It’s really awesome that fertility treatments like IVF exist. There are so many thousands of parents who have benefited from it, and so many babies born into those loving families. But that doesn’t mean that the process is easy. Besides the exorbitant costs of the procedure, the emotional and physical experience of going through a cycle of IVF is not to be underestimated – and any couple who has gone through IVF will concur.
It’s no wonder, then, that couples want to do everything in their power to make each cycle of IVF as successful as possible. That’s why many turn to complimentary treatments to maximize their success. Diet, yoga, making sure you get enough sleep, dietary and vitamin supplements all top the list.
But probably the most popular complimentary treatment to IVF is acupuncture. For many years, it’s been touted as a fantastic way to increase your chances of conceiving during IVF. A study from 2016 even claims that acupuncture doubles your chances of conceiving during IVF, though the study researchers warned that this might have had to do with the placebo effect more than anything else.
However, a new study published in JAMA might be turning that theory on its head. The study, carried out by researchers in Australia, found that acupuncture during IVF had no significant impact. Yep – as in acupuncture really didn’t do a thing to increase chances of IVF success. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, folks.
The comprehensive study looked at 848 patients at 16 different IVF clinics in Australia during 2011-2015. Some of the patients received traditional acupuncture during their IVF cycle, whereas others received something called sham acupuncture control, which Science Daily describes as “a non-insertive needle placed away from the true acupuncture points.”
The study found a 18.3% rate of live births among patients who got the traditional acupuncture treatments, and a rate of 17.8% among those who got the sham control treatment. Though there was a slight difference, the study researchers consider this “non-significant” (i.e., not enough to make a statistical difference).
This is all pretty disappointing for people who are looking for something to help boost their chances of IVF success, huh? Well, don’t fret too much yet. There actually might be some benefit to acupuncture during IVF, even if it doesn’t directly impact your chances of success – and there are other methods out there to increase your success.
Scary Mommy recently caught up with Zev Williams, MD and PhD at Columbia University Medical Center, to shed some light on the study.
Dr. Williams says, first of all, there is absolutely nothing dangerous in doing acupuncture during an IVF cycle. “There is no evidence that there is any harm in combining acupuncture with IVF,” says Dr. Williams.
Furthermore, he says that anything you can do that will relax you is definitely beneficial for IVF. “Stress and anxiety can reduce success with IVF, so doing things that help reduce stress and anxiety can be helpful,” says Dr. Williams. “Understandably, patients want to make sure that every detail is done right so that they have the best possible chance for success.”
Dr. Williams contends that what relaxes you will vary from woman to woman. He recommends trying things like mindfulness, meditation, or going for a relaxing walk or massage.
And although the researchers of the latest IVF/acupuncture study dismiss the idea that acupuncture could directly affect IVF success, they believe that there is some truth to the idea that acupuncture might relax patients, and thereby increase their success.
“Although our findings do not support acupuncture as an efficacious treatment compared to sham, some studies suggest reproductive outcomes maybe improved when acupuncture is compared with no treatment,” Professor Caroline Smith, chief investigator and professor of clinical research at NICM Health Research Institute (NICM), tells Science Daily.
Michael Chapman, professor at UNSW Sydney and co-author of the study, adds that while the study could not support the link between acupuncture and IVF success, it did make the researchers want to do more work to understand how stress relief and IVF success are related.
“Feeling relaxed and reporting relief from stress and women feeling good about themselves is to be welcomed for women as they undergo an IVF cycle,” Chapman said.
So what to do if you are undergoing IVF and unsure about whether to try acupuncture? If it’s something you’d like to try, there is no harm, and anything that relaxes you and gives you confidence is a great idea.
But if your already stretched budget can’t handle it, or if you are a little, ummm, freaked out about the idea of needles, there is probably no problem with skipping it.