Tuesday, November 29, 2005

IVF and acupuncture double blind study to begin

You may know acupuncture as an ancient Chinese medical procedure used to treat all sorts of conditions. Combining it with IVF is a relatively new idea. Some couples have reported success with acupuncture treatments and IVF combined, after a number of failed IVF cycles without acupunture. To date, however, there have been no so-called double-blind studies of IVF with and without acupuncture.

The University of Maryland Medical Center has announced plans for a double-blind study of IVF combined with acupuncture. The study is funded by the National Institute for Health and is currently recruiting patients to participate. They hope to identify if acupuncture results in increased blood flow to the uterus, a rise in hormone levels, or reduced stress that might account for the apparent increase in IVF success rate.

A couple of issues came to mind when we read this news. One is how they might implement a double-blind test. It seems that it might be quite difficult to have a placebo control group. How might they make the placebo group believe they had a real needle insertion when there was none? Or perhaps they insert needles but not at the correct point in the body? The details of how they plan to do this would be interesting.

Another issue concerns the basic differences upon which Chinese and western medicine are founded. The study is going to look for changes in physical systems as understood by western medicine, while acupuncture is based upon a completely different model of the body and energy flows. So if the study does not find changes in uterine blood flow or hormone levels do they conclude that acupunture has no effect? That would seem to be a flawed conclusion. If the study group is statistically significant and the number of live births is compared then that might lead to useful conclusions.


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