Natural fertility: female
The vast bulk of research has been concerned with acupuncture as an adjunct to IVF and related techniques, with little devoted to natural fertility, even though it has been used for this in East Asian countries for centuries. There is preliminary evidence that it may help with menstrual and ovulatory problems in women who are having trouble getting pregnant, but much more research is needed to confirm this. There has been some focus on polycystic ovarian syndrome, with three recent reviews. They point to possible benefits for ovulation, menstruation and pregnancy rates, with regulation of reproductive hormones, but the evidence is limited and low quality (1, 2 &3).
In the last two years (too recent to have appeared in the reviews) at least six randomised trials of acupuncture for PCOS-related infertility, all from China, have been published in western databases. Five of them point to beneficial effects, generally compared to the drug clomiphene. However, it can only be said that the case is still to be proven, though there is strong experimental evidence that acupuncture can influence reproductive functioning through a number of different mechanisms.
There have been a number of small trials over the years, with promising indications for acupuncture in improving various sperm characteristics. A systematic review in 2015 included 12 studies with 2177 patients. Acupuncture was found to be superior to medication, or superior when combined with it, for sperm concentration and quality and response rates but the quality of the studies was poor (4).
- Jo J, Lee YJ, Lee H. Acupuncture for polycystic ovarian syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(23):e7066. doi: 10.1097/ MD.0000000000007066
- Lim CE, Ng RW, Xu K, et al. Acupuncture for polycystic ovarian syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;(5):CD007689. Published 2016 May 3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007689.pub3
- Wu Y, Robinson N, Hardiman PJ, et al. Acupuncture for treating polycystic ovary syndrome: guidance for future randomized controlled trials. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2016;17(3):169-180. doi:10.1631/jzus.B1500301
- He Y, Chen CT, Qian LH, et al. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2015;21(7):637-645.