A new review of research tracking the potential benefits of acupuncture in boosting in-vitro fertilization (IVF) success has found mixed results.
The analysis — conducted by the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine and published online in the journal Human Reproduction Update — found the technique may be beneficial for patients treated at fertility clinics that have low pregnancy rates. But patients who undergo IVF at clinics with better-than-average success rates appear to gain no benefit from the ancient Asian health practice.
"Our systematic review of current acupuncture/IVF research found that for IVF clinics with baseline pregnancy rates higher than average [32 percent or greater] adding acupuncture had no benefit," said lead researcher Eric Manheimer.
"However, at IVF clinics with baseline pregnancy rates lower than average [less than 32 percent] adding acupuncture seemed to increase IVF pregnancy success rates. We saw a direct association between the baseline pregnancy success rate and the effects of adding acupuncture: the lower the baseline pregnancy rate at the clinic, the more adjuvant acupuncture seemed to increase the pregnancy rate."
IVF involves fertilizing a woman's egg with sperm outside the womb and then implanting the embryo in the woman's uterus. According to the researchers, acupuncture is the most commonly used complementary alternative therapy among couples seeking treatment at fertility clinics in the United States.
The findings of the new analysis are based on an examination of 16 studies involving more than 4,000 patients.
According to the researchers, international differences may be one factor in varying pregnancy rates in the studies they analyzed. For example, European clinics may have lower IVF pregnancy rates than U.S. clinics because European countries are increasingly moving toward single embryo transfers.
"Another potential explanation for the different effects of acupuncture in trials with higher versus lower baseline rates may be that in IVF settings where the baseline pregnancy rates are already high, the relative added value of additional co-interventions, such as acupuncture, may be lower," added Manheimer.
The researchers said more study is needed to examine if acupuncture might be a useful add-on procedure in IVF clinics with lower baseline rates, including considerations of safety and cost-effectiveness.
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