A study of more than 800 women undergoing IVF treatment in Australia and New Zealand has found acupuncture made “no significant difference” to their birth rate.
But the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association (AACMA) rejects suggestions the industry promotes false hope for women desperate to have a baby, saying the therapy still has many physical and psycho-social benefits.
A study of 848 women across 16 IVF centres in Australia and New Zealand between 2011 to 2015 found no difference in birth rates in women who received regular acupuncture, compared to those who received ‘sham’ acupuncture.
The sham treatment involved placing a non-invasive needle with a blunt tip away from true acupuncture points.
There was a 0.5 per cent difference in the rate of women who received acupuncture and had a live birth or births (18.3 per cent, or 74 women) compared to those given the fake alternative (17.8 per cent, or 72 women).
“These findings do not support the use of acupuncture to improve the rate of live births among women undergoing IVF,” the authors concluded.
“The likelihood of a live birth was not statistically different between the two groups after adjusting for age, number of previous IVF cycles, and participating IVF centre.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Wednesday.
AACMA President Waveny Holland questioned the efficacy of the study, claiming the use of sham acupuncture as the control was misleading because it suggests that it’s ‘fake’.
While not as powerful, sham acupuncture still works the same way as traditional acupuncture by stimulating acupressure points, Ms Holland said.
“They’ve actually designed a very specific, particular needle that doesn’t penetrate the skin but they still put it on acupuncture points creating acupressure, which means it’s still stimulating the (acupressure) point.
Ms Holland says you don’t always need a needle to penetrate the skin to provide benefit.
“I treat a lot of children and we don’t necessarily needle them all the time but we will do acupressure which is pushing on the points just like a sham acupuncture would be doing,” said Ms Holland.
“Acupuncture itself is very powerful and strong and it has been shown to actually increase blood flow to the endometrial lining of the uterus and therefore create a better lining for the placenta to grow and flourish,” she said.
It is also great for reducing stress among women going through IVF, added Ms Holland, who is also a trained midwife.
“It’s very good for calming the mind,” she said
UNSW Professor Michael Chapman, study co-author and president of the Fertility Society of Australia, agrees and said these benefits would be reported on in a future paper.
“Feeling relaxed and reporting relief from stress and women feeling good about themselves is to be welcomed for women as they undergo an IVF cycle,” said Professor Chapman.