Important to know: Chronic health conditions should be addressed under direct medical supervision of your GP or consultant, and acupuncture would be an adjunct or complement to usual care – we advise that you let you doctor know when you use this approach.
Acupuncture is a very popular approach for those looking to conceive. See our blog on the research that has been done into the use of acupuncture for fertility reasons
The British Acupuncture Council has produced an evidence based factsheet about Female Fertility, as well as one on Male Fertility and acupuncture approaches, including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture for this (links are below).
A systematic review and meta-analysis of studies in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (Manheimer et al, 2008) found that complementing the embryo transfer process with a specific traditional acupuncture protocol had a positive effect on the birth rate of sub fertile women having IVF/ICSI treatment.
About the research:
When reading health research, it is important to know that Systematic Reviews** or Meta Analyses of a large number of high-quality research studies are the very best way to be able to say to what extent a given treatment can address a condition, symptom, or set of symptoms. The next best level of evidence is the individual Randomised Controlled Study* (RCT) which uses a systematic technique to compare two or more groups of patients receiving different treatments (or a treatment against a “control”, or no treatment). In acupuncture trials, the nature of the control group is of particular interest as it is hard to blind a patient to whether they are having a needle inserted or not, and even more challenging to blind the researcher/team to this.
The means and quality of how research is carried out varies considerably from country to country, and in terms of how an intervention is compared to another intervention (or a control). Of note is the fact that “sham” acupuncture (where needles are placed in apparently inert locations rather than traditional acupuncture points) is not really an inert process as it has physiological effects, so that comparing sham and “true acupuncture” may therefore not give a clear picture alone; but and form a part of a research body where acupuncture versus no treatment, vs conventional treatment or vs a different approach/modality also form part of the evidence base.
The n= figure (where quoted in research) tells you how many people were participants in the study, and usually the larger a study (when it is of good quality and design), the more likely it is to be reliable and applicable to larger populations. When (statistical) “significance” is discussed in view of studies it has a very particular meaning – it is the confidence in the data (using statistical tests) that tells us how likely a result could have just come about by chance. The lower the possibility of a chance result, the more likely it is due to the intervention in the experiment. “p” is the number telling us of significance, and this must be under 5% (or p less than 0.05) to mean we can say it is a (statistically) “significant” result.
A popular and evidence-based choice
Acupuncture is a popular choice for fertility and conception support, having had mainstream media exposure since 2008, when a large meta-analysis of scientific studies was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ – Manheimer et al, 2008), and which showed acupuncture’s efficacy in increasing pregnancy rates from IVF procedures, compared to IVF procedures alone. A more recent Iranian RCT study reflected this, (Dehghani et al, 2020) when they looked IVF pregnancy rates with and without acupuncture treatment. They used 3 groups in cluding a control (n=186) and found that: “Acupuncture 25 min before ET [embryo transfer] significantly increased the IVF outcomes in women undergoing IVF compared with no acupuncture.”
A large body of evidence in this area has grown, both for natural and IVF, ICSI and other types of assisted fertility (ART) procedures. These studies show that acupuncture improves blood flow to the uterus and ovaries (Khorram et al, 2005, Stener-Victorin et al, 1996), improves the thickness of the endometrium (uterus lining) and regulates the levels of the key hormones that govern the conception process, FSH, LH, GnRH, progesterone and oestrogen (Yu et al, 2007; Zhang et al, 2018; Stener-Victorin, 2006).
Acupuncture is also effective in PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and can regulate the menstrual cycle and stimulate ovulation (Lim et al, 2010, Stener-Victorin et al, 2014).
Regarding Your Individual Condition and Symptoms:
Whilst the scientific studies are of great interest to researchers and acupuncturists in terms of comparing protocols, for the patient not versed in research they are less accessible, which is why when we asked “can acupuncture work for my (condition or symptom) we are not able to give a simple yes or no response, we are able to tell you in the decades of experience we personally have at the clinic of the types of outcomes we have seen in similar cases, and give you an idea of our level of experience and knowledge in that area, which is why the research data do not tell the whole story and if you want to find out more specific information in how this could relate to your own individual situation, we recommend booking a free telephone consultation where we can answer any questions you have and give a realistic appraisal of what acupuncture may be able to provide.
British Acupuncture Council evidence based factsheet about Female Fertility, and approaches to treatment including specific research, trials and mechanisms of action for acupuncture in this condition.
BAcC Male Fertility factsheet
BAcC Fertility and ART (assisted reproduction – IVF/ICSI) factsheet
BAcC PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) factsheet
BAcC Female fertility & IVF briefing paper
Dehghani, A.S., Homayouni, K., Kanannejad, Z. and Kanannejad, Z., 2020. The effect of acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer on the in vitro fertilization outcomes: An RCT. International journal of reproductive biomedicine, 18(3), p.209.
Khorram, N.M.; S. Horton, V. Sahakian The Effect of Acupuncture on Outcome of in Vitro Fertilization Fertility and Sterility, Vol.84, S364
Manheimer, E; Zhang, G; Udoff, L; Haramati, A; Langenberg, P; Berman, BM; Bouter, LM; (2008) Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis BMJ (2008) 336:517-518
Stener-Victorin E, Waldenstram U, Andersson SA, Wikland M. Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture. Hum Reprod. 1996 Jun;11(6):1314-7.
Stener-Victorin, E;A. Benrick, M. Kokosar, M. Maliqueo, C. Behre, K. H¸jlund, A. Sazonova Acupuncture increases whole body glucose uptake during and after stimulation in women with polycystic ovary syndrome Fertility and Sterility, Vol.102:3, e29 Published in issue: September 2014
Yu, B. Horn, B. Acacio, D. Ni, R. Quintero, M. NourianiA Pilot Study Evaluating the Combination of Acupuncture with Sildenafil on Endometrial Thickness Fertility and Sterility, Vol.87:4, S23
Zhang, X., Lee, M.S., Smith, C.A., Robinson, N., Zhou, Y., Wu, Y., Mao, Y.Y. and Qu, F., 2018. Effects of acupuncture during in vitro fertilization or intracytoplasmic sperm injection: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 23, pp.14-25.