A study in Hong Kong has found that placebo acupuncture led to significantly more pregnancies among women who underwent in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) than those who received real acupuncture.
In the trial, the researchers used a placebo needle that looked identical to a real acupuncture needle, but which was blunt and retracted into the handle of the needle when pressed on the skin, while still giving the appearance and sensation of entering the skin.
In an article published in Human Reproduction, the researchers said a trained acupuncturist applied the placebo to the same acupuncture points as those for real acupuncture.
Half of the 370 women were given real acupuncture and the other half placebo acupuncture twice - 25 minutes before and 25 minutes after embryo transfer. Ernest Ng, associate professor in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Hong Kong, said the overall pregnancy rate for placebo acupuncture was 55.1%, compared to 43.8% for real acupuncture.
Real acupuncture may reduce pregnancy rate
Ng offered two possible reasons for the results. "Placebo acupuncture is similar to acupressure and therefore is good enough to improve the pregnancy rate. Or else, it's possible that real acupuncture may, in some way, reduce the pregnancy rate of acupuncture," he said.
However, he noted that there was no evidence for the latter hypothesis as past studies found higher pregnancy rates in the acupuncture groups than those receiving no acupuncture at all.
The researchers thought it was more likely that this form of placebo acupuncture may actually have a real effect because levels of patient stress changed significantly whether the women received real or placebo acupuncture. Ng urged for more studies comparing placebo or non-invasive acupuncture and controls without acupuncture. – (Reuters Health, November 2008)
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