may boost the chances of pregnancy.
In a study of 160 women getting IVF, researchers from the Christian Lauritzen Institute in Ulm, Germany, used acupuncture before and after the embryo transfers in half the patients and found it helped increased the number of pregnancies.
The acupuncture-treated group received a treatment 25 minutes before and after the embryo transfer, with needles placed in stomach and colon meridians, as well as the ear meridians, to try to increase blood flow and energy to the uterus, and provide a sedative effect and stabilize the endocrine system. The control group had just the embryo transfer. The women in both groups were on average 32 years old and had undergone an average of two previous IVF cycles.
In the IVF-only group, 21 of the 80 patients (26.3 percent) became pregnant; in the IVF-plus-acupuncture group, 34 of 80 (42.5 percent) became pregnant, the researchers report in this month's Fertility and Sterility, the journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
Exactly why the acupuncture boosted the pregnancy rates is not known for sure, but study author Wolfgang E. Paulus speculates the chosen acupoints may reduce the uterine contractions that typically occur with embryo transfer and may inhibit implantation.
"Therefore," Paulus says, "we try to reduce the contractions by acupuncture in order to improve implantation."
The German study "could be a fluke," says Ingrid Rodi, a fertility specialist and gynecologist at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
Yet, she finds it scientifically sound. "This study is an impetus for others [researchers] to look at it," she says.
Traditional Chinese medicine has employed acupuncture to boost fertility for years.
For the past decade or so, Rodi says, many of her patients have told her they have acupuncture treatments before seeing her for traditional infertility treatments, hoping the acupuncture will restore their energy balance and make their body more receptive to the IVF treatments.
Rodi isn't sure acupuncture will catch on in the United States with fertility specialists as an adjunct to fertility treatments, but she doesn't dismiss the possibility.
However, she points out the U.S. pregnancy rates with IVF are already higher than they are in Europe. The overall pregnancy rate for women under age 35, the age of the women in the German study, is already almost 40 percent, she says.
Whether adding acupuncture to IVF treatments for U.S. women would boost the success rate higher remains to be seen, she adds.
If more studies find a benefit in acupuncture coupled with IVF treatments, it might be possible to transfer fewer embryos per treatment, she says.
However, acupuncture won't solve the problem of chromosomal abnormalities, which Rodi says are the biggest source of IVF failures in women over age 35.
What To Do
More information on assisted reproductive technology can be found at American Society for Reproductive Medicine.