Acupuncture can increase the chance of success for couples seeking to have a baby through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), according to a review published online Friday by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The paper looked at seven studies in which 1,366 women undergoing IVF were given acupuncture or a sham form of it -- in which dummy sensations were substituted for pinpricks -- or no additional treatment at all.
Overall, the odds of pregnancy increased by 65 percent among the acupuncture group, although this figure may be overstated as data for the trials was uneven, say the authors.
They note that in trials where there was a generally high success rate, acupuncture conferred only a relatively slender advantage, of 24 percent.
In four of the trials where the outcome of IVF was known, acupuncture boosted the probability of a live birth by 91 percent.
Cautiously describing their findings as "preliminary evidence," the authors say acupuncture "improves rates of pregnancy and live birth" among women undergoing IVF.
Previous research has generally found that acupuncture either has no effect on pregnancy rates or somewhat increases the chance of success.
An exception to this was a study last year that found women who had had acupuncture with IVF were less likely to get pregnant compared with counterparts who had not had the needles treatment.
Acupuncture has been used in China for centuries as a spur to reproduction, and its use is growing amongst couples turning to IVF to have a baby.
Among the theories circulating as to why acupuncture may be effective with IVF is the idea that it stimulates the flow of blood to the uterus, thus making the lining of the womb more receptive to the implantion of the embryo.
But assessing the practical benefits of acupuncture is a challenge, given the so-called placebo effect.
This term is used to describe an improvement that can happen among volunteers who are given a dummy treatment, or a placebo, used to draw a comparison with the real treatment.
Under IVF, a woman is giving hormones to stimulate production of eggs, which are gently harvested with a needle and fertilised in the lab using sperm from her partner.
One or several embryos are then transferred back into her uterus via the cervix.