“Twins” born years apart…

Every so often there’s an article like this one in today’s Guardian, about “twins” born years apart… The writer of this piece has a son and daughter born as a result of one fresh IVF cycle and a further frozen embryo transfer from the same batch of embryos.

It is a fortunate, yet far from uncommon, experience after fertility treatment, but it doesn’t make the children “twins”. Twins are two babies who are carried together and born at the same time, which these children were not. They are siblings rather than twins.

The Guardian seem to specialise in this myth – here are some previous twins who were born five years apart, although at least that time they called them “twins” in the headline…  Those were also covered by the Telegraph. And unsurprisingly the Daily Mail likes them too – these brothers born two years apart are “technically” twins according to the Mail – in fact, they are technically not twins. It is always made to sound as if it is some extraordinary and highly unusual matter, yet there are hundreds of thousands of siblings around the world who will have been conceived in a similar way.

Maybe I’m getting pedantic in my old age…

Facts and headlines

120px-Sperm-eggSo another day, another “helpful” IVF headline. Today the Daily Mail tells us about the “£100 ‘condom’ that is £4,900 cheaper than IVF but just as effective”…

The only evidence to back up this suggestion are some figures which are apparently due to be released at the weekend claiming that 150  people have got pregnant who have used the device.

We learnt earlier this week that new figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show the number of babies born after IVF treatment now stands at more than a quarter of a million. I am not quite sure how 150 pregnancies leads the Daily Mail to conclude that this device is equally effective to the 250,000 babies from IVF…

I won’t say any more but if you are thinking of spending £100 on this device, please discuss it with a fertility specialist first.

A “potent” new treatment

images-21Another week, another Daily Mail story about IVF. You may have read this one about a “potent” new fertility treatment that is cheaper and less invasive than IVF and leads to a “50% increase in embryos”.  As usual with these stories about marvellous new advances, it all sounded wonderful and there was little to suggest that it might not be available at a clinic near you tomorrow.

I always read to the bottom of these stories. You usually find a sensible quote from a British expert, often Professor Adam Balen of the British Fertility Society or Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University if it’s a story about male fertility. In this case, there was no British expert, just a paragraph from the HFEA about in vitro maturation which wasn’t quite the same thing as the whole point of this “potent” treatment is that it is apparently an addition to in vitro maturation where substances are added to the egg cells to try to improve egg quality.

At the end of this article, a final paragraph explained that researchers are now starting to carry out some safety studies to ensure that adding these substances to the egg cells has no impact on the long-term health of babies – so probably not coming to a clinic near you just yet…

Unexplained infertility – and pomegranates…

800px-Granadas_-_PomegranatesI’ve had a few queries recently about foods or therapies that might boost your fertility for those who don’t have a proven cause, and it struck me that the important thing to remember about unexplained infertility is that it is only “unexplained” because doctors can’t find a cause – it doesn’t mean that there isn’t one!

Unexplained infertility is a frustrating diagnosis, and it is very tempting to try to find your own cause – is it stress, working too hard, eating the wrong things? Once you start searching, the potential causes are apparently never ending – as is the amount of money you can spend trying to reverse them. The number of fertility “experts” offering all kinds of therapies and support seems to increase daily and it is important to think before you opt for using their services or their expertise and apply the same kind of discretion that you would when purchasing anything else.

As attractive as it may sound, no amount of relaxation or diet change is going to unblock a fallopian tube or reverse an early menopause. Most people are only too aware of that, but it’s those whose fertility is unexplained who are more vulnerable to the idea that the chances of getting pregnant could be influenced by changing the way you think or what you eat.

Changing your diet and lifestyle so that you feel fit and healthy when you’re trying to conceive is an excellent thing to do, but it’s simply not true that eating specific foods will make your fertility treatment succeed. I read an article from a national newspaper this morning with a list of foods to “boost” fertility – in the comments underneath someone had suggested that one of them was traditionally used to terminate pregnancies.

Punica_granatum_3I thought it couldn’t possibly be true, but a bit of googling did find some evidence that perhaps it might not be the top fertility food suggested – for the record, it was pomegranate, which the article had listed as a fertility booster. Although the juice and fruit is thought to be fine, animal studies have found that pomegranate seed extract can stimulate uterine contractions – see this research from the University of Maryland and this from the University of Liverpool. In reality, eating a pomegranate is certainly not going to stop you getting pregnant and there is no evidence to suggest you should avoid pomegranates when you are trying to conceive – but equally, it’s possibly a rather strange choice to list as a “fertility booster”.

This illustrates very clearly the kind of difficulty people face when trying to make sense of the frequently conflicting evidence about how to boost your fertility – and explains why it’s often best to take any such advice with a large pinch of salt…

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story…

This is for you if you’ve ever been alarmed by a fertility story in the Daily Mail – and after this I promise I will stop writing about Danish sperm for a while…

I was fascinated to read a piece in the Mail based on the programme I’ve been working on about Danish sperm as the person writing the article seemed to hear a different story to the one we told in our programme – and if you’ve ever been frightened or worried by an IVF scare story in the paper, it may give you food for thought.

Where to begin? Perhaps with the headline claiming “hundreds” of British women are giving birth to babies conceived with Danish donor sperm. Is that hundreds overall, or hundreds a year? It wasn’t a figure we mentioned, and seems to have been plucked from thin air.

We go on to a series of bullet points, where we learn that “Danish sperm now makes up a third of the total used in the UK”.  No, it doesn’t. It’s nothing remotely approaching a third of the total used in the UK. It’s a third of the IMPORTED sperm, which is something entirely different – but it sounds good, so let’s not worry about facts here.

We are told that “women” apparently cite the Danes good looks and dependable nature for the popularity of Danish sperm (the women concerned here were in fact Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Ruth Wilde of BICA talking in a professional capacity, but they’re both women aren’t they, so on we go…).  Then, with no relevance at all to anything, we are suddenly told that “famously handsome Danes include Nikolaj Coster-Waldaua” as if this has any relevance to anything. I am sure we could come up with some handsome UK actors, but would we list them in an article about UK donor sperm?

And so, the piece continues – we are again given the totally inaccurate fact that 1/3 of sperm used in the UK is Danish. It’s not. We didn’t say it was.  We then come to  the CEO of European Sperm Bank “chuckling” as she makes a comment – except it wasn’t Annemette Arndal-Lauritzen of European Sperm Bank speaking, it was Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust – but hey ho….

We are told that the change in the law concerning anonymity for sperm donors has “compounded” the sperm shortages for British clinics – in fact, Jane Stewart who spoke in the programme about this made it abundantly clear that people realised this was not the case.

The next paragraph concerns the use of anonymous donor sperm which was discussed at some length in the programme – BICA’s Ruth Wilde mentioned the fact that the other large Danish sperm bank Cryos imported anonymous donor sperm direct to people’s homes in the UK, and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA talked about the grey area in the law concerning this.  According to the Mail, which clearly knows better than the HFEA or BICA, Cryos “cannot sell semen from anonymous donors to the UK”.

We then have a quote from BICA’s Ruth Wilde, who I suspect may be quite surprised to learn that she has become a “mother who conceived with the help of a Danish clinic”.

This is one story on one day that I happen to know quite a lot about, having done the interviews myself – so next time you read an IVF scare story, think of the errors here and take it with a large pinch of salt.