Acupuncture involves the insertion of thin needles into the skin along so-called meridians (energy channels). It has been used in China for centuries to regulate and treat many health disorders including ailments involving the female reproductive system.
When I visited China in 1987, I actually witnessed a Cesarean birth being performed without sedation, pain killers or anesthesia… using only acupuncture. The mother lay there relaxed, conversing with the surgeon and nurses while the surgery was being performed. It was truly quite amazing. So I need no convincing that this complimentary treatment actually works when used for the right indications.
The last twenty years have witnessed a virtual explosion in fascination with, and interest in, acupuncture (as well as in traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine) in Western societies. The growing fascination and interest in the “mystical” power of acupuncture to enhance fertility potential and its incorporation into the IVF arena should come as no surprise, given the desperation of many infertile couples to have a baby. As a consequence, interest in acupuncture has grown by leaps and bounds in the field of Assisted Reproduction in the last 10 to 15 years.
So…does acupuncture actually improve IVF outcome? Well, those who support its use as a complementary treatment for IVF claim that it works by improving blood flow to the woman’s reproductive organs and thereby improving follicle development, egg quality and implantation. But what are the true facts in this regard? Does acupuncture actually enhance reproductive blood flow as has been asserted, and if so, does treatment actually improve results?
Well, what we do know, based on ultrasound studies, is that acupuncture can indeed enhance uterine blood flow. But convincing evidence that it improves ovarian blood flow is lacking. A few years ago, a Sher Institute doctor reported on the fact that acupuncture administered around the time of embryo transfer improves embryo implantation potential and thus IVF success. Its use during stimulation with fertility drugs has as yet not been shown to improve ovarian follicle growth, egg quality or endometrial thickening.
In fairness… acupuncture is not harmful and most of those so treated swear by it. For the nay-sayers, what can be said with certainty is that at the very least acupuncture has a “feel good” aspect to it and in most, evokes a psychological benefit that should not be discounted.
In conclusion…..I offer my SIRM-Las Vegas patients access to in-house acupuncture. But I only recommend that it be administered surrounding the time of embryo transfer, preferably on the day that the embryos are placed in the uterus. However, I caution them intensively not to have exaggerated expectations regarding the role that this complementary therapy might play in enhancing IVF outcome.