There have been a number of randomised controlled trials and pilot studies that have looked at the effect of acupuncture or electro stimulation of acupuncture points, on sperm quality in men with low counts, poor motility and morphology or a varicocele, most with favourable results. Because these trials all had different methodology and measured different outcomes, it is difficult to pool results in a meta-analysis and therefore to make therapeutic recommendations at this stage.
Yan Yu et al, Acup Med BMJ, 2019
Acupuncture in Medicine, British Medical Journal
A randomised controlled trial examined the effect of electrical stimulation of acupuncture points (using TEAS), on sperm parameters. They found that low frequency stimulation significantly improved sperm count and motility in men with abnormal semen analysis.
Smith C et al, 2019 RBMO Vol 38, Issue 3, Pages 364–379
Reproductive Biomedicine Online
A meta-analysis of 20 trials and more than 5000 women doing IVF concluded that those who had a poor chance of success could benefit from acupuncture at the time of embryo transfer.
The collection of papers in this section includes some that examined the role of acupuncture at the time of embryo transfer in an IVF cycle.
- Acupuncture and IVF; The largest randomised controlled trials in this area found that there was no benefit from acupuncture on the day of transfer, (and in some cases with an additional treatment before the day of transfer) compared with sham acupuncture. Two smaller but well designed RCTs examined the effect of administering acupuncture throughout the stimulation phase as well as at, or near embryo transfer on IVF patients with a past history of failed cycles or a poor prognosis. Both of these found that the acupuncture groups pregnancy rate was significantly higher than the control groups. See also Meta-analyses.
Other publications in this section include studies on the impact of acupuncture or chinese herbs on low ovarian reserve, intrauterine insemination, natural fertility, endometrial receptivity and frozen embryo transfer.
- Low ovarian reserve; Two studies examining electro-acupuncture or TEAS’s impact on responsiveness of ovaries with low reserve reported encouraging findings, as did one where herbal medicine’s effect on ovarian reserve was examined but we await larger randomised controlled trials before firm conclusions can be drawn as to therapeutic efficacy.
- Endometrial receptivity/FET; Pregnancy rates and endometrium quality were examined in 2 randomised controlled trials that used well known Chinese herbal formulas. In another randomised controlled trial the effect of TEAS acupuncture point stimulation on endometrial receptivity was examined in women preparing for frozen embryo transfers. While positive results are reported in all these trials, larger RCTs are awaited to confirm the results.
- Intrauterine insemination; Only one study has been published as far as we know on the effect of Chinese Medicine treatment on the outcomes of IntraUterine Insemination. A small controlled but non randomised trial found that the group of women who used Chinese medicine had a markedly higher pregnancy and live birth rate. As with the above, larger RCTs are required before definitive conclusions can be reached.
- Natural fertility; The logistics of recruitment and funding mean that very few studies of the effect of Chinese medicine on fertility have been published. One small randomised controlled trial found that Chinese medicine treatment halved the time to conception compared to a control group. If this sort of trial can be mounted with larger numbers we may be able to make some claims about the effect of Chinese medicine on fertility.
The large majority of small randomised controlled trials that examined the effect of acupuncture on IVF outcomes when administered on the day of embryo transfer, found a positive effect. However some more recent large randomised controlled trials (published in other journals) have not replicated this result, concluding that acupuncture on the day of transfer does not increase live birth rates for IVF patients. The more recent reviews of trials examining more extensive use of acupuncture before and during an IVF cycle indicate a benefit, compared to those where only 2-3 treatments were administered.
To date there is not a lot of research published on the treatment of endometriosis with Chinese medicine that meets the standard required for us to draw firm conclusions on efficacy. One review has analysed findings from 10 small trials that used acupuncture to treat endometriosis pain, and one randomised controlled trial has examined the use of chinese medicine to prevent recurrence after surgery.
This review of twenty-nine randomised controlled trials (including 3519 patients) found that there was a significant reduction in nausea and vomiting in pregnancy with the application of various acupuncture techniques, when trials reporting dichotomous data (ie symptoms improved or not) were analysed. 73 % fewer patients had symptoms after treatment compared to those who did not have treatment. However when trials reporting continuous data were analysed this difference between treatment and control groups was not found.
The included studies examined acupressure, acupuncture, auricular acupressure and moxibustion. Treatment duration varied from four to ten days in 25 studies. Four studies continued treatment for two to four weeks. Treatment frequency varied from once a day to once every week.
The authors advised that these findings need to be evaluated in future clinical trials with rigorous design and large sample sizes.
Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies
Neri I et al, Jnl Acup Merid Studies, Vol 11, 5, October 2018, Pages 332-336
This randomised and controlled trial recruited 375 women who were 2 days past their due date for delivery. The group that received acupuncture were less likely to be induced than the group that received “usual care”
Cayir Y et al, JAMS, 11(4):224-225 · August 2018
Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies
A randomly selected and controlled trial (RCT) found that acupuncture improved pregnancy rates in women who had acupuncture before and on the day of embryo transfer compared to a similar group of women who did not have acupuncture. This trial did not use sham acupuncture as a control, but rather used “usual care” as a control. This finding is at odds with larger trials using sham acupuncture as a control.
This trial also reported a reduced anxiety level in the women who had acupuncture.