People who are trying to conceive commonly report higher than normal levels of anxiety, and this is true for both females and males. Anxiety levels in people going through IVF are considerable. This is an area that should receive more attention because not only does it impact on quality of life, it is one of the reasons often given for deciding to discontinue Assisted Reproductive Treatment (ART). The conclusion drawn by the authors of this study is that acupuncture is a low-risk therapy with benefits for reduction of anxiety, and to support couples going through IVF.
Research paper discussion:
Effect of acupuncture on IVF-related anxiety: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hullender Rubin, L.E., Smith, C.A., Schnyer, R.N., Tahit, P., Pasch, L.A. RMBO 2022; 45 (1): 69-80
This paper published in 2022 examined the evidence for using acupuncture to mitigate IVF-related anxiety. The team led by Hullender Rubin conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of published clinical trials using acupuncture specifically for the treatment of anxiety in women undergoing IVF.
A systematic review and meta-analysis is a research study that combines information from multiple previous studies to get a more accurate understanding of a topic. Researchers use a systematic and organized approach to gathering all relevant information. They then use statistical methods to combine the results and provide a more precise answer to their research question. It provides a comprehensive and up-to-date summary of what is known about a specific topic.
In this particular study, the research team searched for all randomised controlled trials of acupuncture administered throughout IVF cycles. These trials compared groups using acupuncture with groups receiving either sham acupuncture, no treatment, or some other form of treatment. The team excluded studies that did not involve embryo transfer, studies that used acupressure rather than acupuncture, and studies that were not published in English. The clinical trials also needed to measure anxiety or stress as one of the end points.
Of the 129 studies identified, only eight studies were ultimately deemed to have met the inclusion criteria. Of the eight included trials, almost all used different protocols involving the number of acupuncture sessions and the timing of those sessions.
Of the eight randomised controlled trials included in this study, five of these compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture, and four of the five used non-penetrating sham needle devices. Two of these studies placed the non-penetrating sham devices on the same acupuncture points that were used in the participants that were given true acupuncture, with others using ‘non-acupuncture points’ to place the sham devices. In the remaining three trials, one compared acupuncture with no acupuncture and the other two compared acupuncture with medication. Other differences between the included trials were treatment protocols, the number of treatments performed, and methods of evaluating the intended outcomes.
In the five trials that compared acupuncture with sham treatments, no difference was found in anxiety levels. In the other three trials that compared acupuncture to no acupuncture or to other treatments, there was less anxiety in the acupuncture group in comparison to the control group. Sham acupuncture is not considered to be inert, and is thought to have some physiological effect. The results of this study appear to demonstrate this.
There is much support for the use of non-pharmacological therapies to treat anxiety in couples who are trying to conceive. Antidepressants, commonly used to treat anxiety, have been associated with some risks during ART. A 2018 study by Evans-Hoeker et al. found an association between taking some antidepressants during an artificial insemination cycle and an increased risk of pregnancy loss during the first trimester.
Acupuncture is considered a low-risk therapy with potential benefits for reduction of anxiety in couples undergoing IVF and other forms of Assisted Reproduction.
Well2 was established in 2005. All acupuncturists at Well2 have a special interest in working with clients experiencing fertility issues, in particular IVF clients.
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Evans-Hoeker, E.A., Eisenberg, E., Diamond, M.P., Legro, R.S., Alvero, R., Coutifaris, C., Casson, P.R., Christman, G.M., Hansen, K.R., Zhang, H., Santoro, N., Steiner, A.Z. Major depression, antidepressant use, and male and female fertility. Fertil. Steril. 2018; 109: 879–887