Science: 1, Pseudoscience: 0
A study comparing the effects of real and placebo acupuncture on pregnancy rates during assisted reproduction has found that, surprisingly, placebo acupuncture was associated with a significantly higher overall pregnancy rate than real acupuncture.
The study, published online in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at real and placebo acupuncture given on the day of embryo transfer in 370 patients in a randomised, double blind trial (where neither the patients nor the doctors knew which treatment was being given).
The researchers found that the overall pregnancy rate (defined by a positive urinary pregnancy test) for placebo acupuncture was 55.1%, versus 43.8% for the real acupuncture.
Dr Ernest Hung Yu Ng, Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Hong Kong (People's Republic of China), said: "We found a significantly higher overall pregnancy rate following placebo acupuncture when compared with that of real acupuncture. In addition, there was a trend towards higher rates of clinical pregnancy, ongoing pregnancy, live birth and embryo implantation in the placebo acupuncture group, although the differences did not reach statistical significance."
It is difficult to design a suitable control for acupuncture – a treatment that involves the insertion of fine needles into particular points on the body. In this study, 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. A trained acupuncturist applied the placebo to the same acupuncture points as for the real acupuncture.
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