Acupuncture: the science of the mind body connection
7th June 2018
A recent study of over 800 Australian and New Zealand women undergoing acupuncture treatment during IVF treatment has confirmed no significant difference in live birth rates between real acupuncture and a sham treatment (a noninvasive needle placed away from the true acupuncture points).
The study’s authors, did however note that a psycho-social benefit from acupuncture was reported by the women who took part in the study.
Co-author Professor Michael Chapman confirmed that they will be writing up these psycho-social benefits in another paper. “Feeling relaxed and reporting relief from stress and women feeling good about themselves is to be welcomed for women as they undergo an IVF cycle,” he said.
So while this particular study concluded there is not a significant difference in outcomes for women who have real acupuncture versus fake acupuncture, this ‘psycho-social’ effect cannot be ignored.
This connection between the mind and body, is explored in a brilliant book by Jo Marchant (‘Cure: A journey into the science of mind over body’). She speaks to Ted Kaptchuk, who studied Chinese medicine and set up and opened an acupuncture clinic in Cambridge.
“He would see dramatic cures, sometimes before patients had even received their treatment….Ultimately, Kaptchuk concluded that he didn’t have paranormal powers. But equally, he believed that his patients’ striking recoveries didn’t have anything to do with the needles or herbs he was prescribing.”
This led Kaptchuk to study the placebo effect. In one of his first trials, Kaptchuk compared a fake pill and a fake pill. This makes no sense from a conventional science perspective. When comparing nothing with nothing you wouldn’t expect to see any difference. But there was a difference – placebo acupuncture was more effective for reducing the patients pain, whereas the pill helped them sleep.
What does have an effect, of course, is our psychological response to these inert substances. Jo sets out how while sham acupuncture generally has similar effects to the real thing – both are significantly better than no treatment at all. Suggesting that for most complaints, any benefit from acupuncture results from a potent placebo effect.
A personal story
At Adia, we have one anecdote (and of course anecdotes aren’t science but it is interesting nonetheless), that supports the above. Before setting up Adia, Lina spoke to a friend who had just taken a fertility test that came back very negative, and recommended that she try some diet changes (taking vitamins like folic acid) and start acupuncture and meditation. Here is how she described her acupuncture experience (her acupuncturist is called Deb):
“Deb happen to be an ex basketball professional player, who after having been in the Corporate world for many years, decided to change her life and study acupuncture. Deb looked to me strong, she spoke to me firmly, and said she was going to help me.
I had not realized how depleted my body was, probably as a result of the many years I had the stomach issues or maybe because I have been working for almost 20 years now, and living under so much stress!
I decided I was going to give Deb a chance, also remembering your positive experience with acupuncture. I also wanted to try to get my body into a better and strong place before spending the time, money and emotional effort. Since that day I have not stopped seeing Deb.
I go 2 or 3 times per week at 7:30 am which is the only time I can go without the possibility of a meeting or a call forcing me to cancel the appointment. I go and lie in that warm bed, Deb gives me words of encouragement or tells me I am too stressed or taking too much coffee, then she pokes me everywhere and I fall asleep for one hour, which feels amazing.”
And the most amazing part, after these intervention her fertility profile massively improved:
“My egg production went from 8 to 15 eggs, my level of FSH from 20 in first exam, 13.5 in second and 9.87 in this last one. AMH went from 0.35 (the doctor tells me it needs to be above 1) to 2.158.”
Our work at Adia
At Adia, we are dedicated to understanding and utilising the science behind the mind body connection to better support women with their reproductive health. It’s an area that has been neglected for a long time, but the emerging evidence suggests can have a big impact.
If you’re a practitioner or researcher in this area, or have a personal story – we’d love to chat. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org