Study: Century-old fertility method helps infertile couples achieve pregnancy without IVF

ADELAIDE, Australia — Old news is good news for couples struggling to conceive children. A fertility method that has been around for more than 100 years may help infertile couples achieve pregnancy without the need for pricey In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments, a recent study finds, and it works without any known side effects.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide wanted to take a fresh look at an old technique that was first used in 1917 to help couples struggling to conceive children. They and others in the medical field have wondered for some time about the connection between testing the flushing of fallopian tubes and resulting fertility. The procedure — hysterosalpingography (HSG) — involves a dye test of the fallopian tubes under X-ray.

Man holding pregnant woman
A century-old fertility method may help infertile couples achieve pregnancy without the need for IVF treatments, a recent study finds. (Photo by megan lynette on Unsplash)

An ongoing question in the world of medicine is whether this test “flushes out debris” in the fallopian tubes, thus helping achieve pregnancy. Researchers wanted to know more about how this procedure relates to pregnancies and which solution — water- or oil-based — works best.

“Over the past century, pregnancy rates among infertile women reportedly increased after their tubes had been flushed with either water or oil during this X-ray procedure,” says Professor Mol of the university in a news release. “Until now, it has been unclear whether the type of solution used in the procedure was influencing the change in fertility.”

For their “H2Oil Study,” researchers looked at the results of 1,119 women who were treated with either a water-based solution or an oil-based solution made of iodized poppyseed oil.

The results for this fertility method were even better than they hoped. After just one application, nearly 40% of infertile women in the oil group and 29% of infertile women in the water group were able to get pregnant within 6 months.

Mol says the higher results in the group receiving the oil-based solution “offers new hope to infertile couples,” who would otherwise have to look at costly IVF treatment.

Researchers caution that even with this study, we still do not know why pregnancy rates are so high with this fertility method, only that there is a positive link between the solutions, particularly the oil-based one, and pregnancy within six months. The procedure also costs far less than IVF.

“Further research would need to be conducted into the mechanisms behind what we’re seeing,” says Mol. “For now, and considering the technique has been used for 100 years without any known side effects, we believe it is a viable treatment for infertility prior to couples seeking IVF.”

When Mol began this study, he was surprised to find out his own mother had been treated with an oil-based solution before becoming pregnant with him. “It was only after I started researching this technique that my family told me what had happened,” he recalls. “My mother went from being infertile for many years to becoming pregnant, and I was born in 1965. I also have a younger brother. So it’s entirely possible–in fact, based on our team’s research, it’s highly likely –that my brother and I are both the result of this technique helping my mother to achieve fertility.”

Researchers are thrilled with the results of this study and the idea that a very old fertility method is still useful in modern medicine. They recommend infertile couples talk to their doctors about this option. The researchers want every organization involved in health care and fertility to help make this fertility method a first option for infertile couples before expensive IVF treatments.

Results of these findings were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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About the Author

Terra Marquette

Terra is a Denver-area freelance writer, editor and researcher. In her free time, she creates playlists for every mood.

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