Acupuncture And Infertility | Acupuncture And IVF – Some Recent Studies

Acupuncture And IVF – Some Recent Studies

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Modern scientific research has focused on combining acupuncture and IVF

Modern scientific research has focused on combining acupuncture and IVF

Recently, the media has picked up on success stories and interest in combining In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) reproductive medicine with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture. In considering this issue, some interesting, and sometimes confusing information comes to light so if you aren’t to sure about the process consider reading IVF explained for more information.

In the West, recent scientific studies focused on the use of acupuncture during courses of IVF treatment.  However, acupuncture is only one method within TCM, which also uses cupping, moxibustion, herbal medicine, dietary therapy, ‘Tui Na’ style massage & Qi Gong style exercise.  Nonetheless, 3 clinical trials concluded acupuncture before/on the day of embryo transfer improved the number of pregnancies [3,4,5]. They all cited research suggesting acupuncture improves uterine artery blood flow, which is associated with more successful IVF outcomes [6].  Systematic reviews of clinical trials by the British Medical Journal [7] and the Cochrane Collaboration (linked to the UK’s NHS National Library for Health) [8] were also positive news, finding statistically significant improvement in live birth rates.  Confusingly though, the Cochrane review appeared to suggest this was a placebo effect. Another clinical trial [9] found no significant effects, but suggested that their study may have been ‘under-powered’ (meaning not conducted on a large enough scale).

The ‘TCM community’ itself has long debated suitable ways of researching acupuncture. One drawback is randomised controlled double-blind trials (RCTs) employed within modern orthodox medicine often group patients together by its own diagnosis, then treat them in a standardised way regardless of the TCM diagnosis. Whereas in ‘authentic’ TCM, each patinet is given their own TCM diagnosis. In practice, this effectively means 2 patients with a modern conventional medical diagnosis for ‘Fallopian Tube Obstruction’ for example, could end up with 2 different distinct and different TCM diagnoses for the condition of ‘Qi’  and ‘Xue’ which explain the subfertility. The difficulty apears to be understandable, in a sense. As an entirely separate medical practice TCM is practiced according to the ‘laws’ of TCM, rather than working from the diagnosis of modern medicine and using the same acupuncture points for every case – according to TCM, this would not be ‘normal’ practice, in case the TCM diagnoses demanded different points be used. In modern use, many TCM practitioners do also interpret modern medical findings but within a TCM theoritical framework – again, being unlikely to use the same protocol for every case.

Whilst there appears to be a way to go before TCM can be evaluated to satisfy science in the West, the safest conclusion is probably this does not automatically mean the treatment never works. It is interesting to remember there are also practices within modern conventional medicine which are not fully understood. Any woman considering TCM acupuncture for this issue is best advised to visit a practitioner with adequate training, hygienic practice and a willingness to answer any question she may have. Professional associations representing TCM practitioners in the UK include The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (UK), the  British Acupuncture Council and the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine. (A very few long established practitioners may also have no affiliation, but take reliable recommendation as key here).

Traditional theory, such as Yin-Yang, is a world away from modern medicine but that doesn't mean it all doesn't work

Traditional theory, such as Yin-Yang, is a world away from modern medicine but that doesn’t mean it all doesn’t work


DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.

Yin-Yang symbol photo credit:




1.Boivin, J et al. (2007). ‘International estimates of infertility prevalence and treatment-seeking: potential need and demand for infertility medical care’. Human Reproduction. 22 (6), p.1506-1512.


2. Xu, J. & Yang, Y. (2009). ‘Traditional Chinese medicine in the Chinese health care system’. Health Policy. 90, p.133-139.

3.  Dieterle, S, Gao, Y,  Hartzmann, W., Neuer, A. (2006). ‘Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro fertilization and intracytoplasmic sperm injection: a randomised, prospective, controlled clinical study’. Fertility and Sterility. 85 (5), p. 1347-1351.

4. Paulus, , W.E, Zhang, M., Strehler, E., El-Danasouri, I & Sterzik, K. (2002). ‘Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy’.  Fertility and Sterility. 77 (4), p. 721-724.

5. Westergaard, L.G. et al. (2006). ‘ Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women: a prospective, randomised trial’. Fertility and Sterility. 85(5), p. 1341-1346.

6. Steiner-Victorin, E.,  Waldenstrom, Andersson  S.A. & Wilkland, M. (1996). Reduction of blood flow impedance in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electro-acupuncture’. Human Reproduction. 11, p.1314-1317.

7. Manheimer, E., Zhang, G., Udoff, L., Haramati, A., Langenberg, P., Berman, B. & Boulter, L.M. (2008). ‘Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilisation: systematic review and meta-analysis’. BMJ. 336 (7643), p. 545-549.

8. Cheong, YC., Hung Yu Ng E & Ledger, WL.  (2008). ‘Acupuncture and assisted conception (Review)’. The Cochrane Library. 4, p.97-108.

9. Smith, C., Coyle, M. & Norman, R.J. (2006). ‘Influence of acupuncture stimulation on pregnancy rates for women undergoing embryo transfer’. Fertility and Sterility. 85 (5), p. 1352-1358.

Professional Bodies – Sources of More Information on Traditional Chinese Medicine – please note, these associations do not have any relationship with this site and these are provided purely for reference:

The Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine (UK), London:

The British Acupuncture Council:

The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine:


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