March 11, 2010

‘No Evidence’ Acupuncture Boosts Chances Of IVF Baby

Fertility experts said women who seek acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicines to increase the chances of getting pregnant through in vitro fertilization are being misguided, as there is no evidence that the practices work.

The methods are commonly offered as a way of boosting the odds of having a baby, but according to the British Fertility Society, couples are wasting their money.

They analyzed 14 trials involving 2,670 people before issuing the new advice. However, a leading practitioner said that better designed trials would show that the methods could help some couples.

All the trials involved acupuncture, in which needles were used on different areas of the body during different stages of the IVF cycle. The researchers found that no matter at what stage acupuncture was used, it had no impact on pregnancy or live birth rate.

There were no published trials on the use of Chinese herbal medicine. The team concluded that there was "currently no evidence to support the use of this in fertility treatments."

Acupuncture therapy has gotten a boost from couples who are increasingly seeking complementary therapies for IVF. It has become the most popular option for patients because it is thought to improve blood flow and increase the chance of an embryo implanting.

Professor Adam Balen, head of the British Fertility Society's policy and practice committee, told BBC News that patients should be aware of the lack of evidence on these therapies before signing up and wasting a lot of money. There was "a great deal of discrepancy", he added, in the way in which the trials were designed and the type of acupuncture used.

"Any future randomized controlled trials in this area need to ensure that they use a standardized acupuncture method, have a large sample size and include adequate controls to account for any placebo effects," he told BBC News.

Dr Xiao-Ping Zhai, of The Zhai Fertility Treatment Clinic, disagreed with the findings, saying there was a problem with the way the trials were designed and that different analysis would show benefits.

"Certainly for those with unexplained fertility problems in particular, we know acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine can be beneficial. What matters is both the expertise and experience of the practitioner, but most of all the treatment of the patient as an individual. It is the tailored treatment which is key," he said.

In a statement made by the British Acupuncture Council, they said "Fertility focused acupuncture treatment has been found to help increase blood flow to the reproductive organs, balance hormone levels, regulate the menstrual cycle and help improve the lining of the uterus and quality of eggs released."

"BACC practitioners recognize that there are many factors which may cause infertility such as stress, irregular hormone levels and disrupted menstrual cycles. As a holistic therapy, acupuncture helps to identify underlying health issues which may cause disruption to the body's natural balance, resulting in symptoms such as infertility," the statement said.

But, according to Professor Edzard Ernst of Peninsula Medical School, one of the country's top experts on the efficiency of complementary medicine, the new guidance was considered a "long overdue clarification."

"Infertile women have been misled for some time now to think that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can help them getting pregnant. This analysis shows two things very clearly: the totality of the acupuncture trials does not support this notion, and for Chinese herbs, we have no evidence at all," Ernst said.


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