Women undergoing fertility treatment who pay for acupuncture to increase their chances of becoming pregnant are wasting their money, a study has shown.
The findings suggests complementary therapy has no effect and just builds up false hopes. Increasing numbers of in-vitro fertilisation clinics are setting up acupuncture units to meet growing demand.
The research confounds highly publicised claims that the ancient Chinese therapy, which involves inserting needles into the skin to manipulate energy channels, can stimulate pregnancy.
Even the idea that acupuncture might work through the "placebo" effect of a patient's own belief in the treatment appeared to be groundless.
Researcher Dr Sesh Sunkara, from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust in London, said: "Irrespective of the expense, women are investing emotion and time into something that has not shown any definite benefit."
"I'm not here to promote or kill acupuncture; I'm just looking at the evidence," said Dr Sunkara, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the European Society of Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona.
"The main outcome we measured was pregnancy rate, and we found that acupuncture made no significant difference."
There was some suggestion that acupuncture, which can cost patients hundreds of pounds, helped ease the pain involved in egg collection, but this did not form part of Dr Sunkara's analysis.
"I am a licensed acupuncturist who has helped many women improve their fertility. Last year I treated a 39-year-old woman who was told by her MD that she would require IVF to become pregnant. After six months she became pregnant. She gave birth to a healthy baby boy three months ago. You can ask her if she feels she wasted her money – the total of which was significantly less than what she would have spent on IVF procedures." - Robin L Schiesser, Boulder, Colorado