Alternative therapies, such as reflexology and herbal supplements, can reduce a woman's chance of becoming pregnant, experts say. The researchers presented in Lyon at the meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, a study that examined the impact of alternative therapies for women using in vitro fertilization in the last year.
Of the 800 Danish women who participated in the study, 261 tried treatments such as reflexology, herbal supplements, homeopathy and acupuncture.
Women who have used these treatments have a 20% lower chance of using these treatments, says Dr. Jacky Boivin of Cardiff University and Dr. Lone Schmidt of the University of Copenhagen.
"Doctors tend to believe that these treatments are benign," says Boivin, who was surprised by the results. "But maybe I'm not as benign as one thinks."
While this study does not come with definitive answers about the value of alternative therapies, experts say it raises a real problem.
"We cannot begin with the assumption that these therapies do no harm," says Dr. Andrea Braverman, director of the New Jersey Reproductive and Psychological Care Association. Braverman did not collaborate with Boivin and is currently conducting a study evaluating the effects of acupuncture on pregnancy.
"There is still an association between using complementary therapies and reducing the chances of having a pregnancy," says Boivin. Because Boivin and Schmidt could not find the difference between the alternative therapies - they measured all the tried therapies, but not individually, and yet could not explain why these treatments can slow the rate of pregnancy development.
Many experts are worried that the study might be distorted. "The important question is whether the chicken or egg came first," says Edzard Ernst, a professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University who was not related to Boivin's study.
"Those women who are more prone to stress and have more health problems, resort to alternative medicine," he says. "Thus, alternative medicine can only be a marker and not necessarily a cause, stress or lower success rate." Ernst says similar results have been found in studies of alternative therapies for cancer patients.
Experts have concluded that due to lack of information, the implications of alternative medicine in pregnancy remain a problem. "Anything can have a positive or negative effect" - says Braverman, "but without evidence, we can only be cautious."