Can IVF acupuncture improve live birth rates, aka take home babies?

Despite 20 years of vigorous IVF research, further studies are coming in. When you browse our website you will find IVF studies showing acupuncture group had higher numbers of pregnancies or live births. There are also studies that show no effect on pregnancy rates showing other benefits, like improved embryo quality or better blood flow in the uterus or reduced stress. Sometimes it may seem like it is bit hard to draw clear conclusions on IVF acupuncture. This is partly due to study methodology and partially due to the variety of protocols used – not all reproductive acupuncture is effective.

If you think that fertility acupuncture evidence is somewhat confusing, here is a study to clear things up.

Our ABORM colleague, Dr Lee Hullender Rubin dissected the current evidence in her recent study. She analysed the two latest and most rigorous systematic reviews and meta-analyses resulting in an insightful overview.

Here it is, a summary on how this time-tested therapy can help during your next IVF, based on data from 1980 women.

The summary of the current evidence on how acupuncture influences IVF outcomes

1. Compared to no treatment, acupuncture improves IVF outcomes:

  • Clinical pregnancy rate by 28%–32%
  • Ongoing pregnancy rate by 42%
  • Live birth rate by 30%.

2. An inert control is needed to improve study quality

Efficacy can be proven only when a treatment proves to be better than a sham. Sham treatment is easy for pharmaceutical therapies, but there are numerous others like surgery, physiotherapy, dentistry and acupuncture where sham is notoriously impractical to implement. We don’t have a sham that is inert, without any effect. Consequently, we end up comparing acupuncture to some other form of acupuncture. Most commonly used shams are penetrating or nonpenetrating needles inserted on or off acupoints. Sham needles often mix up the results and lead to erroneous rejection of this natural therapy.

3. Acupuncture and live births:

Acupuncture more effective for increasing live births in patients with previously failed cycles and IVF clinics with a baseline pregnancy rate <32% (in other words, most IVF clinics in NZ).

4. Factors that can improve the outcomes are:

  • More acupuncture treatments
  • Treatment focused before and on the day of embryo transfer
  • Using a modified Paulus protocol on the day of embryo transfer

Point of Influence?

Lee E. Hullender Rubin, DAOM, MS, LAc, FABORM

Augmenting in vitro fertilization (IVF) with acupuncture is a popular adjuvant therapy in the United States, but its influence on IVF birth outcomes remains controversial.

Recent meta-analyses found acupuncture is effective to increase the risk of live births by 30% when it was compared with no treatment in nine trials of 1,980 women.

The efficacy of acupuncture is unclear, however, and confounded by the need for adequate, inert control. This natural therapy does not increase the risk of miscarriage. Additionally, it was 42% more effective to increase live births when women had previously failed a cycle, and the baseline pregnancy rate continues to mediate acupuncture’s effects.

The characteristics of treatment more favourable to improving birth outcomes included more treatments, timing treatments in the period before and on the day of embryo transfer (ET), and using a modified Paulus protocol on the day of ET.

These findings should inform the dosage, timing, and components of this therapy and type of comparator in future trials investigating the effects of acupuncture on IVF outcomes.