Families struggling to conceive have reason for new hope this week. A recent study published in the “New England Journal of Medicine" confirms the validity of an old wives' tale, and it's not only all-natural but also affordable and effective.
One in six women in the United States will struggle with infertility, which is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. It's a cruel statistic, and one that is often underestimated. After all, most women spend a significant portion of their fertile lives taking steps to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. In fact, a 2013 release from the National Health Statistics Reports concluded that “virtually all" women in the U.S. of reproductive age who were sexually active in 2006 to 2010 have used at least one contraceptive method. The exact statistic was 99 percent.
So it comes as a somewhat bitter irony that of these 99 percent who have tried so carefully to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, one in six will struggle to conceive when they do decide they'd like to become pregnant. The mental anguish only becomes deeper for the majority of couples who choose to keep private their struggles with infertility, often suffering quietly and alone.
Unsurprisingly, fertility treatments are a booming business in the United States. Resolve, the National Infertility Association, estimated that in 2006 the average cost of one in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle using fresh embryos was $8,158. That number does not include any of the medication necessary before the procedure, and the number has only gone up since 2006. A 2014 article in Forbes indicated that the average cost had risen to over $12,000 and that medications would typically run another $3,000 to $5,000. All this for a procedure that is generally less than 40 percent effective.
But there's now new reason for optimism.
In a study published this week, researchers confirm that flushing the fallopian tubes with poppy seed oil, a technique known as hysterosalpingography with oil contrast, significantly increases the odds of conception in previously infertile couples.
In the study, 1119 women who had struggled to conceive for at least one year were treated with either hysterosalpingography with oil contrast or hysterosalpingography with water contrast. Nearly 40 percent of those who received the oil treatment conceived within six months of their treatment, compared with 29 percent who received the water treatment.
The hysterosalpingography procedure was originally developed as a diagnostic tool to help identify blockages in the fallopian tubes on an X-ray. It is now thought that it may be effective in flushing any mucus or blockages from the tubes, acting as a treatment rather than a diagnosis.
Previous studies had shown no clinical difference between the water and oil treatments, but none were as well-controlled or as comprehensive as the current study.
While the potential costs of this treatment, if it were to become mainstream, are still up in the air, researchers suggest that it will be minimally invasive and inexpensive as compared with IVF.
The procedure will not help in all instances of infertility, but the lead researcher, Dr. Ben Mol, is hopeful that it will become more mainstream. “If you know your infertility is due to poor semen quality or no ovulation then this is not going to help, but if there's any other cause this might be beneficial," he says.