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New acupuncture review rebuffs negative subfertility claims

New acupuncture review rebuffs negative subfertility claims

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has launched a comprehensive research review in a bid to rebuff claims that acupuncture is not an effective treatment for subfertility.

The review, which is for both health professionals and subfertile patients, brings together the latest research and evidence on the effectiveness of acupuncture with in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Authored by BAcC member Lianne Aquilina – who holds an MSc in applied health research and a BSc Hons in acupuncture – and the BAcC’s research manager, Mark Bovey, the review shows that acupuncture improves the birth rate of subfertile women undergoing reproductive treatment.

In June 2018, journalist Fay Schopen wrote a damning article in the Guardian accusing IVF clinics of taking advantage of vulnerable women by offering them unnecessary add-on treatments.

Ms Aquilina said: ‘The article cast a negative shadow over what is a useful and effective intervention for subfertility’.

In her article, Ms Schopen referred to the results of a study which had found that acupuncture does not improve the chances of women undergoing IVF having a baby. However, the study https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2681194 – during which 848 women across 16 IVF centres in Australia and New Zealand were given either acupuncture or sham acupuncture prior to a fresh embryo transfer – was subsequently found to be methodologically flawed.

Following publication of the study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) in May 2018, the British Acupuncture Council issued an official response saying the findings were misleading because women undergoing IVF had not received the recommended number of acupuncture treatments.

In a letter to JAMA, which was not published, the president of the Italian Federation of Acupuncture Societies (FISA), Carlo Maria Giovanardi MD, also questioned the validity of the study saying it lacked a ‘true control group’ because sham acupuncture, used as a control in the study, is not ‘an inert placebo’ and can itself have a positive impact on pregnancy rates.

Ms Aquilina said: ‘Had the journalist taken the time to critically review the paper or interview a professional acupuncture representative these issues would have been highlighted and a well-informed position on the topic could have been presented. 

‘The problem with this approach is that subfertile women are at risk of becoming “collateral damage”, whereby they are not able to easily access innovative treatments or techniques that may help actually them achieve a positive outcome. It is essential that research explores the evidence base, and proper information is provided. Without this approach, health professionals and women become unable to make a well-informed decision as part of their care pathway, and busy clinicians may be unable to keep up with the research landscape or even be aware of the present evidence base on a range of topics.’

The new BAcC research resource aims to critically appraise the evidence base, dispel the myths around acupuncture for IVF and ICSI, and help researchers, healthcare professionals and patients make informed choices.

 

Notes to editor

  • The review can be found here.
  • A case study (outlined below) can be found here

Amy Ewing and Lewis Stedman believe acupuncture played a huge role in their attempts to have a baby after Lewis was found to have a low sperm count.

The fertility clinic they attended used ICSI to overcome male factor subfertility, but even with this the chances of a positive outcome in terms of birth rate are less than half and not guaranteed. Amy decided to use acupuncture to help improve her odds, and also to help her cope with the medical process. Amy and her partner were only ever able to have one assisted reproductive cycle.

For further information, case studies or interviews, please contact Katie Osborne on 07990 922615 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For a full list of British Acupuncture Council press releases visit the newsroom.

About the BAcC

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) has a membership of nearly 3,000 professionally qualified acupuncturists. It is the UK's largest professional body for the practice of acupuncture. BAcC members practise a traditional, holistic style of acupuncture diagnosis and treatment based on a system developed and refined over 2,000 years. To achieve BAcC membership, practitioners must first undertake extensive training in traditional acupuncture (minimum three years full-time or part-time equivalent), which includes physiology, anatomy and other biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture.

Acupuncture and moxibustion

Acupuncture and moxibustion are forms of traditional Chinese medicine widely practised in China and also found in regions of south-east Asia, Europe and the Americas. The theories of acupuncture and moxibustion hold that the human body acts as a small universe connected by channels, and that by physically stimulating these channels the practitioner can promote the human body’s self-regulating functions and bring health to the patient. This stimulation involves the burning of moxa (mugwort) or the insertion of needles into points on these channels, with the aim to restore the body’s balance and prevent and treat disease. In acupuncture, needles are selected according to the individual condition and used to puncture and stimulate the chosen points. Moxibustion is usually divided into direct and indirect moxibustion, in which either moxa cones are placed directly on points or moxa sticks are held and kept at some distance from the body surface to warm the chosen area. Moxa cones and sticks are made of dried mugwort leaves.

Traditional acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture as practised by members of the BAcC is based on Chinese medicine principles that have been developed, researched and refined for over 2,500 years. Traditional acupuncture is holistic, not focused on isolated symptoms. It regards pain and illness, whether physical or mental, to be a sign the whole body is out of balance. Western or medical acupuncture is a more recent development practised predominantly by doctors and physiotherapists, who use acupuncture techniques within their existing scope of practice on the basis of a western medical diagnosis. There is a growing body of evidence showing how effective acupuncture is in a range of conditions:

Why use a BAcC practitioner?

Only British Acupuncture Council members belong to a Professional Standards Authority accredited register, providing professional guarantees of safety, education and continuing development (professionalstandards.org.uk)

Look for the letters MBAcC after the name of your acupuncturist to ensure:

  • extensive training – minimum three years degree level – with relevant western medicine including anatomy and physiology
  • adherence to BAcC codes of safe practice and professional conduct
  • compliance with current health and safety legislation
  • full insurance cover for medical malpractice and public/products liability
  • mandatory continuing professional development to keep knowledge and skills up to date
  • postgraduate study of special interests such as pain management and acupuncture for children

Find a BAcC registered acupuncturist near you