Complementary therapies in assisted reproduction may diminish the effectiveness of medical treatment for infertility in women, a scientist will tell the 23rd annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Lyon, France, (Wednesday 4 July). Dr. Jacky Boivin, from the School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Wales, UK, will say that her research had also shown that women who used complementary therapies were more negatively affected by their fertility problems than non-users, and that this could account for the fact that they were willing to use complementary therapies that were not proven to improve fertility.
Many women use complementary or alternative therapies (CATs) to resolve fertility problems, even though there is little evidence that they are effective.
However, it is not clear whether people use these to reduce stress or to increase their chances of getting pregnant. So Dr. Boivin and a colleague from the University of Copenhagen, Dr. Lone Schmidt, set out to study why women made these choices, in the hope of being able to better inform them both of their effectiveness and of other options for achieving pregnancy and reducing the stress of infertility.
They examined the psychosocial and medical profiles of 818 Danish women at the start of their IVF treatment, and then looked at which women went on to use complementary therapy in the subsequent 12 months. The study was the first large scale prospective evaluation of CAT use in an infertile population.
“We found that women who went on to use complementary therapies – for example reflexology and nutritional supplements – during their treatments were more distressed and emotionally affected by their fertility problems than non-users”, says Dr. Boivin. “This difference in stress may mean that women used CATs for stress reduction, and if this were the case it would be important for future research to establish whether CATs achieve this goal more effectively than conventional psychological therapies.”
So far, research shows that psychological therapies are more effective in achieving stress reduction. “But women may be reluctant to ask for this because of the stigma attached, or perhaps simply because they are not aware of the research”, she says “We hope that our study will provide a good basis for women to make a decision on whether or not to use CATs as compared with other available options. We are currently developing brief coping interventions that may be more appealing to people who do not want to use conventional one or one or group counselling.”
The study also found that women who used CAT had a 20% lower pregnancy success rate over the 12-month treatment period. Our findings do not allow us to make a direct causal link between CAT use and pregnancy rate”, says Dr. Boivin. “It may be that complementary therapies diminish the effectiveness of medical interventions, as has been shown in previous research. Or it may simply be that persistent treatment failure encourages women to seek out CATs because they are more willing to try anything to get pregnant.”
The next step for the researchers is to study the same group over a five year period and see how many become pregnant in the longer term. “It is important to do this because we are concerned that, with persistent treatment failure, women might become more and more susceptible to deceptive advertising about ineffective CATs or other unproven treatments”, says Dr. Boivin.
Abstract no 220 Wednesday 11 – 11.30 hrs CET (Forum 3)
Contact: Mary Rice
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology