science of ivf support

Science of IVF Acupuncture

Scientific Research

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that complementing the embryo transfer process with acupuncture was associated with significant and clinically relevant increases in pregnancy. Some research indicates that pre-and post-embryo acupuncture can increase the success of embryo transfer by up to 40%. You can read the meta-analysis published in the BMJ, here.

Current research suggests that there are primary mechanisms by which acupuncture may improve IVF outcomes and improve the quality of life for women undergoing fertility treatment.

  • Increased blood flow to uterus and ovaries

Clinical tests demonstrate that improved blood flow to the ovaries and uterus is associated with improved fertility outcomes. In addition, ultrasound testing indicates that women who respond poorly to ovarian stimulation for IVF have compromised blood flow to their ovarian follicles (and uteri) in comparison to women with normal ovarian response. Studies conducted by Stener-Victorin et al have shown that the use of electro-acupuncture at specific frequencies increases ovarian blood flow as a reflex response via the ovarian sympathetic nerves.

  • Neuro-endocrinological modulations

Electro-acupuncture can positively alter several neuro-endocrinolgical factors relating to female fertility that improve reproductive function. Whilst the precise mechanism is not fully understood, studies suggest that acupuncture acts to modulate both the HPG (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Gonadal) and HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) axes6 that regulate hormones and stimulate ovarian activity.

  • Modulation in cytokines

There is a growing awareness in the medical literature supporting a link between immunological factors and pregnancy. In particular, faulty T cell responses are thought to be linked to reduced fertility, repeated implantation failure after IVF and recurrent miscarriage. Several studies have demonstrated the ability of acupuncture to modulate abnormal immune responses and it is theorised that this effect may be one of the major mechanisms by which acupuncture improves fertility and IVF outcomes. (Please note: there is currently no published research demonstrating this effect specifically in regard to IVF treatment and success).

  • Reduction of stress, anxiety, and depression

Research indicates that there is a link between anxiety and depression and reduced IVF success rates. It is also recognised that women undergoing IVF treatment often experience anxiety and depression and that the prevalence and severity increases with the number of unsuccessful IVF cycles. In addition, research indicates that reducing stress levels may actually enhance fertility.

A number of trials show that acupuncture provides highly effective treatment for stress, anxiety and depression. Whilst the precise mechanistic basis for these positive effects is not completely understood, it is theorised that acupuncture increases the production of stress-relieving hormones that have a relaxant effect. Acupuncture may also influence the function of HPA axis and reduce many of the physiological responses to stress.

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