Enhancing the Success of Frozen Embryo Transfers
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During the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, many eggs are retrieved from the ovaries, and quite often these eggs go on to produce more embryos than can be used during a single embryo transfer (most clinics will transfer no more than two embryos in a given month).
So the embryos are frozen and saved for the future, when a Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) may be done. During a frozen embryo transfer, a woman doesn’t need to take all the ovary-stimulating medications that she takes during an IVF procedure, but she is still prescribed some medications to help develop her uterine lining in preparation for the transfer.
A significant amount of research has focused on studying the effects of acupuncture during the IVF process, showing increased pregnancy rates and uterine receptivity when acupuncture is used along with the IVF process1,2,3,4,5. So a question I often get asked is “Does acupuncture help improve the success of a frozen embryo transfer as well?” I have been working with women for many years now who are preparing for frozen embryo transfers and have certainly seen in my own work that acupuncture can make a difference in the pregnancy success for these women. But researchers are now starting to focus not only on the role of acupuncture in enhancing IVF procedures, but on its effectiveness for other related procedures, such as frozen embryo transfer, as well.
In research just published last month6, women undergoing FET were randomly assigned to receive electrical stimulation on specific acupuncture points used to promote uterine health in Chinese Medicine, or to receive mock treatments. Women in both the treatment and control groups had six treatments per cycle for three cycles prior to the frozen embryo transfer. Researchers found that embryo implantation, clinical pregnancy and live birth rates were all higher in the treatment group. And the uterine linings of the women in the treatment group had greater signs of uterine receptivity on ultrasound examination as well.
So participants in the above study received three months of acupuncture prior to the frozen embryo transfer, which is ideal, but even treatments for two weeks prior to a frozen embryo transfer can be beneficial. In a small (5 patients) pilot study7 done a few years ago, patients with a history of thin uterine lining (8 mm or less) with frozen embryo transfer received 2-3 acupuncture treatments a week in the two weeks leading up to a frozen embryo transfer. All women showed increases in uterine lining thickness, ranging from an increase of 4 mm to an increase of 8 mm (for a woman who had a history of a 4 mm lining).
So these studies certainly suggest that acupuncture performed in advance of the frozen embryo transfer date can improve endometrial thickness and uterine receptivity, resulting in higher pregnancy and live birth rates. If women have a history of thin uterine lining with FET then acupuncture is particularly beneficial, but even women with no such history can benefit from the increased uterine receptivity observed with regular acupuncture treatment prior to a frozen embryo transfer. And treatment the day of embryo transfer has been shown to be beneficial in previous studies on IVF4.
- Balk, J. et al. 2010. The relationship between perceived stress, acupuncture and pregnancy rates among IVF patients: a pilot study. Complimentary Therapy in Clinical Practice; 16(3): 154-7.
- Chui et al. 2014. A case series of acupuncture treatment for female infertility with some cases supplemented with Chinese medicines. European Journal of Integrative Medicine; 6(3): 337-41.
- Magarelli, PC, et al. 2009. Changes in serum cortisol and prolactin associated with acupuncture during controlled ovarian stimulation in women undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment. Fertility & Sterility; 92(6): 1870-9.
- Paulus,W. et al. 2002. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertility & Sterility; 77 (4): 721-4.
- Stener-Victorin et al. 1996. Reduction of blood flow impedence in the uterine arteries of infertile women with electroacupuncture. Human Reproduction; 11(6):1317-7.
- Shuai Z. et al. 2014. Effect of transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation on endometrial receptivity in women undergoing frozen-thawed embryo transfer: a single-blind propective randomized controlled trial. Acupunct. Med.; Oct 10.
- Horn, B & W Yu. 2010. Personal communication as part of Acupuncture in the Management of IVF, Pro-D Seminars Online Course.