Acupuncture can improve a woman's chances of successful fertility treatment, research shows. Patients on needle therapy during IVF had higher rates of pregnancy and lower rates of miscarriage, the conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Philadelphia was told yesterday.

Doctors and scientists long sceptical about complementary therapies are increasingly convinced they can aid conventional medicine. Acupunct-ure and hypnosis are now available on the NHS.

Researchers from the Reproductive Medicine and Fertility Centre in Colorado Springs studied 114 women undergoing IVF. The transfer process can be uncomfortable and stressful, hampering the chances for a successful pregnancy.

Half of the women had acupuncture during the transfer, with needles in their ears and other areas; the other half had normal treatment without needles. Acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese theories about pressure points and how they affect health and well-being.

Only 36 per cent of the women on conventional treatment became pregnant, compared with 51 per cent of those who had acupuncture. Just 8 per cent of the acupuncture patients suffered a miscarriage, compared to 20 per cent of the other patients.

The therapy also reduced the risk of ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo develops in the fallopian tube rather than the womb. Live birth rates in the acupuncture women were 23 per cent higher for each IVF cycle.

Professor Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary med-icine at Exeter University said: "We are beginning to suspect acupuncture can have hormonal effects and it [could] influence fertility." He also said extra "tender, loving care" during treatment might have influenced results. He added: "These results deserve to be rigorously tested using placebo acupuncture to ensure the effect is real."