A randomized double blind comparison of real and placebo acupuncture in IVF treatment.

 So et al, Hum Reprod. 2009 Feb;24(2):341-8.
Human Reproduction

Researchers in Hong Kong found no significant difference between the effects of placebo and regular acupuncture delivered on day of embryo transfer in clinical or ongoing pregnancy rates in this RCT.

Both placebo and regular acupuncture significantly reduced vascularity of the uterus, reduced stress hormones and anxiety levels. These findings lead the researchers to suggest that placebo acupuncture is in fact not inert. Placebo acupuncture needles prick the skin at the acupuncture point but do not penetrate the skin. Many Japanese acupuncturists (who routinely use minimal stimulation of acupuncture points) would argue strongly that this is not an inert placebo procedure but a therapeutic one.

Unfortunately there was no control group in this trial which received usual care.


Background: Acupuncture has been used during IVF treatment as it may improve outcome, however, there are concerns about the true efficacy of this approach. This randomized double blind study aimed to compare real acupuncture with placebo acupuncture in patients undergoing IVF treatment.

Methods: On the day of embryo transfer (ET), 370 patients were randomly allocated to either real or placebo acupuncture according to a computer-generated randomization list in sealed opaque envelopes. They received 25 min of real or placebo acupuncture before and after ET. The endometrial and subendometrial vascularity, serum cortisol concentration and the anxiety level were evaluated before and after real and placebo acupuncture.

Results: The overall pregnancy rate was significantly higher in the placebo acupuncture group than that in the real acupuncture group (55.1 versus 43.8%, respectively, P 5 0.038; Common odds ratio 1.578 95% confidence interval 1.047–2.378). No significant differences were found in rates of ongoing pregnancy and live birth between the two groups. Reduction of endometrial and subendometrial vascularity, serum cortisol concentration and the anxiety level were observed following both real and placebo acupuncture, although there were no significant differences in the changes in all these indices between the two groups.

Conclusions: Placebo acupuncture was associated with a significantly higher overall pregnancy rate when compared with real acupuncture. Placebo acupuncture may not be inert.