Home Health Scientist discovers unexpected proof that century-old practice to cure infertility works — his mother

Scientist discovers unexpected proof that century-old practice to cure infertility works — his mother

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Ben Mol isn’t exactly sure why a procedure that’s been around since 1917 helps women get pregnant — only that if it didn’t, he likely wouldn’t be here.

Mol is the lead investigator of a large new study that found the century-old procedure, an X-ray diagnostic test that involves flushing out a woman’s fallopian tubes, may for many women be just as effective, cheaper and far less risky than IVF, or in vitro fertilization.

Known as the H2Oil study, the project compared the benefits of flushing the tubes with either a poppy seed-based oil, or water-based solution in 1,119 women in the Netherlands.

The procedure, known as hysterosalpingography, or HSG, fills the uterine cavity with a dye, visible by X-ray, which flows into the tubes, unless a blockage is present. The test, which also checks for abnormalities of the uterus, is often part of the workup ordered for women having trouble conceiving.

Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.

Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.Australian researcher Ben Mol says flushing the fallopian tubes with poppy seed oil can help infertile women avoid the need for pricey IVF.

But some women have become pregnant naturally after the simple procedure.

In the new study, nearly 40 per cent of women in the poppy seed oil group, versus 28 per cent in the water group, achieved successful pregnancies within six months of the test.

“The rates of successful pregnancy were significantly higher in the oil-based group, and after only one treatment,” Mol, of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide, said in a statement released with the study. It’s not clear what gives oil the advantage, he said. It may be acting on the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, or simply more effective than water at flushing the tubes of “debris” that can hinder fertility, he said. (The fallopian tube carries an egg from the ovaries to the uterus.)

This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment

Regardless, “This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment,” he said.

Mol was himself conceived after his mother, Annemie Mol-Albers, underwent the procedure in November 1964, after trying for nine years to conceive.

Mol was born in September 1965. By his calculation, “conception must have been around Christmas ’64,” he said in an interview with the Post. Mol says it’s entirely possible he wouldn’t be alive today if his mother, now aged 85, had not undergone the procedure.

Peter Komka/MTI/AP

Peter Komka/MTI/APA poppy seed-based oil was found to outperform a water-based solution in flushing out the fallopian tubes of women having trouble conceiving.

He worries that too many doctors are circumventing the tube-flushing test in women with unexplained infertility and instead skipping straight to IVF, which costs $10,000 or more per cycle. IVF also carries risks, including multiple births and ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome caused by fertility drugs. The ovaries swell and fluid can leak into the abdominal cavity and chest.

Canadian fertility specialist Dr. Jeffrey Roberts, who considers Mol “brilliant,” called the study scientifically sound and said it underscores why the HSG test can be of benefit to women with unexplained infertility, where the sperm looks normal and the woman is ovulating.

“If I’m sending someone to evaluate their tubes, if the test itself gets them pregnant, then it’s gold,” said Roberts, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society.

“The best way to get pregnant is naturally — it’s cheaper and it’s safer,” he added. “It’s when they’re getting pregnant through me that the risks go up.”

“We just haven’t believed in the past (tube-flushing had) a very strong pregnancy rate,” Roberts said.

The women in the water-versus-oil trial were between the ages of 18 and 39, and had been trying to get pregnant for at least one year. Small but roughly equal numbers of women in each group also underwent artificial insemination; a handful had IVF.

Roberts said that while a six-month cumulative pregnancy rate of 40 per cent “is very good, if you leave couples alone, a certain percentage of them get pregnant on their own” without any treatment. “You have to really know what the pregnancy rate is relative to doing nothing.”

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