A photograph of a person performing acupuncture.

Having IVF? Have Acupuncture Too!

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By: Jennifer Fitzgerald, ND

Most couples undergoing IVF would do just about anything to increase their chances of a successful outcome, but from a western medical perspective, there is little anyone can do to improve the odds. The following quote says it all,

“I do all the latest high-tech surgery and hormone treatment to try to make someone pregnant. When [it’s] all said and done, I still don’t know who will get pregnant and who won’t and why. After all my years of training, this area is still a big mystery that I can’t control.” – “Infertility” specialist. (From Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, MD)

In the last number of years, acupuncture has become increasingly more popular as an alternative and integrative treatment to Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). With this growing acceptance comes the opportunity for larger clinical trials to determine how much of difference acupuncture can have on success rates. This is what the research is telling us:

  • A report released in 2008 by a team of doctors from the University of Maryland and the University of Amsterdam reviewing seven different studies since 2002 (involving 1,366 women) concluded that women who had acupuncture while undergoing IVF were 65% more likely to have a successful embryo transfer, compared to those that had no treatment or were given “fake” acupuncture.
  • Acupuncture increases blood flow to the uterus, which is thought to relax the uterus. Uterine contractions can occur after embryo transfer and could cause expulsion of the embryo(s) from the uterus.
  • Acupuncture can regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that control the quality of eggs and normalize ovulation and the menstrual cycle.
  • Acupuncture can lowers stress hormones to bring on relaxation.
  • Some medical experts believe that the effects of acupuncture on fertility are due to the placebo effect. At least one study has shown that women who have fake acupuncture (needles are not put into actual acupuncture points) did not experience increased pregnancy rates.
  • Women who receive acupuncture while undergoing IVF have half the miscarriage rate (8% vs 14%) than those not receiving acupuncture, as well as a significantly lower ectopic pregnancy rate (0% vs 9%).
  • In one of the most famous studies, German researchers found that 42% of the women who had pre- and post-IVF acupuncture conceived, while only 26% of the women who did not receive acupuncture conceived.

In most fertility clinics, it is easy to arrange acupuncture treatments for pre-and-post IVF transfer. Many clinics have acupuncturists on staff or can recommend someone who has experience in this type of treatment. If you find an acupuncturist on your own, make sure he/she has experience working with IVF treatments. In Canada, Naturopathic Doctors are licensed to perform acupuncture.

W. E. Paulus and M. Zhang, et al., “Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo ART,” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 77, no. 4 (Apr. 2002).

R. Chang, et al., “Role of acupuncture in the treatment of female infertility,” Fertility and Sterility, vol. 78, no.6 (Dec. 2002).

P. Magarelli, “Acupuncture in IVF linked to lower miscarriage and ectopic rates,” Ob/Gyn News (Jan. 2005)

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