By Amy Norton
NEW YORK | Tue Sep 27, 2011
A third study group, where the women received an additional electro-acupuncture session the day before embryo implantation, had an even higher birth rate, at 42 percent. But that difference from the one-session group could have been a statistical fluke, researchers warn.
In 2002, a study in Germany was the first to report that traditional needle acupuncture seemed to improve pregnancy rates in women undergoing IVF. (The study did not look at birth rates.)
For the latest study, researchers in China examined the effects of electro-acupuncture, which uses electrodes on the skin, rather than needles, to deliver an electrical current to traditional acupuncture points.
In one, women received one electro-acupuncture session 30 minutes after having their embryos implanted in the uterus; in a second group, the women had two sessions, with the additional one taking place the day before embryo implantation.
The third group received “sham” electro-acupuncture 30 minutes after embryo implantation. Electrodes were placed on the body at traditional acupuncture sites, but only a weak current came through — enough that the women could feel a sensation, but not enough to have a physiological effect, according to Zhang’s team.
Large-scale trials are needed before electro-acupuncture should be adopted as part of infertility treatment, according to Dr. Tarek El-Toukhy, a reproductive medicine specialist at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.
El-Toukhy and his colleagues recently published a meta-analysis of the dozen-plus clinical trials that have looked at acupuncture and IVF. A meta-analysis pools the results from several studies to try to get an overall idea of the evidence on a therapy.
In an email, El-Toukhy told Reuters Health that the new study was “reasonably well-conducted,” but that it also needs to be considered within the context of all the research that has been done on acupuncture and IVF.
He pointed to a U.S. study published earlier this year that looked at the effects of needle acupuncture at the time of embryo implantation. Researchers found that 45 percent of the women given true acupuncture became pregnant, versus 53 percent of those given a sham version.
As for electro-acupuncture in particular, this appears to be the first study to look at its effects during embryo implantation. And El-Toukhy said it’s not something that’s commonly available during IVF.
For one, he told Reuters Health in an email, the study was not really “blinded” — that is, the electro-acupuncture operators knew which therapy they were delivering, and all of the women in the study knew they were receiving electrical stimulation because they could feel it.
Lipson also pointed out that there was no clear difference between the one-session electro-acupuncture group and the sham-acupuncture group when it came to the percentage of women who had a positive pregnancy test.
SOURCE: bit.ly/o071Wn Fertility and Sterility, online August 22, 2011.