IVF and acupuncture can work together, despite what flawed studies say

A growing number of new parents are telling their friends and families that acupuncture helped them conceive – after seemingly nothing else worked. Acupuncturists who specialize in reproductive medicine, providing acupuncture within a Western medical setting as an adjuvant to in-vitro fertilization, report success rates of 70% and higher among patients in their own clinics. This is greater than the success rate of IVF alone. To read some of Juliette’s successes with helping mothers conceive, scroll to the bottom of this article.

A meta-analysis of a number of scientific studies on the efficacy of acupuncture as an adjuvant to IVF, published in the June 2013 issue of the Oxford Journal, found that acupuncture was ineffective for increasing the success rate of IVF.

In fact, the study’s authors went on to conclude that acupuncture actually decreased the success rate of IVF. Needless to say, the conclusions of this meta-analysis have come as a shock to all of us who have witnessed quite the opposite.

The difference in results of the study vs. the real life clinical success rate raises some questions. Why is there such a discrepancy between the success rates of controlled clinical trials and the reported success rates from patients?

Are the controlled clinical trials somehow fundamentally flawed?

Let’s take a look at the ways in which the effects of acupuncture on IVF are currently being quantified by researchers.

One oft-cited study, published in Fertility and Sterility in March of 2009, utilizes the so-called Paulus protocol, which is usually described as needling PC-6, SP-8, Liv-3, DU-20, LI-4, and four specific auricular points 25 minutes before IVF; and ST-26, SP-10, SP-6, LI-4, and the same auricular points needled 25 minutes after IVF.

Half of the 150 patients received acupuncture, and half did not.

All patients then completed a questionnaire about their anxiety and optimism.

No difference was shown in the pregnancy rates between the two groups.

The biggest problem with this particular study is that there is no acknowledgement of Traditional Chinese Medicine pattern diagnosis, which is the methodology used to create an individualized treatment plan for each patient’s unique set of signs and symptoms.

In addition, the study does not replicate what is generally done in a real clinical setting in which the patient receives acupuncture treatments for several weeks or even months to address the underlying issues that are causing the infertility.

The patient may be advised to follow a pre-natal fertility-promoting diet and possibly use herbal medicine in addition to acupuncture according to tongue and pulse diagnosis.

Who Funded The Study?

Further investigation reveals that the study was funded by Organon USA, which is a pharmaceutical company that “favors the man-made over the organic approach to medicines,” and manufactures contraceptives, anesthetics, treatments for mental health disorders (Remeron), fertility (Follistim), and bladder cancer (Tice/BCG).

They have a vested interest in acupuncture being proven ineffective.

Other studies usually replicate this same protocol, often using a sham acupuncture group (non-insertion of acupuncture needles at the same acupuncture points with special needles that appear to get shorter when “inserted”), instead of a control group which receives IVF only. Many of these studies show higher rates of pregnancy for the sham acupuncture than with the real acupuncture.

Besides the problems stated above (no attention to pattern diagnosis, no long-term pre-natal acupuncture treatments to address underlying health issues, and vested interests by those funding the studies), the use of sham acupuncture introduces a host of new complications.

Sham acupuncture is stimulating the acupoints, so it is not really a “sham.” It also adds a strong placebo effect, which may be quite significant. We know very little about the needling method used for the true acupuncture group.

Was the stimulation too strong, or left in too long thus potentially draining the energy out of patients with deficiency patterns?

Did the needling startle already anxious patients?

We do not have the answers to these questions.

Does One Protocol Negate The Whole?

A final issue not being addressed in the conclusions of these studies is that if one particular acupuncture protocol is ineffective for IVF, this does not mean acupuncture treatment as a whole is ineffective for IVF.

Making such a statement would be similar to conducting numerous studies on the use of aspirin to treat H. Pylori infection, finding that it is ineffective and can even make patients feel worse, and then concluding that pharmaceuticals do not treat H. Pylori.

When pattern diagnosis is not taken into account, we might even say that such a conclusion about acupuncture and IVF is similar to saying that aspirin doesn’t treat stomach pain, so therefore pharmaceuticals don’t work for treating stomach pain.

No one with a PhD or MD would ever make such a conclusion about pharmaceuticals and stomach pain because it’s ridiculous!

Making a similar conclusion about acupuncture and IVF is just as absurd.

What can we conclude from taking a closer look at the scholarly research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for increasing IVF success?

The studies are clearly not a reflection of the way in which acupuncture is practiced in the real world, by practitioners who fully understand the complex ancient theories underlying the practice of acupuncture.

Actual clinical IVF success rates with highly educated practitioners are reported to be 70% and higher, as opposed to the typical IVF success rate of around 25%.

In addition, patients receiving acupuncture from a qualified practitioner in a real-world setting are typically counseled to eat a fertility-enhancing diet, use herbal medicinals, and do various exercises that promote blood flow to the uterus and pelvic region.

There is no reason to conclude that such a combination of therapies is ineffective for helping couples to conceive.

Here are fertility success stories from some of my actual patients:

“My husband and I were trying to get pregnant when we first saw Juliette Aiyana, L.Ac..  We had been trying for well over a year and had just begun to see specialists about the root of the infertility. We underwent 3 rounds of IUI and a round of IVF without any success. Juliette was treating us during this period, but continued to emphasize that there was another way to deal with this problem and the experts might be wrong about the root causes of the infertility ( low sperm count and ” bad egg quality”). She told us to give her a few months to see if we could work this out. We had nothing to lose, so before our second round of IVF, we put everything on hold and followed Juliette’s advice and protocol. We changed out diets, started taking herbs and came in for weekly sessions. We went and saw a specialist that she recommended who agreed with Juliette that there were natural ways to deal with this issue and that we didn’t have the ” problems” everyone said we had. Only a few months later, we were pregnant. Naturally! 9 months later we welcomed our baby.  It was an easy pregnancy and birth all helped along the way by Juliette. It seems to good to be true, but it’s true. There is no way we could ever repay Juliette for the warmth, knowledge and courage to guide us through this journey. She has become a friend and mentor and my go-to person on everything. We continue to see her and will continue to do so as long as she is around. There is absolutely no one better“! -Lauren, Age 29

A female patient, age 29, came to us after her medical doctor urged her to start an IVF cycle immediately. Her sister had recently undergone several IVF treatment attempts (without acupuncture), but after watching what her sister went through, both she and her 31 year old husband decided to try a natural method first. Even though the husband’s fertility tests were fine, he had seven acupuncture treatments and took Chinese herbs. She and I worked together using acupuncture once weekly, Chinese herbs and diet. She became pregnant within two and half months. She continued acupuncture and herbs through out her pregnancy as needed.

42 year old female patient, who had never been pregnant, came in seeking fertility treatment with her second IVF procedure. This second procedure was only a few weeks away. I advised that her prognosis would be better if she used acupuncture and herbs for three months before her next procedure, but that I was willing to work with her current plan. She wanted to stick with her plan and didn’t want to take herbs with the hormonal treatments so we just used acupuncture and diet. Unfortunately the IVF failed. She decided that she wanted to accept my advice before a undergoing a third IVF round. Not only did she get acupuncture weekly and take herbs for three months, but she even took herbs during the hormone treatment. She became pregnant during the third IVF cycle.

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