According to a study published in BMJ and available on, rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization can be improved when acupuncture is given with embryo transfer.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a technique in which egg cells are fertilized by sperm outside the woman’s womb and then transferred back to the womb.

Ten to 15% of couples seek fertility treatment because they have difficulty conceiving at some point in their reproductive lives; IVF is a common treatment option. About 200,000 babies worldwide were conceived through IVF in the year 2000. Due to the cost, time, and stress of IVF, new drugs and technologies have been developed in order to improve success rate. However, progress has been limited.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the VU University in Amsterdam, was motivated by acupuncture’s history of being used in China for centuries to regulate the female reproductive system. Ultimately, the researchers desired to determine whether acupuncture given with embryo transfer improves the pregnancy rates and live birth rates among women undergoing IVF.

A systematic review of seven trials involving 1,366 women undergoing IVF allowed researchers to compare acupuncture – administered within one day of the embryo transfer procedure – with sham (fake) acupuncture or no additional treatment. A broad selection of women at various ages and different causes and durations of infertility were included in the trials, and the overall quality of trials was good, according to the researchers.

The researchers found that the odds of pregnancy were increased by 65% when acupuncture is administered along with the embryo transfer process compared to sham acupuncture or no additional treatment. In other words, for every ten women treated, one additional pregnancy is expected. However, the acupuncture benefit was smaller or non-significant in trials where the baseline pregnancy rates were already high.

The authors of the study note that in general, their review suggests that acupuncture given with embryo transfer can improve rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing IVF. At about $12,400 per cycle in the US, the burden of expensive IVF procedures may be reduced even if the increased likelihood of success with acupuncture is small.

Further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary findings and to research the relationship between baseline rates of pregnancy and the effectiveness of additional acupuncture.

Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis
Eric Manheimer, Grant Zhang, Laurence Udoff, Aviad Haramati, Patricia Langenberg, Brian M Berman, Lex M Bouter
BMJ, February 7, 2008
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Written by: Peter M Crosta