Page last updated at 14:01 GMT, Tuesday, 8 July 2008 15:01 UK

Acupuncture 'no help for IVF'

By Caroline Parkinson
Health reporter, BBC News, Barcelona

Many IVF patients use acupuncture

There is no evidence acupuncture improves the success of IVF treatment, scientists say.

The complementary therapy has been used for centuries in China to aid female fertility and it is now available privately via some NHS clinics.

But the London-based researchers told a European fertility conference an analysis of 13 trials covering almost 2,500 women did not show any benefits.

A leading acupuncture practitioner said he was convinced it could help.

I'm really surprised by these findings
Paul Robin
Acupuncture Society

Acupuncture is the most popular complementary therapy used by IVF patients because it is thought to improve blood flow by relaxing a patient, and therefore increasing the chance of an embryo implanting.

But a course of treatment can cost hundreds of pounds.

Pain relief

The experts from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust carried out an extensive evaluation of the research carried out over the last 50 years.

Five of the trials analysed by the team looked at the effect of acupuncture at the time of egg retrieval, while the other eight examined the benefits of giving it at the time of embryo implantation.

There was some evidence patients undergoing egg retrieval did need less pain relief if they had acupuncture, they told the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in Barcelona.

However, neither group of studies showed any difference in pregnancy rates between those given true acupuncture, those given a sham version and those given nothing.

Dr Sesh Kamal Sunkara, who led the work, said the team had looked at the evidence on acupuncture because women undergoing IVF treatment needed to know if it could help them.

"Sitting in an IVF clinic every day, we are faced with women asking if they should have acupuncture.

"We are looking at women who are vulnerable. They want to do everything possible to improve their chances of pregnancy."

Dr Sunkara said that, based on the evidence she had analysed, she would not advise her patients that having the therapy could improve their chances of having a baby through IVF.

But Paul Robin chairman the Acupuncture Society, said: "I'm really surprised by these findings.

"I've been treating people for twenty years and in my experience treatment does seem to improve their chances of becoming pregnant.

"This study has shown that there's no proof that acupuncture can help - so that suggests that there should be lots more studies to examine the question.

"I'm convinced it can help."

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