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No Evidence Acupuncture Helps With Infertility

L writes: It was suggested to us that we try acupuncture to get pregnant.  The theory is that it relieves stress.  What are your thoughts on this and is it okay to do? Also, is a chiro okay to use for adjustments?"

To answer your second question first, there is no problem with seeing a chiropractor, provided it is a practitioner who espouses the complimentary form of chiropractics known in the field as a "mixer." This means the chiropractor is concerned mainly with adjustments and works in tandem with conventional medicine and physical therapy techniques.

The alternative is known as the "straight" chiropractor who espouses the belief of the founder of chiropractics, Daniel Palmer, that some kind of Innate Intelligence or life force energy that used the spine as its main pathway into the body. Besides being a bunch of hooey (there's no such thing as this life force energy), belief in a universal life force is part of a pantheistic world view that is not compatible with Christianity. This blog will give you a more detailed account of the above.

Now for your first question, there was a time about a decade ago when researchers believed women undergoing IVF treatments had a better chance of conceiving if they underwent acupuncture treatments at the same time.

According to WebMd, a German study of 160 women, published April 2002 in the reproductive journal Fertility and Sterility, found that adding acupuncture to the traditional IVF treatment protocols substantially increased pregnancy success. In that study, 80 patients received two 25-minute acupuncture treatments - one just before and one directly after fertilized embryos were transferred to their uterus. The second group of 80 patients received no acupuncture during their IVF treatments. The result was that while women in both groups got pregnant, the rate was significantly higher in the acupuncture group -- 34 pregnancies, compared with 21 in the women who received IVF alone.

However, this was just one of many trials involving more than 2,670 people that were reviewed in 2010 by the British Fertility Society (BFS). When studying all of the trial results, it was determined that acupuncture had no effect on the pregnancy rates of the women involved. According to Professor Adam Balen, head of the BFS policy and practice committee, there was a "a great deal of discrepancy" 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," Professor Balen said.

He went on to recommend that couples should be made aware of a serious lack of evidence of the effect of acupuncture on women's fertility before putting out their hard earned dollars for these treatments.

One of the world's leading experts on the efficacy of complementary medicine, Professor Edzard Ernst of Pensinsula Medical School, agreed. 

"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.

"This will help infertile women not to waste their money or get disappointed by TCM practitioners who behave less than responsibly when recommending these treatments."

An article appearing on the ScienceBased Medicine website goes into detail about acupuncture and infertility and the studies that have been done in this area. As you'll read, there were caveats with every study that purported to show a positive effect in women who used acupuncture for infertility problems.

For example, a Cochrane review of multiple studies that looked into the use of acupuncture during embryo transfer (IVF) and found a "beneficial effect on the live birth rate; however, with the present evidence this could be attributed to placebo effect and the small number of women included in the trials."

As for acupuncture's effect on stress, this too is a dubious claim that has no scientific support. It might be a better idea to go on a nice relaxing vacation to relieve stress.

Even though every time I say this I am baraged by practitioners who insist on loading up my e-mail box with a slew of biased studies they believe prove otherwise, there is simply no unbiased, evidence-based scientific proof that acupuncture does anything but make people "think" they feel better.

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