How does Acupuncture increase ivf success?

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how acupuncture can boost your fertility by restoring balance, producing healthy eggs, sperm and a healthy space for a baby to grow.  

Sometimes, no matter how much effort is put into balancing the body, conception still doesn’t happen on it’s own. For some, the next step is to look to medical infertility assistance for help.  This is more & more common as women wait longer to start a family and sometimes age trumps self-care.  

In Vitro Fertilization is costly and the success rates are not high.  According to the most recent data reported by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, success rates can be as high as 44.4% for women under 35 and as low as 4.5% for women over 42.  Success in this case is defined as live birth rates.  

How does acupuncture improve IVF success?  

  1. Improves response to IVF medications.  This is especially important for older women with diminished ovarian reserve who tend not to respond to the medications.  IVF medications cause growth and maturation of multiple follicles.  The higher number of mature eggs retrieved, the higher number of eggs fertilized and thus a higher number of embryos. 
  2. Improves uterine lining quantity and quality which is needed for implantation of the embryo.
  3. Reduces stress. IVF is a stressful process and stress negatively affects fertility.  
  4. Reduces side effects from medications.  
  5. Reduces chance of miscarriage.  
  6. Improves overall chance of a successful outcome with a live birth.

Is There Evidence that Acupuncture Can Increase IVF Success Rates?

In 2002 a breakthrough German study came out reporting acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly increased pregnancy rates.  (26 vs 42%) Since then, a number of other studies have replicated the findings but no one has ever addressed an important key factor, the dose of acupuncture that is most effective.  

In 2015 a colleague of mine headed a study to see the impact of Whole Systems Traditional Chinese Medicine (WS-TCM) on live birth rates of those women undergoing IVF. WS-TCM combined with IVF was compared with 2 other groups:  IVF with no additional treatment and IVF with only 1 acupuncture treatment on the day of embryo-transfer.  WS-TCM is defined in this study as an average of 11-12 acupuncture treatments in the 2-3 months leading up to the embryo transfer and in addition, acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer.  It also incorporates chinese herbal medicine and dietary/lifestyle recommendations.  

What were the results?  The WS-TCM group had greater odds of live birth (61.3%) compared with IVF alone (48.2%) or IVF with acupuncture for embryo transfer only (50.8%).  This was the case in both egg donor and non-egg donor cycles.

So what does this mean?  More research is definitely needed but these results indicate that on average, 12 sessions of acupuncture 2-3 months ahead of IVF embryo transfer produces the best results and is superior to acupuncture only on the day of embryo transfer.  

Why is 12+ visits prior to the embryo transfer the magic number? 

3-6 months prior to ovulation or egg collection, follicles develop a blood supply and are influenced by their environment.  So this crucial time is when lifestyle changes and acupuncture can improve the environment of the growing follicles by making sure the follicles get the nutrients and hormones they need through improved blood flow.