Acupuncture during IVF improves pregnancy chances

Acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation cycle (IVF), revealed by US researchers. Acupuncture given within one day of IVF proved beneficial.

The study conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and was published in British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Some 10-15% of couples have difficulty conceiving at some point in their reproductive lives and seek specialist fertility treatment. A commonly used option is in vitro fertilisation (IVF), which involves retrieving a woman’s egg, fertilising the egg in the laboratory, and then transferring the embryo back into the woman’s uterus through the cervix. This entire process is typically referred to as an in vitro fertilisation “cycle” because it involves several procedures, typically over the course of about two weeks.

Acupuncture has been used in China for centuries to regulate the female reproductive system. Three potential mechanisms for its effects on fertility have been postulated:

– Firstly, acupuncture may mediate the release of neurotransmitters, which may in turn stimulate secretion of gonadotrophin releasing hormone, thereby influencing the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and fertility.

– Secondly, acupuncture may stimulate blood flow to the uterus by inhibiting uterine central sympathetic nerve activity.

– Thirdly, acupuncture may stimulate the production of endogenous opioids, which may inhibit the central nervous system outflow and the biological stress response.

Researchers analysed data of seven trials with 1366 women undergoing in vitro fertilisation. In all trials, the acupuncture protocol and selection of acupuncture points was designed for the sole purpose of improving rates of pregnancy. All trials used a fixed selection of acupuncture points for all patients for the sessions before and after embryo transfer.

Researchers concluded “Although current estimates of the effects of adjuvant acupuncture on in vitro fertilisation are significant and clinically relevant, they are still somewhat preliminary. Additional randomised trials are needed to quantify findings further and investigate the relation between baseline rate of pregnancy and the efficacy of adjuvant acupuncture”.

The study was funded by grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) of the US National Institutes of Health.

(Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis by Eric Manheimer, research associate, Grant Zhang, assistant professor, Laurence Udoff, assistant professor, Aviad Haramati, professor, Patricia Langenberg, professor and vice-chair, Brian M Berman, professor, Lex M Bouter.)

Source: British Medical Journal, UK

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