Many couples and individuals who are unable to conceive naturally become frustrated with their circumstances. Some will go to reproductive medicine experts, like the team here at The Fertility Institute, to undergo treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF). Many people will also turn to complementary and alternative medicine to increase their chances, either undergoing these treatments alongside or instead of research-backed assisted reproductive technology procedures. One of the more popular options is acupuncture. In movies and television, there is a long history of showing acupuncture and IVF as an effective treatment approach. Unfortunately, IVF and acupuncture research doesn't back this up. Here's what you should know.
Does acupuncture work for IVF?
When it comes to the research, the answer is clear: acupuncture does not statistically increase success rates for IVF.
Acupuncture is the practice of inserting very thin, painless needles into specific points in the body. Traditionally, it was used to balance the flow of energy, known as qi, through certain pathways, called meridians. More recently, many believed acupuncture could redirect blood flow and oxygenation to the ovarian and uterine tissue to promote fertility.
However, regardless of what acupuncturists and proponents for alternative medicine say, there is no significant evidence that acupuncture improves fertility or increases the success of fertility treatments, such as IVF.
As we'll look at in this post, there are some small beneficial effects when it comes to stress reduction. While stress reduction is an important part of an overall IVF success, acupuncture is not the most cost-effective way to go about doing this.
What has IVF and acupuncture research found?
One of the most important federal agencies for researching and making guidelines for alternative practices in the U.S. is the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), a division of NIH.
This agency does acknowledge that acupuncture can be helpful for patients suffering from chronic neck or back pain. However, when it comes to acupuncture and IVF, the evidence simply isn't there.
After a meta-analysis of 16 randomized controlled clinical studies (that included 4,038 patients from around the world), the NCCIH noted that:
"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."
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 found similar results. Researchers studied women who were undergoing acupuncture during IVF, giving participants either true acupuncture treatments or sham acupuncture as a control. They found that:
"The results showed the rate of live birth was 18.3 percent among participants who received acupuncture versus 17.8 percent who received the sham acupuncture control, a non-significant difference."
Is IVF acupuncture harmful?
If there is no real evidence that acupuncture helps IVF success rates, is it harmful? The short answer is no.
Acupuncture may help promote a sense of relaxation and positive thinking. Sometimes stress relief and a positive attitude can improve a patient’s overall sense of wellness and hence the chances of becoming pregnant.
While that seems like a mild yes for improving fertility, keep in mind that the rate of stress reduction is not especially high. If anything, you can choose to undergo acupuncture if you enjoy it and may get some potentially positive effects on your overall relaxation and wellness.
Finding a reputable acupuncturist
There are very few if any negative side effects or risks from acupuncture and the sessions are generally inexpensive.
If you do undergo acupuncture, make sure you go to a reputable practitioner. You can usually avoid any acupuncture risks by visiting a practitioner who:
- Is licensed by your state (if available)
- Uses sterile, one-time use needles
- Maintains a clean and safe treatment room
- Carries malpractice insurance
- Comes recommended by your fertility or family doctor
- Listens fully and carefully to your concerns
If you do enjoy acupuncture already or find that it drastically reduces your stress, there is no real reason to avoid it. Just keep in mind that the results are more psychosomatic than physiological.
How to improve fertility and IVF success
When it comes to actually improving fertility or IVF success, there are a number of things you can do that are generally more affordable and effective than acupuncture. Many of these focus on the mind and body, as there are measurable effects of stress on fertility.
To improve your fertility, try to:
- Get to, or maintain, a healthy weight
- Eat a well-balanced diet that's rich in nutrients, focusing on vegetables and fruits
- Exercise regularly and safely (find more about IVF and exercise here)
- Practice meditation, yoga, tai chi, or other relaxation strategies
- Avoid smoking or excessive alcohol use
- Stick to a more consistent sleep schedule
These are all means of achieving total wellness, as well as a positive and relaxed mental outlook.
Learn more about your fertility treatment options
When it comes to getting professional assistance with your fertility, it’s important that you discuss all of your options with a trusted medical provider.
If you're in the Gulf South, our doctors at The Fertility Institute will be more than happy to go over all of your treatment options in full detail. We've been making dreams come true since 1976 and have helped parents give birth to over 17,000 babies!
We can answer any IVF questions you have. Contact us today!
Updated Blog. Previously posted June 20, 2014.