Acupuncture could help women undergoing fertility treatment become pregnant, new research has found.
One in three women given the ancient Chinese therapy - which involves the insertion of needles into specific points on the body - alongside their IVF treatment successfully conceived, scientists from the University of Southampton discovered.
The success rate among those who did not combine fertility treatment with acupuncture was one in five.
IVF treatment involves "embryo transfer" - when an egg has been fertilised in a laboratory is put into a woman's womb.
The study, which involved more than 2,000 women, discovered that the chance of the embryo implanting successfully, triggering pregnancy, increased if the patient was treated with acupuncture at about the same time as the transfer.
Its authors, however, found there was no discernible benefit if the acupuncture took place days after the fertility treatment.
They concluded: "Acupuncture around the time of embryo transfer achieves a higher live birth rate of 35 per cent compared with 22 per cent without active acupuncture."
Dr Ying Cheong, from the university's reproductive medicine unit, who led the research, said the findings would offer encouragement for the 33,000 women who embark on IVF treatment each year.
"Our research is good news, because it shows that acupuncture can help with fertility in patients undergoing IVF," Dr Cheong said.
"Whether or not acupuncture helps women achieve a live birth is a controversial issue, and opinion has been divided on it.
"We show that acupuncture, performed at the right stage, can have significant benefit. A woman who does so has a much greater chance of having a live birth than a woman who doesn't have acupuncture."
Acupuncture therapists claim that by inserting very fine needles into points on people's "energy channels", they can stimulate the body's natural healing system. However it is controversial, and many medical experts remain sceptical over its claims. Dr Cheong's research was welcomed by charities that campaign for people suffering from fertility problems.
Susan Seenan, from Infertility Network UK, said: "These results appear to show that acupuncture given with embryo transfers can help improve success rates and we look forward to further research in this area to confirm this.
"Anything that helps improve the success rates for people going through infertility treatment is good news.
"Many of our members report that alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, can help them to cope with the treatment and the general stress."