Dear Dr. Marc,
The most truthful answer to your question of whether acupuncture really increases success rates for IVF is……I don’t know!
To understand the reason I don’t know, you need to understand a little bit about how doctors answer any clinical questions. We use a variety of tools including personal experience, med school teaching and clinical studies. These studies can be broken down into 3 different groups:
1. Case studies- a report of a few cases in one doctor’s experience
2. Retrospective studies- a structured review of prior clinical experiences over a pre-determined period of time
3. Prospective studies- studies designed with the data collected in a prospective manner usually with some sort of control or placebo.
Of these, prospective studies are definitely the most reliable.
With this in mind, there have been literally hundreds of studies written on the topic of acupuncture and IVF. Unfortunately, most of these studies are case series or retrospective studies. Amongst the prospective studies, many are poorly designed and or poorly executed. For this reason, their results must be rejected or at least, taken with a large grain of salt.
When one looks at the small fraction of these studies which are prospective, and well designed and executed, the outcomes are quite conflicting. Some show convincing benefit to acupuncture, while other studies show no benefit at all. This pattern is frustrating, because while it hints at a benefit in some groups, we cannot determine who, if anyone, is most likely to benefit.
Although the literature is inconclusive as to a benefit for acupuncture and IVF, it has established that acupuncture is safe. This point is very important because there are many alternative therapies that patients consider without knowing safety data. Many thousands of documented acupuncture sessions have been recorded in the literature with very few serious side effects.
Furthermore, it is important to recognize that acupuncture clearly does have real physiological effects. For example, acupuncture is used as the sole source of anesthesia during major surgery in some countries. Further, the fact that acupuncture has been used for between two and four thousand years definitely gives it some credibility in my book!
With these things in mind, I often recommend acupuncture to my patients. In fact, if I were going through IVF I would use acupuncture. At worst, it won’t have an effect, at best; it may just be the thing that helps you get pregnant!
Lastly, choosing an acupuncture practitioner is very important. You definitely want someone with training in the treatment of infertility. The best source for this is the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine (ABORM.org). ABORM practitioners complete a rigorous curriculum of training and are competently educated in both Western and Eastern philosophies of reproductive medicine. In addition, to be ABORM certified, one must pass an extensive and comprehensive board exam.
If you have any other questions, please feel free to contact me, I'll try to POINT you in the right direction……. (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun!)