Skepticism

Get Stuck, Get Pregnant

A study paid for by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has determined that Acupuncture can help women get pregnant while undergoing IVF treatments. In fact, it may increase their odds of getting pregnant to 65%!

The study was a meta-analysis of 7 studies, three of which said accupuncture was helpful ion achieving pregnancy, three that said it might be helpful and one said not so much. But here’s a little math for you:

when a=meta-analysis, b=acupuncture, c=National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine;

a+b+c=your study sucks

IVF success rates are unbelievably misleading in general. I don’t even know how many factors go into assessing such statistics, but I do know there are different methods of IVF, different types of infertility, and different age groups taken into account. Hell, even the word “pregnancy” when it comes to being pregnant can mean a number of things – it can mean that there was a baby born, there was a fetal heartbeat detected or that you just peed on a stick and it came up positive.

A woman could miscarry at 5 weeks and still be counted as a “pregnancy”. I doubt the couple who has been trying for 5 years to get pregnant and is dropping $10,000 a month for treatments would consider that a “success”, but statistics being statistics, they just might get tallied in the “win” column.

So what does 65% pregnancy rate mean? It’s slightly less informative than telling you I had a sandwich today for lunch.

Fortunately the USAtoday article includes this disclaimer:

However, Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of infertility treatment at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said other studies, reported at recent medical meetings and not included in the published analysis, did not find it helped.

“The jury is still out,” he said, but added, “It’s unlikely that acupuncture does any harm.”

Oh wait, did i say “fortunately”? Oh I meant, “In an attempt to continue pandering to an audience that probably believes in crap-based medicine while attempting to keep an ounce of credibility the USAtoday article includes this pseudo-disclaimer.”

It’s unlikely acupuncture does any harm? How about infections from dirty needles, “puncture of body cavities and vital organs”, going home from a session with needles still in you because your acupuncturist forgot to take them out, or needles breaking while inside you? And that list came from the guys who think acupuncture is good!

These alties have a great business sense. If I could ignore my conscience, I would love to start a business where I just have to pretend I know some stuff about magical pins, and market it to people who are so desperate for a child, they will try anything. Especially people who are unlikely to let a few hundred dollars a month come between them and having a family. If they’d ask me how it works, I’d just tell them that it probably increases blood flow to the uterus (but I wouldn’t tell them that stabbing also increases blood flow to parts of the body). I could tell them that their chances are going to be increased to better than a coin-flip and if things don’t work out this month, they should still come back to me… because sometimes a uterus can be stubborn and uncooperative, you know, kind of like women.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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17 Comments

  1. Meta analyses can be very powerful and helpful, but they're only as good as the studies that are included. If you pick studies with crappy methodology or cherry-pick the studies you include (which seems to have been the case here), then you might as well not bother. Still, the BMJ carries a lot of weight.

    I'd be very curious to see those other studies that Dr. Rosenwaks mentioned.

  2. Hi, I found this blog by accident. I was actually a subject in one of those studies, and their "scientific methods" were highly unethical. As a result of their experiment I am completely unable to sleep on my back. Apparently, I signed something that said I had to participate in their follow-up study in order to get the needles taken out. Obviously I'm considering a lawsuit.

  3. I should also add that I'm male and the only reason I tried this is because the Italian researcher that approached me sounded like he was asking me if I wanted to try to "get a pregnant". But misunderstanding or not, why would they even let me do this ?! And why in the back of a dirty van?!

  4. Has there been any studies linking Acupuncture with Hep C? I've always blamed my getting Hep C on my tatoo, but I've had way more visits to an acupunctureist (who was also my roommate) than the one visit to get a tatoo.

  5. This is definitely a case when you can look at who funded the study and draw certain conclusions. Would they have even bothered if they didn’t intend the use the “results” to convince desperate would-be parents to pay for their “services?” Taking money from people on false promises is harm enough.

  6. Why not just pray for a baby? I mean, that's how you get pregnant, if you really really deserve it, right? Why not just cut out the middle man with the needles if you're going to rely on the supernatural to bring sperm and egg together?

    /snark

  7. I don't see how they can control for the placebo effect in acupuncture studies. I mean, how can you tell someone they're getting needles stuck in them without actually doing it! Wouldn't they be able to tell?

    I don't really know how the placebo effect would have any bearing on getting knocked up, but it's something that bugs me every time I read about acupuncture studies. It seems they can never be properly double-blinded.

  8. Now we can call it "fuckupuncture?"

    No one thinks of the poor storks. First rendered nearly obsolete by IVF (increased odds of twins, even!). And now the needles.

    Acupuncture is monopolizing the healthcare industry. It's not fair. What does the FTC have to say about the marginalization and increased unemployment of

    the humble stork population? Huh? Huh?

    CAM. Robber barons, through-and-through.

  9. flygrrl said:

    Why not just pray for a baby? I mean, that’s how you get pregnant, if you really really deserve it, right?

    The sad thing is that there is a good number of people out there who go a year without being able to conceive, get on medications, do the pills and self-administer injections, they go in for monitoring every other day during their cycles, the men go into rooms and give their deposits to the nurse who sends it to a lab that separates the "winners" from the "duds", the lab sends it back up to the doctor who either uses a tube to put said winners way up into the woman's uterus or they take the eggs from the woman and make a few babies in a petri dish and implant those into the woman.

    the woman ends up pregnant and the couple thanks God for blessing them with a baby, completely ignoring the fact that their reproductive endocrinologist had to actually circumvent God to get them pregnant.

    You want to shake those people and yell, "GOD DIDN'T WANT YOU TO GET PREGNANT! REMEMBER?!?!?!"

  10. Elyse wrote:

    The woman ends up pregnant and the couple thanks God for blessing them with a baby, completely ignoring the fact that their reproductive endocrinologist had to actually circumvent God to get them pregnant.

    Reminds me of the news reports I've seen of the devastation recently wrought by some nasty tornado-bearing storms here in the US.

    Typical scenario: Guy is standing in front of his utterly demolished neighborhood. "It was just a miracle from God that no one was killed."

    Uh…what?! Who hit the "send tornadoes" switch, you toothless moron?

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