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What Does Medical Research Say About Acupuncture and Infertility?

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Updated June 06, 2010

Picture of a woman receiving acupuncture treatment.

Woman receiving acupuncture treatment.

Photo (c) Anthony Saint James / Getty

Acupuncture for infertility is probably the most popular and commonly recognized alternative treatment for those trying to get pregnant. The media seems to report on research related to acupuncture and fertility every few months, and more and more fertility clinics offer or recommend acupuncture services along with conventional fertility treatments like IVF and IUI.

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine, sometimes abbreviated as TCM. Acupuncture involves placing hair-thin needles into particular points on the body. These points, according to the Chinese tradition, run along lines of energy, or meridians. From the TCM perspective, the idea is that an imbalance of these energies in the body can lead to illness, including infertility. Correcting the imbalance by stimulating particular points along the meridians is thought to improve health.

To read more about how acupuncture may work, from both the Eastern perspective, and the medical perspective, read this article.

Given all the hype and excitement over acupuncture and infertility, you might think that the benefits have been well documented. However, that's not exactly so. Some studies have shown improved pregnancy rates for those who try acupuncture, while other studies have shown no or non-statistically significant results.

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Fuss

Researchers on either side of the issue agree that acupuncture is generally harmless, and just about everyone agrees it enhances relaxation, lowers stress levels, and increases beta-endorphins - the feel good, pain-busting hormones.

If it can't do any harm, why invest so much time and research into the issue? Why not send everyone for acupuncture treatment?

Well, if acupuncture really can improve pregnancy rates, then acupuncture treatment should be included as a matter of protocol when treating infertility. Doctors should encourage patients to see an acupuncturist for treatments, and insurance companies should also be willing to foot some of the bill (if they cover fertility treatments at all).

While not inexpensive, acupuncture is certainly less expensive than many fertility treatments. If acupuncture could help couples get pregnant, while spending less money, less time, and risking less side effects (assuming they'd need less help from conventional medicine), then of course acupuncture should be moved out from the "alternative" realm and into the mainstream.

However, if acupuncture cannot be shown to improve fertility rates, then the treatment shouldn't be automatically incorporated into Western medicine's approach to infertility.

Acupuncture isn't the only method of achieving relaxation, and while doctors should help their patients when it comes to stress reduction, pushing acupuncture over other methods would be uncalled for. Meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and basic relaxation training can help those with infertility beat stress, and for far less cost than acupuncture treatments.

Plus, when a fertility doctor - or any doctor, for that matter - recommends a treatment, the patient assumes the recommendation is backed up by evidence-based research. Before recommending acupuncture to patients, doctors want to be sure they are suggesting a treatment that will really help, and not just waste time, money, or provide a false sense of increased hope.

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