Study: Acupuncture may boost pregnancy

Study: Acupuncture may boost pregnancy

Feb. 6, 2008

It sounds far-fetched — sticking needles in women to help them
become pregnant — but a scientific review suggests that acupuncture
might improve the odds of conceiving if done right before or after
embryos are placed in the womb.

The surprising finding is far from proven, and there are only
theories for how and why acupuncture might work. However, some
fertility specialists say they are hopeful that this relatively
inexpensive and simple treatment might ultimately prove to be a useful
add-on to traditional methods.

"It is being taken more seriously across our specialty," and more
doctors are training in it, said Dr. William Gibbons, who runs a
fertility clinic in Baton Rouge, La., and is past president of the
Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. "I have not seen proof
… but we wouldn’t mind at all" if it turned out to work, he said.

The analysis was led by Eric Manheimer, a researcher at the
University of Maryland School of Medicine, and paid for by a federal
agency, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Results were published Friday in the British medical journal, BMJ.

Acupuncture involves placing very thin needles at specific points on
the body to try to control pain and reduce stress. In fertility
treatment, it is thought to increase blood flow to the uterus, relax
the cervix and inhibit "fight or flight" stress hormones that can make
it tougher for an embryo to implant, Manheimer said.

The analysis pools results from seven studies on 1,366 women in the
United States, Germany, Australia and Denmark who are having in vitro
fertilization, or IVF. It involves mixing sperm and eggs in a lab dish
to create embryos that are placed in the womb.

Women were randomly assigned to receive IVF alone, IVF with
acupuncture within a day of embryo transfer, or IVF plus sham
acupuncture, in which needles were placed too shallowly or in spots not
thought to matter.

Individually, only three of the studies found acupuncture
beneficial, three found a trend toward benefit and one found no
benefit. When results of these smaller studies were pooled, researchers
found that the odds of conceiving went up about 65 percent for women
given acupuncture.

Experts warn against focusing on that number, because this type of
analysis with pooled results is not proof that acupuncture helps at
all, let alone by how much. IVF results in pregnancy about 35 percent
of the time. Adding acupuncture might boost that to around 45 percent,
the researchers said.

The authors include doctors from the Netherlands and Georgetown
University in Washington, D.C. One is an acupuncturist but had no role
in any studies that were analyzed.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has no policy on
acupuncture. "There’s been a lot of conflicting research" on its
usefulness, said spokeswoman Eleanor Nicoll.

"It looks like, from the body of evidence out there, that some
patients benefit," said Dr. James Grifo, head of the infertility
program at New York University.

However, Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of infertility treatment at New
York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said other
studies, reported at recent medical meetings and not included in the
published analysis, did not find it helped.

"The jury is still out," he said, but added, "It’s unlikely that acupuncture does any harm."

Dr. Ann Trevino, a 37-year-old family physician who recently moved
to Houston, is pregnant, and a believer. She had three unsuccessful
pregnancy attempts with intrauterine insemination before trying
acupuncture with IVF at a fertility clinic in San Antonio where she
used to live.

"I had been reading about acupuncture, probably like every other
patient on the Internet. I was just willing to do anything possible to
improve our chances," she said. With acupuncture, "I just felt very
warm and relaxed" when the embryos were placed.

Dr. Francisco Arredondo, who runs Reproductive Medicine Associates
of Texas where Trevino was treated, said he started offering
acupuncture in October, after patients requested it and because some
studies suggested it helped.

Acupuncturist Kirsten Karchmer said she places about a dozen needles
in the ears, hands, feet, lower legs, abdomen and sometimes the lower
back. It costs $500 a month for treatments twice a week, and patients
typically go for three months, she said.

IVF costs around $12,000 per attempt, so a treatment that
improves its effectiveness might save money in the long run, Manheimer


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