Fertility Forum – bringing professionals and the public together

If you’ve ever wanted access to clear, reliable information about fertility problems and treatment, the Fertility Forum on 30 March is for you. Set up by patients working with all the professional bodies in the field, the Fertility Forum aims to be a day of pure evidence about fertility with no promotion for particular clinics or treatments, and no one selling anything. It’s all about evidence.

The Fertility Forum will take place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London, and many of the UK’s leading fertility specialists will be speaking at the day, and there will be three strands of talks. They will cover everything from nutrition and lifestyle advice to the latest developments in fertility treatment. There will be talks on specific fertility issues such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), on donor treatments and surrogacy, on recurrent miscarriage, on stress and fertility support, on male fertility problems and how men deal with infertility. The HFEA will give advice on how to choose a fertility clinic and there will be a talk on deciding whether to opt for treatment abroad. How embryos develop and why IVF does and doesn’t work will also be discussed along with an assessment of the evidence on additional treatments like endometrial scratch or embryo glue, and there will be a session on accessing NHS funding. You will be able to choose which talks you attend when you get your tickets. There is a charge for the tickets (£25) to cover the cost of putting on the day, but there are no additional charges.

The day has been organised by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the British Fertility Society working in partnership with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Fertility Network UK alongside the Association of British Andrologists, British Andrology Society, Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Infertility Counselling Association, Royal College of Nursing and the Senior Infertility Nurses Group. The Donor Conception Network will be taking part in the event along with other patient groups including the Miscarriage Association. The day will be opened by the RCOG President, Professor Lesley Regan, and the Chair of the HFEA, Sally Cheshire CBE.

To find out more and to buy your tickets go to http://bit.ly/FertilityForum

Could scientists have found a cure for PCOS?

It’s incredibly common, but little has been known about what causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now scientists in France think they may have found the solution. They believe PCOS may be triggered by exposure to high levels of Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) in the womb which may overstimulate brain cells and raise the level of testosterone in the body.

Experimenting on mice, the researchers were able to reverse the effect of the AMH by using a drug which can be used to control hormones and they are now planning to trial this in women. If it works, it could be a solution to restore ovulation in women with POCS.

PCOS is a very common condition, and women who experience it have a number of symptoms often may include irregular periods, excess body hair, weight gain, oily skin and cysts on the ovaries. Many, but not all, experience difficulties trying to conceive and PCOS is often a cause of fertility problems. You can read more about the new research in New Scientist here.

Diet advice for PCOS

If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, you may be interested in this article about diet and PCOS. It is based on advice from  Clare Goodwin, a  PCOS nutrionionalist who is a former athlete. She discovered she had PCOS and had to give up her career in athletics, but devoted her time to studying nutrition and finding out more about how her PCOS affected her body. It is an interesting read.

A story I’d love to be true – red wine and PCOS…

1024px-a_glass_of_red_wineAccording to the Daily Mail, “A glass of red wine a day could keep polycystic ovaries at bay”, which is one of those stories you’d just love to be true.  So often it seems that anyone trying to conceive is told to avoid many of life’s small pleasures – like coffee and wine – so a story suggesting that a glass of red wine every day is actually a good thing for some fertility patients sounds delightful.

The story claims that a natural compound called resveratrol which is found in the skin of grapes could potentially re-balance the hormone imbalances that women with PCOS experience. The women in the trial were given resveratrol in a pill form for three months and it was found to reduce testosterone levels and fasting insulin levels. The scientists leading the trial, which was published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, suggest it might help reduce the risk of metabolic problems common in women with PCOS. You can find the full report here.

But it reminded me of something – a story some years back about red wine which claimed that drinking lots of red wine would make you lose weight which was duly taken to pieces by the excellent NHS Choices. They made it clear that the amount of the magical resveratrol found in wine is “a fraction of that present in grapes and berries, as much of the chemical is filtered out during the wine production process. You would gain more resveratrol from eating the grapes and berries themselves than drinking wine – but that makes a much less exciting headline.”

And of course, the women in this PCOS study weren’t given wine to drink – they were taking a daily supplement of 1500 mg of resveratrol. Apparently, to get just 500 mg of resveratrol daily by drinking wine, you’d need to be consuming 40 litres, which means to get the benefit from it these women had you’d be getting through 120 litres of red wine a day. Which I don’t think anyone is going to recommend…


Could your ethnicity affect your chances of IVF success?

120px-Pregnancy_test_resultNew research suggests that ethnicity may affect the chances of ending up with a baby after fertility treatment. A team from The University of Nottingham and the fertility unit at Royal Derby Hospital analysed data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to see whether ethnicity had an impact on treatment outcomes, and found that there were some significant differences. According to the data, White British women are more likely to get pregnant with IVF or ICSI than women from a number of other ethnic groups.

This is the biggest study to look at the outcomes for individual ethnic groups in this way, and it considered the number of eggs collected and fertilised and the number of embryos produced as well as the pregnancy and live birth rate. The researchers also considered potential reasons for the differences in outcomes for the different ethnic groups and discuss factors such as genetic background, environment, diet, socio-economic and cultural factors and attitudes to medical care and accessing fertility treatment. They also discuss the fact that South Asian women are at higher risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which can affect egg quality and success rates.

You can find out more about this research here 

Weight loss and PCOS

800px-Belly-2354_1920_(1)If you’ve got polycystic ovary syndrome, a common fertility problem, you may have been told to lose weight or to take up more exercise.  Now, a new study from researchers at Penn State College of Medicine in the USA has shown that this advice really can make a difference.

The study found that women who were supported to make lifestyle changes, reducing their calorie intake with a specified diet and taking more exercise, lost significant amounts of weight and improvements in their reproductive health. You can read the study itself here 


Who will you find at this year’s Fertility Show?

logoIt’s here at last – the seminar details for this year’s Fertility Show are now available online for you to browse! Once again, there are a really great array of speakers covering pretty much everything you might want to find out about fertility problems, tests and treatments.

Starting with the basics, there are talks from Zita West, nutritionist Marilyn Glenville and IVF Hammersmith’s Stuart Lavery. There are talks on ovarian reserve (from  James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at the Lister Fertility Clinic) and on the causes of infertility, and Infertility Network UK trustee Jessica Hepburn will be talking about the patient experience. Leading consultant Yacoub Khalaf will explain how to improve your chances of success, Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility,will be looking at natural cycle and mild IVF, the HFEA’s Juliet Tizzard will discuss making sense of success rates and I will be talking about choosing a clinic.

There are some interesting debates on new techniques in IVF and on dealing with particular problems. Professor Lesley Regan will be covering recurrent miscarriage, Dimitrios Nikolaou, lead clinician at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Hospital, will talk about treatment for over 40s while Dr Melanie Davies, consultant in the Reproductive Medicine Unit at London’s NHS University College Hospital will talk about how to deal with the diagnosis of unexplained infertility. Sam Abdalla, Director of the Lister Fertility Clinic, will ask whether anyone is too difficult to treat with a low ovarian reserve, Professor Adam Balen, Chair of the British Fertility Society, will talk about PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and Tarek El-Toukhy will discuss treatment for older women.

There will also be some interesting discussions on donor treatment with Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust and Kamal Ahuja of the London Women’s Clinic as well as a variety of talks on different aspects of fertility treatment overseas.  Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis and massage will be covered in  a number of seminars. There will be four sessions for single women and lesbian couples and separate sessions on surrogacy. Male fertility issues will be covered by Professor Allan Pacey of Sheffield University, who will be talking on both the Saturday and Sunday so that no one needs to miss his sessions.

Fertility counsellors Jennie Hunt and Tracey Sainsbury will look at emotional issues and coping with treatment, along with Anya Sizer who is the support co-ordinator at London Women’s Clinic. The difficult issue of whether to try again after unsuccessful treatment will be covered by Tim Child who is Associate Professor and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine at the University of Oxford and and Honorary Consultant Gynaecologist at John Radcliffe Hospital. Finally, there will also be three sessions over the weekend looking at different aspects of adoption.

This year’s Fertility Show will be on November 7 and 8 and London’s Olympia and you can find the full seminar list here 



What’s the truth about “safer” IVF?

You may have read reports about “safer” IVF in the last few days, focused on a study which used a naturally occurring hormone called kisspeptin to mature eggs during IVF treatment. The idea behind this was to try to reduce the chances of ovarian hyperstimulation – a condition which can be caused by fertility treatment. Although the majority women who experience hyperstimulation have fairly mild symptoms, it can be severe and even life-threatening, so being able to cut the risk of hyperstimulation during treatment would be a good thing.

I was really pleased to see that the brilliant NHS Choices has covered this story – if you aren’t familiar with the health news section of the website, it looks behind the headlines and tells you the truth behind the sometimes hyped headlines. In this case, most of the coverage seems to have been fairly accurate – but NHS Choices does point out some important flaws in the research.  Although it does show that kisspeptin has the capacity to mature eggs, only 53 women were involved in the trial and just 12 babies were born – so ar more research would be needed to prove that using it cut the risk of hyperstimulation. NHS Choices also explains that there was no control group in the study – so there was no comparison with a similar group of women going through standard IVF. What’s also important is the fact that women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), who are most at risk of hyperstimulation, were not included in the group – there will now be a further trial focusing on women who have PCOS.

You can read more about the research, and see a really good video which explains the study made by the team from Imperial College who carried out the work here 

Could you qualify for a free IVF cycle?

This is a pan-European drug study and those who take part will get a completely free cycle of IVF treatment and freezing and storage of any frozen embryos is included too.

If you want to find out more about the trial and to see whether you might be eligible, you can call Anna Carby at Boston Place Clinic on 0207 993 0870 or email anna.carby@bostonplaceclinic.co.uk

For patients with PCOS, there is another trial offering free treatment for women under 35 who have had up to one cycle of IVF in the past. For this trial, you need to have a BMI of under 29 and there are some ovarian reserve qualifications too.  For more details about this trial, email ali.abbara@imperial.ac.uk


Why you should never forget breakfast…

Many women who lead busy lives end up skipping breakfast, but new research from the University of Tel Aviv has shown that eating a big breakfast can have a positive impact for women with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Women with PCOS can produce too much insulin, which can decrease fertility by affecting ovulation, and are often told that losing weight will help balance insulin levels – and cutting out breakfast can seem a good way to deal with this.  However, not everyone with PCOS is overweight and this particular study looked at women who fall within the normal weight range. One group were given a high-calorie breakfast, average lunch and low-calorie supper, and the others were given a low-calorie breakfast, average lunch and high-calorie supper – but both groups had the same number of calories in total each day.

The results showed that although neither group had experienced any weight loss or gain, the group who ate a big breakfast saw a drop in their levels of insulin and testosterone – and they had a 50% increase in their ovulation rate!

This isn’t going to be a weight-loss solution, but the research team believe that eating a big breakfast and smaller supper could also have an impact on some of the other symptoms which are often associated with PCOS such as skin problems and excess body hair. You can read more about the research here 







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