Evidence-based medicine is constantly being cited as the best way to treat health problems so Acupuncture is often rejected as an option for treatment as it is claimed that there is not enough evidence to support it. Yet various articles popping up in the media (see here for one example) indicate that only 1/3 of medical treatments being applied were shown to be beneficial and 50% had unknown effectiveness. More recent articles indicate that a lot of medical research is unreliable and compromised, and even the Cochrane Collaboration, the gold standard of systematic reviews, is now considered to be tainted. Further, if you look at the image above you will see that Evidence based practice is actually based on considering research results together with clinic practice experience and the client and their personal situation. It is not based on research findings alone!

I recently had a potential client call me to enquire about having some acupuncture to support her through IVF, yet she was also hesitant having read that a recent fertility study finds acupuncture ineffective for IVF birth rates.

If, however, you look beyond the title you will see that only 3 acupuncture treatments were offered in this study and these each followed a specific protocol. This was mentioned as a limitation of the paper as very few practitioners would support a patient through IVF with only 3 treatments following a specific protocol. In clinical practice acupuncture treatment is individualised with variation in treatment points and dosing, including more frequent treatment prior to and during the IVF cycle. We treat the individual not the disease.

The results of this paper showed the rate of live birth was 18.3% among participants who received the short course of acupuncture. What are the success rates of IVF without acupuncture treatments? Many IVF clinics would say it depends on a number of factors such as age and the reason people are undergoing IVF in the first place. IVF Australia quotes figures of 8.7% per embryo transfer leading to a live birth for patients over 40 years. In this instance adding acupuncture would actually be beneficial. Practitioners of Chinese medicine would also say it depends and based on the variables we would often offer more than just an acupuncture treatment to support both members of the couple going through the stressful process of IVF. Acupuncture is just one small part of Chinese Medicine and I’ll expand on that idea shortly.

Additionally, this study used sham acupuncture as the control. Many acupuncture research papers do not show a significant difference between acupuncture and sham acupuncture, however, they do show a significant difference when compared to no treatment or a totally different treatment and the paper does mention this. The reason lies in the validity of sham acupuncture which is often “non-insertive needles placed away from true acupuncture points”. What are true acupuncture points? There are many styles of acupuncture that successfully use points that differ from the listed points of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  There are also non-insertion styles of acupuncture, such as Toyohari, that show remarkable results.

Finally, the paper mentions psycho-social benefits from acupuncture that were reported by women undergoing IVF such as feeling relaxed and gaining relief from stress. One of the biggest hurdles we have in helping ourselves achieve any level of health is being able to let go of stress, to switch off the sympathetic nervous system and switch on the parasympathetic nervous system so that our bodies can do what they need to do properly.

This is just one example of people making decisions based on headlines without understanding that there is so much more to Chinese Medicine treatments offered by practitioners than the limited treatment option required to conduct a research paper.

Chinese Medicine offers a holistic approach to health and a tool belt filled with treatment options that cannot be easily standardised for research protocols. When a patient comes to see us we need to assess what may be causing the presenting problem for each individual. While the language we use may appear simplistic the meaning behind it is profound. We may speak of heat, cold, damp and stagnation but the translation often equates to inflammation, low thyroid functioning, lymphatic problems, and issues with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, our central stress response system.

How we then help support patients on their journey back to optimal health is with an individualised treatment that might include any or all of the following:

  • A course of acupuncture treatments that may include the use of cupping, gua sha, moxibustion and/or massage based on the needs of the individual.
  • Diet plays a crucial role in our health, despite what many doctors say, as how can our bodies heal without the necessary micro- and macro-nutrient resources it requires or if it is dehydrated? I will always assess my clients’ food intake and make suggestions not just about what they are eating but also when and how they eat.
  • Supplementation with herbs may be helpful if the diet is insufficient.
  • Are you getting enough fresh air, sunshine and exercise? These lifestyle factors have been shown to play an important role in health and so need to be addressed.
  • Meditation, or mindfulness practice, has been found to be a key element in stress reduction and is a practice I greatly encourage my clients to embrace

So when you turn to a Chinese medicine practitioner for treatment please remember that you will be receiving a consultation and treatment that goes above and beyond the limited acupuncture treatment protocols you read about in a research paper.

Your feedback and questions are always welcome so please leave a comment below.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Tania Grasseschi (Acupuncture, Chinese Herbs and Wholefood counselling).  Tania is a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine  (AHPRA  registered) in Kingsford and is a Contract Academic at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Sydney campus.