Acupucnture protocal in the process of in vitro fertility

Acupuncture protocol in the process of In Vitro Fertility (IVF)
----An integrated approach
Qunhui Mao
Holistic Acupuncture Clinic, Copenhagen, Denmark
[email protected]
Abstracts: An analysis of current acupuncture and IVF research points out their inconsistent
outcomes. Previous trials about acupuncture and IVF do not reflect the reality of acupuncture
practice and essence. They employed a simplified acupuncture. To meet the demands of an
RCT, acupuncture has become handicapped. More well-designed trials about acupuncture and
IVF are needed in the future to get a clear picture. Through my 10 years of clinical practice
with about 3000 IVF patients, I have developed my own acupuncture protocol considering
women’s cycle, hormone characteristics in TCM and individual TCM patterns. The feedback
from my patients is satisfactory.
Keywords: acupuncture protocol, IVF, Embryo transfer, trials.
I. Brief summary of the present situation of acupuncture and IVF researches
Acupuncture is an ancient therapy, which can be traced back at least 2500 years. It is based on
experience and is often regarded as an art. In the last 60 years China has carried out widely
scaled researches within the field of acupuncture, aiming at finding out what acupuncture is,
how it works and why it works. During the past 30 years, Western researchers have also been
working on the same issues. Researchers have brought forth some knowledge about
acupuncture working mechanisms. For example, acupuncture may work on neuron transmitter
system such as ß – endorphins. However, until now, no clear mechanisms have been
discovered and the “ black box” stays unopened.
Since Paulus’s (1) research showed that acupuncture could increase IVF (in vitro fertilizations)
outcomes (42% vs. 26%). By then, the great interest for acupuncture in the fertility field has
been aroused. More and more acupuncturists use acupuncture treating IVF patients worldwide,
and the same time more research has been carried out. There are 9 randomized controlled
trials (RCT)(1-9) on the application of acupuncture in connection with embryo transfer (ET)
during IVF treatment. All of the trials used more or less the same acupuncture protocol as
Paulus, et al. did in their research, by administrating acupuncture 25 min. before and after ET.
Westergaard et al. treated one more time three days after ET (2); Smith et al. treated one more
time before the aspiration (4). All of the acupunctures in the research used in less than 4
sessions. The research outcomes were inconsistent: some showed that acupuncture works, and
others showed that it doesn’t work. A systematic review and meta-analysis (Manheimer et al.
10) and a Cochrane review (Cheong et al. 11) have shown a beneficial effect of acupuncture
in connection with Embryo transfer. However, more recent researchers have put these two
reviews in question (So et al, 8; Andersen, et al. 9). So, does acupuncture work in the IVF
The acupuncture efficacy mechanism is to activate the body’s own ability to achieve balance
and heal itself. This requires a certain number of acupuncture sessions in order to accumulate
the stimulation and reach the desired effect. A few acupuncture sessions may have a little
effect. If we study the effect of a few sessions, a large amount of samples need to be recruited.
Using the results of the study by Anderson et al. (9) to calculate sample size, any future high-
quality and sufficiently powered clinical trial examining the value of acupuncture in IVF will
need to recruit 2300 women in each arm to have an 80% power to detect a 4% difference in
the clinical pregnancy rate at a double-sided alpha of 0.05 (El-Toukhy, 12). The prospect of
such study being conducted is unrealistic (12). Was the acupuncture and IVF research so far
In my opinion, to be able to carry on a professional acupuncture treatment, there are three
basic demands: a. individual combination of points; b. precise points location; C. Deqi (Deqi
is a needling sensation, which can be felt by both therapists and patients.).
RCT research (single or double blind) rules out interactions between therapists and patients
(13). The importance of establishing a positive practitioner-patient relationship is the basis for
proceeding with treatment including both verbal and non-verbal communication (13). The
individualizing of treatment is usually seen as a core approach within TCM. Getting patients
involved into treatment, for example by changing their lifestyle, will increase therapeutic
effects (13). The use of a standardized treatment, either one-treatment fitting all (as
acupuncture and IVF research commonly does.), or even one treatment, fixed to a patient over
time was not supported model to the acupuncturists in Macpherson et al. ‘s trial (13).
In my opinion, those researches about acupuncture and IVF don’t reflect the reality of
acupuncture practice and acupuncture essence. They used a simplified acupuncture. To meet
the demands of a RCT, acupuncture has become handicapped.
In both Anderson et al.’s and So et al. ‘s research, placebo needles were being used. Both of
their results showed that acupuncture did not improve IVF outcomes (8,9). So et al. ’s results
showed even that Placebo group had better results than the acupuncture group (8). Is placebo
acupuncture suitable in acupuncture and IVF trial? Manheimer (10) in his exclusive analysis
has examined the theoretical and methodological rationales for the use of sham or placebo
acupuncture controls in all acupuncture and IVF RCTs’ trials and argues that sham
acupuncture or placebo acupuncture may unnecessarily complicated the RCT evidence base,
because the outcome is pregnancy rate which is entirely objective and unlikely to be affected
by a patient’s expectations of a benefit of acupuncture. It seems unlikely that an IVF patients’
knowledge of whether she was receiving adjuvant acupuncture would affect her ability to
become pregnant from IVF. Therefore, using sham or placebo acupuncture to control for
expectation/placebo effect seems unnecessary in this context. Even if adjuvant acupuncture
were to increase IVF success rates only through a psychosomatic effect mechanism such as
by reducing stress, this stress-reduction effect would be integral to he working mechanism by
which adjuvant acupuncture increases IVF pregnancy rates. Therefore, it seems inappropriate
to control for and separate out any such stress-reduction effect by using a sham control.
Because of the risk that the sham is not an inert placebo but rather an active treatment that
may affect the pregnancy outcome, using sham acupuncture as the control may unnecessarily
confuse rather than clarify the interpretation of the effects of IVF adjuvant acupuncture.
Using both theoretical concerns and epidemiologic evidence, researchers should carefully
weigh the benefits and drawbacks of using sham acupuncture to blind patients in adjuvant
acupuncture for IVF trials, and should question, rather than automatically accept, whether
“ placebo effects” are an important risk of bias in this context (10).
So, more well designed acupuncture and IVF trials that take into account of individual and
professional combinations of points and proper stimulus doses in the future may contribute to
reach a clearer picture.
II. Acupuncture Protocol in the process of IVF treatment

How is clinical practice worldwide? Acupuncture assisting IVF is blooming despite of the
unclear research results!
Every year there are about 15000 IVF (in vitro fertilizations) treatments in Denmark and
many patients use acupuncture to support their IVF treatments. I have been treating about
3000 IVF patients in last 10 years and I have created my own acupuncture protocol. The feedback from my patients is satisfactory. Here I would like to share my experience with fellow TCM fertility specialist. One most common IVF protocol is the long protocol, in which the down regulation drugs like Synarela start at the day 21 of the cycle continuing for 14 days, and then FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) such as Gonal –F begins while the down regulation continues with decreased doses. Normally FSH is administrated for about 8 to 12 days, followed by ovulation-inducing hormone such as Pregnyl. 36 hours later the aspiration takes place. 2 to 3 days after the aspiration, the embryos are transferred into the uterus (ET). After ET, progesterone such as Crinone is administrated vaginally. 14 days later, a blood HCG test will show if the woman is pregnant or not. Here I will briefly introduce my acupuncture protocol in the process of the long protocol of IVF treatment. 1. The functions of acupuncture in the process of IVF - Inhibit uterus contraction and improve blood circulation in the uterus and increase B- endorphin level, which is beneficial for conception (14, 15,16) - Stress is a very common phenomenon in connection with IVF (17, 18, 19), and women’s emotions are like a rollercoaster. Acupuncture is good at reducing stress level (17,19,20) - Improve ovarian function to produce follicles of better quality - Decrease side effects of hormones such as headache, tiredness and discomfort 2. Three principles to be considered while using acupuncture in connection with IVF 1) Considering woman’s cycle 2) Considering hormones’ characteristics Hormones and their characteristics in TCM ( my own opinion) Prevention of abortion If < 7.5mg daily for a short If >7.5mg daily for 3) Considering the individual TCM patterns: Common patterns: a. Cold uterus; b. Liver Qi stagnation; c. Blood stasis; d. Accumulation of damp phlegm; e. Kidney jing, yang, and/or yin deficiency; F. Qi and blood deficiency 3. Acupuncture protocol in the process of long protocol IVF treatment Yingtang, SP9, LI4, LR3, LI6, LU7, SP6 or DU 20, ST29, LI4, LR3, SP36, SP10, SP8, SP6 Half hour before ET: DU20, ST29, PC6, SP8, LR3, plus ear points: Shenmen, Endocrine and Uterus; After ET: LI4, SP6, SP10, ST36 (5) 1) No acupuncture on the lower abdomen: Maybe she is pregnant under the down regulation (which happens quite often in my clinic) or one purpose of the down regulation is to make the uterus lining thinner and acupuncture above the uterus may have the opposite effect. 2) Additional points a. Painful menstruation: BL32, PC6, SP6 b. Strong headache and migraine: Taiyang, GB20, LI4, LR3, SJ5, GB41, ST8 3) Theoretically, menstruation comes 28 days after previous cycle and FSH starts day 8 of the cycle after the down regulation has been administrated for 14 days. However in practice, women’s cycle is often delayed during the down regulation so the group should be used while FSH is being administrated. 4) a. If PCOS women or women that produced a lot of follicles in their previous IVF treatment: remove ST29, and plus KI12. b. If there were poor or few follicles in their previous IVF: KI3, KI6 / KI7 or BL23, BL32, KI3 and ST29-Zigong (with electrical acup.) 5) If you are not in the fertility clinic treating patients (recommended), you can give acupuncture once on all the points including pints before and after ET in your own clinic: if before follicle transfer (ET), use TDP above the lower abdomen; if after ET, no TDP above the lower abdomen. 4. Treatment frequency How often should acupuncture be administered? Normally I start acupuncture around the down regulation, once a week until FSH is administrated and then twice a week until ET. For women over 40 years old , have tried more than 3 x IVF and/or produced poor quality follicle in their previous IVFs, I will start acupuncture session at least two to three months before their IVF treatment. While you treat IVF patients, you can chose the points from the acupuncture protocol plus some few points based on their individual pattern. For instance, the patient comes at day 5 of her cycle, and her basic pattern is Kidney Qi deficiency. You chose points like DU20, RN3, RN4, SP36, and SP6 from the table (cycle day 4-7) and KI 3 for Kidney Qi. 5. Plan after Embryo transfer
If acupuncture treatments need to be continued, normally I will use Back-Shu points like
BL18, BL20 and BL23 to strengthen Yang, because in the second phase of the cycle
Progesterone is the dominating hormone and has yang energy.
III. A case
Linda was a 32 years old woman. She came to my clinic on August 30 2011. The cause of her
infertility was PCOS. She has never been pregnant. Her menarche was at 11 years of age .Her
menstrual cycle was irregular and about 30 to 50 days long. Her menses were red, contained
no clots, were scanty and she did not experience any pain. Her last menstruation was on
August 24. She has taken P-pills from 19 to 29 years of age. General symptoms: poor sleep,
headache, irritable bowel movement, palpitations, depression, worrying, asthma, and hay
fever. Her tongue coating was greasy and her pulse was irregular and slow. She took
pregnancy vitamins. She did not drink coffee, did not smoke or drink alcohol. She ate only
few sweets. She did not do much exercise. My TCM impression: spleen and heart qi
deficiency and liver qi stagnation.
It was her first IVF treatment, and she started her down regulation on August15 and got her
menstruation on August 24.
Treatment principles: strengthen spleen and heart qi and regulate liver qi
August 30, cycle day 7, FSH (Gonal-F) 150 IE from 29/8, DU20, Taiyang, SP6, LR3, LU7,
KI6, HT7, RN3, ST36;
September 3, cycle day 11, No more headache after last treatment, she generally felt better
and was happier. Remove Taiyang, LU7, KI6 and RN3, and add LI4, ST29, SP8 and SP10;
September 5, cycle day 13, scanning showed that she had 8 follicles and Gonal-F was
September 6, cycle day 14, acupuncture points: DU20, ST29, ST36, LI4, LR3, SP10, SP8,
September 8, cycle day 16, she was going to get her aspiration on September 9. The same
points were used as on cycle day 14.
September 11, cycle day 19, she came to my clinic before she went to her fertility clinic for
ET. The same points as on cycle day 14 plus PC6 and ear points (Shenmen, Endocrine, Uterus)
were used. She became pregnant and gave the birth to a beautiful and healthy boy.

1. Paulus, et al. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertil. Steril. 2002; 77, 721-724. 2. Westergaard, et al. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer significantly improves the reproductive outcome in infertile women: a randomized trial. Fertil. 3. Dieteril, et al. Effect of acupuncture on the outcome of in vitro Fertilization and intracytoplasmatic sperm injection: a randomized prospective, controlled clinical study. Fertil. Steril. 2006; 85, 1347-1351. 4. Smith, et al. Influence of acupuncture stimulation on pregnancy rates fro women undergoing embryo transfer. Fertil. Steril. 2006; 85, 1352-1358. 5. Benson, et al. Impact of acupuncture before and after embryo transfer on the outcome of in vitro Fertilization cycles: a prospective singe blind randomized study. Fertil. Steril. 2006; 83, 135. 6. Craig, et al. Acupuncture lowers pregnancy rates when performed before and after embryo transfer. Fertil. Steril. 2007; 88(suppl.1) S40. 7. Domar, et al. The impact of acupuncture on in vitro fertilization outcome. Fertil. Steril. 2009; 91, 723-726. 8. So, et al. A randomized double blind comparison of real and placebo acupuncture in IVF treatment. Hum. Reprod. 2009; 24, 341-348. 9. Andersen D. et al. Acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer: a randomized controlled trial of 635 patients. Reprod. BioM. Online. 2010, 21, 366-372. 10. Manheimer, et al. Effects of acupuncture on rates of pregnancy and live birth among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: systematic review and meta- 11. Cheong YC, et al. Acupuncture and assisted conception. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 12. El-Toukhy: A new study of acupuncture in IVF: pointing in the right direction. Reproductive Bio Medicine Online (2010) 21, 278-279. 13. MacPherson: Beyond Needing--- Therapeutic processes in acupuncture care: A qualitative study nested within a low-back pain trial. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Volume 12, Nr. 9, 2006, 873 – 880. 14. Stener-Victorin E. et al. A prospective randomized study of electro-acupuncture versus alfentanil as anaesthesia during oocyte aspiration in in vitro fertilization. Hum Reprod. 2002; 14: 2480-2484. 15. Cui W, et al. Effects of electroacupuncture on in vitro Fertilization and embryo transplantation in the patient of infertility with different syndrome. Zhong Guo Zhen Jiu. 2008 Apr; 28 (4): 254-6. 16. Ming Ho. Electroacupuncture reduces uterine artery blood flow impedance in infertile women. [Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol 2009; 48(2): 148–151]. 17. Van den Broek U, et al: Predictors of psychological distress in patients starting IVF treatment: Infertility-specific versus general psychological characteristics. 2010 Jun; 25(6): 1471-80. 18. Schmidt L. Infertility and assisted reproduction in Denmark. Epidemiology and psychosocial consequence2006 Nov; 53(4): 390-417. 19. Balk J. The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture, and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: a pilot study. Complement the Clin. Pract. 2010 Aug; 16(3): 154-7. 20. Petti F et al. Effect of acupuncture on immune response related to opioid-like peptides. J tradit Chin Med 1998:18.


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