Women having acupuncture while undergoing IVF increase their chances of getting pregnant by 65 per cent, according to new research.
Experts found evidence of success for women who had acupuncture within one day of embryo transfer.
The study, by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US and the VU University Amsterdam, involved a review of seven published trials.
A total of 1,366 women undergoing IVF were included in the trials, which compared acupuncture given within one day of embryo transfer, sham acupuncture where needles are inserted away from points used in genuine acupuncture, and no additional treatment.
Women of various ages with different causes of infertility were included.
The timing of the acupuncture sessions in relation to embryo transfer differed somewhat among trials.
However, all the women received acupuncture immediately before or immediately after the embryo transfer.
All the acupuncture sessions also lasted 25 to 30 minutes.
The review found a 65 per cent increased chance of falling pregnant with acupuncture compared with sham acupuncture or no treatment.
But the researchers warned that this odds ratio “significantly overestimates” the rate ratio in this context, in which the event (pregnancy) is relatively frequent.
In absolute terms, 10 women would need to be treated with acupuncture to bring about one additional pregnancy, the study said.
The trials came from a search of the computerised databases Medline, Embase, Cochrane Central and the Chinese Biomedical Database.
All the trials were published in English since 2002, and conducted in four different Western countries.
The review, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that, in trials where the baseline pregnancy rates were already high, the benefit of acupuncture was smaller and non-significant.
The researchers concluded: “Current preliminary evidence suggests that acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF).”
A study published by the University of Oklahoma last year found that women given acupuncture while undergoing IVF were 37 per cent less likely to get pregnant.
The therapy is thought to affect the autonomic nervous system, which is involved in the control of muscles and glands.
One theory is that acupuncture could impact on this system with regards to fertility by making the lining of the uterus more receptive to receiving an embryo.
A previous study found acupuncture could double a woman’s chance of getting pregnant when combined with IVF.
In 2000, around 200,000 babies worldwide were conceived through IVF.
Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine from the Peninsula Medical School, part of the universities of Exeter and Plymouth, said of the review: “An important point is that much of the observed effect could be due to a placebo response.
“IVF may not seem to be “placebo-prone” but it probably is: if women expect it to be helpful they are more relaxed which, in turn, would affect pregnancy rates.”