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University of Maryland Researchers Find Benefit of Acupuncture for In Vitro Fertilization

Friday, February 08, 2008

Systematic Review Published in the British Medical Journal


An analysis by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine finds positive results for using acupuncture for women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). When acupuncture was performed during embryo transfer, pregnancy rates improved. IVF is a process that involves fertilizing a woman’s egg with sperm outside the womb and then implanting the embryo in the woman’s uterus.


For their study published in the online version of the British Medical Journal on February 8, the reviewers compared data from seven studies involving more than 1,300 women. They looked at the impact of acupuncture when given within one day of embryo transfer. Their analysis found that acupuncture increased the odds of pregnancy by 65 percent compared to sham acupuncture or no additional treatment. It translates into one additional pregnancy among every ten women having acupuncture. In trials where the baseline pregnancy rates were already high, however, the benefits of acupuncture were smaller or not significant.


"IVF is a lengthy, expensive and stressful process for couples trying to get pregnant. We set out to determine whether giving acupuncture with embryo transfer during IVF could improve IVF success rates," says Eric Manheimer, research associate at the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


He adds, "While the increased likelihood of success with acupuncture was small, it may still be cost-effective considering that IVF costs more than $12,000 per cycle. If acupuncture increases the success rate of an individual IVF cycle, even by a modest amount, then the need for a subsequent IVF cycle would be reduced. Though promising, our results should be considered still preliminary, and they need to be confirmed in future trials."


Currently, researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and the University of Maryland Center for Assisted Reproductive Technology are in the final year of a three-year pilot study comparing acupuncture to sham acupuncture, which involves placing acupuncture needles in a different places or not as deeply as standard acupuncture therapy prescribes. This study looks at the use of acupuncture at four different times during the IVF cycle: at the beginning of the cycle, just before egg retrieval, just before embryo transfer and then after the embryo is transferred. If the pilot study with 60 patients proves successful, the investigators hope to expand the research to include several hundred women.


Some 10 to 15 percent of couples have difficulty conceiving at some point in their reproductive lives and may turn to IVF. In the year 2000, approximately 200,000 babies worldwide were conceived through in vitro fertilization.


The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a component of the National Institutes of Health, provided funding for meta-analysis, which also included researchers from Georgetown University and the VU University, Amsterdam.

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