By Anna Pyne LAc MSOM
You may have read my recent post about an Ann Arbor study* that found electro-acupuncture, in conjunction with Traditional Chinese Medicine pattern diagnosis, achieved IVF success rates double that of the national average. Because the results of this study are so striking, we wanted to take a closer look.
What makes this study interesting is that it adheres to a main tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine – that treatment is individualized according to a patient’s specific diagnosis, rather than a standardized protocol. In this study, acupuncture points, chosen according to a patient's traditional Chinese medicine pattern, were combined with electro-acupuncture and the researchers found the likelihood of a conception was greatly improved.
The study compared three different groups of acupuncture patients all going through a typical medicated IVF cycle. The first group was a traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA) group, which used selective points based on the individual's presenting pattern. There were five different Chinese medical diagnostic patterns recognized and three to five points were selected for treatment based on each patient's specific pattern. The second group used electro-acupuncture (EA) based off of points used in a previous Swedish study done by Stener-Victorin et al which was published in Human Reproduction**. The third group used a combination of both TCA and EA. Acupuncture intervention for all groups consisted of a minimum of 12 treatments, two per week, prior to embryo transfer.
The frequency of treatment in this study is higher than many other studies (including the Sterner-Victorin study which used 8 sessions) looking at acupuncture and IVF. Patients had a minimum of 12 sessions (2 per week) prior to transfer and about half of the patients had more than 13 treatments. All groups had IVF conception rates higher than the national average, but it was the third group that had the best outcome with an 81% success rate. The first group (TCA only) had a 64% success rate and the second group (EA only) had a 63% success rate.
Now, in case you’re a bit freaked out by the term “electro-acupuncture,” I’d like to take a moment to dispel your fears. Electro-acupuncture is a technique where a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine is attached with small clips directly to acupuncture needles. When electricity is applied to the needles, the sensation is that of a light tapping. Some patients have even asked me if I'm tapping them with my finger when I've used EA on them, but I’m not, that’s simply the sensation caused by the TENS machine. It’s a comfortable feeling that is kept constant during the entire treatment session. By stimulating the points we are further enhancing their function, thereby intensifying the effect of treatment.
These results from the Ann Arbor study show the importance of using a differential traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis with the benefit of the added stimulation from the electro-acupuncture. I have seen this to be true empirically in my fertility practice so when this study came out it was especially exciting to see that it affirms my practical experience.
Please feel free post your comments and questions!