What Makes a Good or Bad Egg?

What Makes a Good or Bad Egg?

Girl holding egg

In approximately 15 percent of instances where couples are unable to conceive, the reason behind their struggle is unknown. Could it be because of “bad” eggs?

A study on female mice that occurred at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and in the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego could help explain some cases of infertility.

Cook-Andersen said this was definitely at least partially responsible for the mice’s infertility. It’s important for genes to be “turned off” in order for cells to advance to the next stage of development.

Researchers have identified a protein in mice that must be present in eggs in order for those eggs to develop. The protein is called ZFP36L2, or L2 for short. Without it, the eggs appear normal, but they cannot be fertilized by sperm. Female mice who do not have L2 in their eggs ovulate and are in all other ways healthy, but they cannot produce offspring.

Humans also have the L2 protein, so this discovery offers a new place to seek answers about infertility. Heidi Cook-Andersen, assistant professor of reproductive medicine and biological sciences at UC San Diego and physician at the UC San Diego-affiliated Reproductive Partners Fertility Center-San Diego, works with couples struggling to conceive. She says it can be very frustrating for everyone. Fertility tests come back normal and there just seems to be no answer as to why. However, there are still many important elements about fertility that have yet to be discovered, and L2 is one of them.

L2 is important because it activates decay of mRNA in cells when they are no longer needed. It is also needed for normal blood cell development.

To determine what effect L2 has on eggs, Cook-Andersen and her team worked with female mice who were engineered to completely lack the L2 protein in their eggs. These mice were set up with fertile male mice and were studied for 6 months. In that time, they didn’t have a single pup. However, at the same time, female mice with eggs rich in L2 produced pups regularly.

But why? The team found that the L2 deficient eggs were unable to undergo a crucial transcription silencing process that occurs during the final stages of egg growth. The conversion of genes was supposed to “shut off,” but they didn’t.

L2 and mRNA decay evidently play key roles in global transcriptional silencing. In the future, the research team plans to study L2 in humans. Now, they’re using the mouse study to learn more about global transcriptional silencing and to identify additional factors required to make a good egg.

Crazy Vagina Advice Throughout History

Crazy Vagina Advice Throughout History

The most absurd cures and recommendations, ranked from mildly strange to absolutely cringeworthy

In a recent book, Dr. Lydia Kang and Nate Pederson detail some of history’s most grotesque antidotes. Unfortunately, some extremely questionable home remedies still occur today, but thankfully we have evolved from some of the more horrifying quick fixes.  Here is our list of old remedies from bad to worst, and we’ve highlighted a few below that need some gross explaining!  

12. Enduring a public spanking to supposedly increase your chances of fertility

11. Trying to cure a “wandering uterus” with different smells and scents

10. Using garlic on your vagina in order to measure fertility

9. Receiving a pelvic massage as a cure for hysteria

8. Using egg whites and mothballs as a tampon to cure any vaginal discomfort

7. Fumigating a vagina with a mix of marshmallows, barley flour, and more egg whites

6. Following the queen of France’s at-home recipe for a cure for infertility

5. Using leeches on your cervix as a solution to common menstrual cramps

4. Applying a taxidermy formula paste to your cervix to cure infertility

3. Using arsenic to shave your bikini line

2. Cutting your foot and bleeding during Medieval times to “make up” for a light period

  1. Spraying your vagina directly with Lysol to promote cleanliness

 

The mysterious “wandering uterus”

In Ancient Egypt, a “wandering uterus” was considered to be the main cause of a lot of gynecological problems.  The Ebers Papyrus—an Egyptian medical papyrus dating from 1550 BCE—recommended using either good or bad smells to promote a uterus to move.  Some examples include bringing foul-smelling feet near the woman’s nose so the uterus would shift downward.

 

Not just a cure for vampires

According to Hippocrates’ in Ancient Greece, a woman’s mouth and her vagina were connected by a “freeway.”  To make sure this pathway was clean and running smoothly, people would rub garlic on a woman’s vagina and then smell her breath to see if the odor had successfully travelled upwards through her body.  If they smelled garlic, it meant a healthy fertility rate.

 

A toxic cure for infertility

Along with this garlic suggestion, Hippocrates listed a concoction of “red nitre, cumin, resin, and honey to be applied to a woman’s cervix as a cure for infertility.” The authors of the book speculate the red nitre could have consisted of either potassium nitrate or soda ash. Potassium nitrate was used to pickle corned beef, alongside manufacturing fireworks and gunpowder, while soda ash was used by Egyptians for mummification processes, similar to what is used for the taxidermy of hunted animals today. Apparently, the purpose of the toxic mixture was to “irritate the cervix so badly that it opened up for childbirth.”

 

The disgusting medieval s’more

Another certainly irritating remedy occurred in the Middle Ages in Italy, where a medicinal textbook known as the Trotula recommended “fumigating the vagina with a mixture of burned marshmallow, barley flour, and egg whites” to jumpstart a late period.  Of course, any attempts were futile, and this mixture did nothing besides potentially irritating the area.

 

Royal treatment

In mid sixteenth century France, the queen Catherine de Medici “drank the urine of a mare and then soaked her vagina with a mixture of manure and ground stag antlers.”  This strange elixir was concocted to increase chances of procreation, but definitely did more harm than good.

From Ancient Egypt to medieval Italy, these worrisome concoctions are just a few examples of the poor medical practices from our world’s past. We cannot stress enough that none of these solutions should ever be tried, along with other modern advertised at-home treatments. Consult your doctor about your fertility questions, but if this article was really of interest to you, check out Quackery on Amazon to read more!

How Does Being Overweight Affect Your Chances of Pregnancy?

How Does Being Overweight Affect Your Chances of Pregnancy?

BabyHave you been trying to achieve pregnancy for what seems like an eternity? It’s taking forever, or at least longer than everyone else, and you’re scratching your head in wonder. What is everybody else doing that you aren’t? Are you doing something wrong?

There are a plethora of explanations out there as to why you could be experiencing difficulty conceiving, from alcohol, to smoking, to any bizarre disease.

One crucial answer to your fertility questions could be weight. Experts say although being overweight doesn’t make it impossible to conceive, it does make it harder. Being overweight not only affects your fertility, but it can impact your male partner’s, too. Rachel Eisenberg, a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood of South, East, and North Florida, says that carrying too much fat alters the natural production of hormones, which in turn affects your chances of conception.

For men, being overweight can decrease semen and testosterone production. Erectile dysfunction is also linked to obesity. For women, it can decrease the rate of ovulation, which causes periods to become irregular, which then affects your eggs. It’s a domino effect. “Overweight women are also more at risk for miscarriages and failed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) procedures due to the eggs not being produced properly,” Rachel Eisenberg explains.

She says it’s still possible to become pregnant if you’re overweight, but losing weight can drastically ease the process. Healthy ways to lose weight include exercising more, adopting a healthier diet, eating smaller portion sizes, and tracking your menstrual cycles and ovulation through kits.

Eisenberg also recommends seeing a fertility specialist if you’ve been trying to conceive for over six months and remain unsuccessful. “It’s also important to get tested for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) to check if your ovaries are enlarged or if there are cysts present that could be affecting your fertility,” she says.

PCOS is known to cause weight gain in women. Eisenberg says, “PCOS is a disease characterized by an increase in male hormones and abnormal insulin levels which lead to irregular cycles. Correcting the insulin may allow a woman to ovulate and succeed at getting pregnant. Exercising also helps increase the chances of women with PCOS getting pregnant because it causes weight loss and helps naturally regulate hormone levels.”

If you suspect you may have PCOS, or you want to know if there is anything else you can do to help yourself lose weight or become more fertile, Eisenberg suggests seeing a specialist for treatment and to see if you need any medications.

If you are able to conceive and are overweight, can you still have a healthy pregnancy and baby? Eisenberg says you absolutely can. She advises checking your vitamin levels, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, drinking enough fluids, and exercising.

Being overweight does affect you and your partner’s fertility, but taking care of your bodies, tracking ovulation, and trying to be the healthiest you possible is a great way to jump on the track towards a baby.

Will This One Simple Trick Increase Your Fertility?

Will This One Simple Trick Increase Your Fertility?

pregnant woman outsideDoctors are learning more about the importance of nutrition when trying to conceive. A recent study published in Human Reproduction studied the importance of iodine for women who are trying to get pregnant.

  • Iodine is important for fertility and pregnancy.
  • There are a lot of great sources for iodine, like potatoes and strawberries.
  • Neonatal vitamins can help ensure you’re getting everything you need.

 

What is iodine?

Iodine is an essential mineral, and a deficiency can affect the thyroid. Pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant are especially affected. This study showed that almost 45% of United States women may have some sort of iodine deficiency. Some symptoms of iodine withdrawal include swelling of the neck, unexpected weight gain, heavy or irregular periods, fatigue, and hair loss.

What can result from an iron deficiency?

A deficiency in iodine can lead to a 46% drop in a woman’s ability to conceive each menstrual cycle. This means that women with an iodine deficiency are half as likely to be able to get pregnant.

Also, once you are pregnant, it is important to make sure to get enough iodine in your diet. A lack of it can lead to stillbirths. Infants with an iodine deficiency can experience stunted growth and brain development.

What should I do?

There are a lot of great sources of iodine that you can incorporate into your daily life. “Given that diet is the main source of iodine for our patients — seafood, salt, some fruits and vegetables, like potatoes, cranberries and strawberries to name a few — we advise our patients to take prenatal vitamins, which include iodine, at least three months prior to conception,” advised Dr. Tomer Singer. Dr. Singer is the director of reproductive endocrinology and infertility care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

So, follow Dr. Singer’s advice and make sure you’re eating foods that will be healthy for both you and a baby, and help supplement your iodine levels with prenatal vitamins. The researchers who led the study specifically warn any vegans and vegetarians to ensure that they’re eating enough foods with iodine and checking in regularly with their doctors.

While this study was not designed to look at the impacts of iodine on fertility, it did find some correlation. There are lots of delicious foods that can help keep iodine levels up naturally, such as yogurt, eggs, and seaweed! Pick up some neonatal vitamins, and check in with your doctor to see if iodine levels may be an issue for you.

Are Frozen or Fresh Embryos Better for Fertility?

Are Frozen or Fresh Embryos Better for Fertility?

Pregnant woman holding baby shoes

The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology has noted that more fertility centers choose to use the frozen embryo method. Experts believe this is the first time a significant experiment was performed to evaluate this change of practice.

Many women who are struggling to conceive consider turning to in-vitro fertilization to improve their chances. But which type of embryo transfer will give you a better probability of pregnancy – frozen or fresh?  

This decision may provoke even more feelings of uncertainty or nervousness, but worry no longer! A recent study completed by researcher Heping Zhang at the Yale School of Public Health discovered there is an insignificant difference in live birth rates between the two procedures.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Heping Zhang collaborated with a number of scientists throughout China, and together, they observed 2,157 women who were going through their first in-vitro fertilization cycle. Each woman was randomly assigned either fresh or frozen embryos.

The research team discovered that the frozen embryo group had a live birth rate of 48.7 percent compared to a 50.2 percent for the women who had fresh embryos. There were no significant differences between the two groups in terms of implantation, clinical pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and ongoing pregnancy.

However, the study did show that frozen-embryo transfers resulted in a much lower risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) – which is when your ovaries become swollen and painful – than the fresh-embryo transfers. Most cases of OHSS are minor, but severe cases can end in illness or in especially rare instances, death. The women who used frozen embryos had a 0.6 percent chance of developing OHSS, while the women who used fresh had a 2 percent chance.

Zhang commented, “This is an emerging issue of immediate and important concern for couples who are seeking in-vitro fertilization treatment.”

Zhang says the research findings will impact patients and doctors, who may approach their evaluation and consideration of embryo transfer differently, now better able to calculate the risks and benefits. He also said the studies exemplify “the success of a multidisciplinary and international collaboration in addressing emerging and clinically important issues that patients and clinicians face as the technologies quickly evolve.”

If you are still wondering which fertilization process would be best for you, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist.

Women From Different Areas Exhibit Varying Fertility-Related Behaviors

Women From Different Areas Exhibit Varying Fertility-Related Behaviors

Pregnant womanDifferences were even found in the method of birth control each group used

While there are known differences among women across urban and rural areas in terms of social, demographic, and health-related traits, not many studies have been conducted regarding fertility-related behavior exhibited by women living in these respective areas.

Using data gathered from the National Survey of Family Growth from 2011 to 2015, Kimberly Daniels, Ph.D. studied variation in fertility-related behavior between women from urban and rural areas. According to the authors of the study, “This report describes similarities and differences in age at first sexual intercouse, current marital and cohabitation status, number of births, and contraceptive use among women aged 18 to 44 by urban and rural residence at the time of interview.”

  • Women in rural areas were found to have lost their virginity earlier than their urban counterparts.
  • A higher amount of women in rural areas are divorced compared to those in the cities.
  • There was a lower percentage of women in urban areas who used highly effective methods of contraception.

Sexual behavior in women in rural areas

The mean age in which a woman living in a rural area engaged in sexual intercourse for the first time was 16.6 years old. 79.6% of women in these rural areas lost their virginity by age 18. When compared to women in urban areas, they have a lower mean for the age in which they experienced sexual intercourse for the first time and a higher percentage of women who did so by the age of 18.

Percentages from these two separate geographic areas did exhibit similar numbers in terms of the amount of women who engage in unprotected sex as well as their relationship statuses. However, a higher percentage of women in rural areas used effective birth control method such as the contraceptive sterilization or an intrauterine device compared to women from urban areas, who had higher percentages of less effective and moderately effective birth control use.

Marital statistics for women living in urban and rural areas

While there were similar percentages of marriage, cohabitation, and single relationship statuses between women in rural and urban areas, there is a higher percentage of divorced women living in rural areas. 18.6% of women in rural areas were found to have been formerly married while 15.7% of women from urban areas were recorded to have this relationship status.

Birth rates in women from urban and rural areas

41.6% of women living in urban areas had not given birth compared to 30.3% of women in rural areas who had not done so yet either. On average, there was a higher number of births among women in rural area compares to those in urban areas. For instance, 69.7% of women in rural areas had given birth at one point while only 58.4% in urban areas had given birth.

Dr. Daniels utilized the collected data to publish a brief in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The study concluded that there were indeed differences in sexual behavior between women living in vastly different geographic areas.

Fertility rates rise in Japan

Fertility rates rise in Japan

How the economics of Nagicho allowed for more pregnancies

Nagicho, a small town in Japan at the base of Mount Nagi, is abundant with new babies.  One local woman, Yuki Fukuda,  is a proud mother of three, with her fourth child on the way. Fukuda, along with other mothers, make up Nagicho’s doubled fertility rate, increasing from 1.4 in 2005 to 2.8 in 2014.  Other statistic suggest the rate has fallen again, but nonetheless stays above the national numbers.  The town’s boost has nothing to do with Mount Nagi waters, but instead owes its success entirely to local government incentives, which highlight three key points.

  • Birth rates across the country desperately need raising.
  • Benefits for new parents allow them to have more children.
  • Town improvements to accommodate new parents help the local area.

Why change is needed

Across the country, birth rates are at an all time low

The birth rate crisis is not just Nagicho, but instead proves to be a persistent problem through all of Japan.  Some statistics show that deaths outnumbered births by a whopping 300,000 in 2016 with projections to only get worse.

To start to tackle the national issue, the prime minister pledged extra public spending–in a budget recently approved by the Cabinet–for child care to raise the fertility rate.  In addition, small towns such as Nagicho, who “has lost a third of its population since 1955” have taken matters into their own hands.

 

Benefits for new parents

Helping future children by helping parents first

Women like Mrs. Fukuda receive as “celebratory” gift after giving birth.  This gift is equivalent to $2,682, alongside received subsidized car seats amongst other baby care products.  As her children grow, she will received a stipend for secondary schooling, used to provide babysitting and transportation services.

In regard to healthcare, most individuals are required to pay 30% of their bills, while the government pays the other 70%. To assist with the economic burdens of parenthood, the Nagicho local government covers the 30% for children.

 

Improving the area

Making changes for a better hometown

Improvements made to the town, in general, are simultaneously helping those who want to have children.  Volunteers work hard to staff the town’s two nurseries, promoting secure childcare.  In order to further promote new renovations for the growing town, new businesses receive land rent-free and new homes are offered at subsidized rates.  A local government official, Yoshitaka Kumagai, states that at least three companies have moved to the area since 2014.

These creative and long-term changes are apart of the town’s vision to create a happy and healthy place to raise children, stress-free.  According to Mrs. Fukuda, this sense of community is crucial: “Mothers feel safe having more children; it’s not easy to create those conditions.”

In conclusion, more areas are hoping to follow Nagicho’s example. However, it is worth considering whether Nagicho is a phenomenon, rendered incapable of duplication. A few mothers have argued that perhaps some would not have considered children in another location (or at least not as many).  In the end, while “the money helps”, it is Nagicho’s special charm that proves to be the number one reason for fertility success.  

Do Painkillers Hurt Your Unborn Daughter?

Do Painkillers Hurt Your Unborn Daughter?

pregnant momHow acetaminophen may be harming your unborn daughter’s fertility

A recent study from Scientific Reports says mothers taking paracetamol, the brand name for acetaminophen, may be damaging the fertility of their unborn daughters. Generally, acetaminophen is used to treat low to moderate pain and fevers. Acetaminophen has long been considered safe for pregnant women, but this 2018 study might show otherwise.

According to the study’s results:

  • Women exposed to acetaminophen in the womb may have fewer eggs
  • This might also affect their daughters
  • Painkillers do not cause lasting damage to the fertility of male fetuses

How could this affect women?

In a laboratory, human ovaries exposed to acetaminophen for a week showed a loss of up to 40% of their egg cells. Previous studies have shown similar results in female rats and mice. Those exposed to acetaminophen in the womb went on to have smaller ovaries, fewer eggs, and did not reproduce as often.

If this happened to a human fetus in the womb, it could potentially lead to a girl being born with fewer eggs than the average. This would lead to an early menopause, meaning that those affected would have less time to get pregnant.

Can it affect men?

While the study did find that taking acetaminophen while pregnant might lead to some effects on fertility for a male child, those effects are very small comparatively. As men continue creating sperm throughout their lives, they would not have a prolonged issue over any sperm cells damaged in the womb. As girls are born with a certain number of eggs and will never produce any more, losing eggs in the womb may have a profound effect on fertility.

Why is this dangerous?

When pregnant, be careful when taking any kind of painkillers. The Scientific Reports study looked at both acetaminophen and ibuprofen and found that either may negatively affect an unborn girl’s fertility. It might even affect a granddaughter’s fertility. It is believed that these painkillers inhibit prostaglandin E2, which is thought to be important for the development of the reproductive system while in the womb.

The MCR Centre for Reproductive Health at the University of Edinburgh conducted the study. One of the researchers, Professor Richard Sharpe, said, “This study identifies a potential risk from taking paracetamol or ibuprofen, although we don’t know exactly what effect it would have on human health or what dose would be needed to harm fertility. We know a majority of women take analgesics in pregnancy for symptoms such as cold, headaches and fever.”

What Sharpe recommends doing is only taking painkillers when it is absolutely necessary when pregnant, and stopping as soon as the pain stops.

Are these fears justified?

The research isn’t all in yet and more studies will be necessary. Researchers like the ones at the University of Edinburgh will continue to study the effects of acetaminophen on pregnancy, but until there are concrete results, it is safest to follow Sharpe’s advice. Only take painkillers when absolutely necessary when pregnant, but also make sure you’re taking care of your own health! If you have any continuing pain, see a doctor who can help suggest alternate options.

Tackling tough questions: maintaining rights within reproductive technology

Tackling tough questions: maintaining rights within reproductive technology

In a new report, the Hastings Center details questions pertaining to reproductive choices that coincide with the technologies, laws, and disparities surrounding fertility.  The study, titled “Just Reproduction: Reimagining Autonomy in Reproductive Medicine,” is a follow-up to their initial November report.  Presentations from the 2017 conference “The Ethics of ‘Making Babies’” Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School’s prompted the study, and includes the advice of multiple esteemed editors.

 

Important takeaways from the report include:

  • Understanding of the financial limits to decisions surrounding reproductive medicine
  • Acknowledging the racial disparities in conjunction with the “criminalization of pregnancy”
  • Questioning whether doctors would ever deny patient requests for treatment

 

Financial Concerns

Unfortunately, the decisions of patients in the United States are oftentimes made based on financial constraints.  Editors Josephine Johnston and Rachel L. Zacharias discuss these problems in the study.  The two discuss how outside pressures–such as finances–can sway individuals, thus rendering their decisions dependent on others’ opinions.  The essay identifies how first acknowledging financial pressure can lead to properly autonomous decision making.

 

Racial Disparities

Another issue in patient autonomy includes the difference in treatment, especially in regard to women of color who, unlike white women, face chances of criminalization during pregnancy.  The example provided by the study details the 2003 court case of Regina McKnight, an African American woman prosecuted for her stillbirth.  The report illustrates how the law has allowed for pregnant women to be prosecuted for situations outside of their control, instead of protecting them as originally intended.

 

Doctors and Patients

Aside from financial and racial disparities, the relationship between the doctor and the patient is crucial as well.  Another editor, Louise P. King, discusses in a separate report when and how doctors should agree to patient requests when they disagree with the treatment plan.  As reproductive medicine advices, patients can choose from even more options.  Issues that are now up for debate include the ethics behind choosing the sex of embryos, and implanting multiple embryos against recommendation.

 

In conclusion, the study proves individuals need to be aware of financial, economical, racial and even ethical issues in order to strive for maintaining autonomy in decisions surrounding fertility and reproductive treatment.

Are Flame Retardants Harming Your Fertility?

Are Flame Retardants Harming Your Fertility?

Fire

New Study Looks at Whether This Common Safety Precaution May be Damaging

A recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives explored whether or not organophosphate flame retardants (PRFs) can cause infertility in women. Flame retardants are important in protecting people from the devastating effects of fire and can either be found in or used to treat particularly flammable materials, like clothing.

According to the study’s results:

  • Flame retardants can vary widely, as can their effects on people
  • Some women are worried about the effect of PRFs on fertility
  • Women who are exposed to more PRFs may or may not have a harder time conceiving

What are Flame Retardants?

Flame retardants are not a singular thing–many chemicals are used to create various effects, and this study focused on five. They are added to materials or used to treat them to make them more resistant to fire, sometimes by stopping the material from combusting or by preventing the fire from using the material as fuel to grow. Each flame retardant may impact a different part of the fire cycle, but they all have a specific purpose in helping to keep their users safe.

For the women who showed high, but still average, levels of PRFs the success of IVF decreased significantly.

PRFs replaced polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were phased out in the early 2000s due to concerns about their toxicity and persistence, and the effect that they had on the environment. While PRFs have not faced the same scrutiny, there is a history of issues surrounding flame retardants.

Flame Retardants and Fertility

The women participating in the study had lower rates of fertility and decreased the success of IVF when the amount of PRF in their urine increased. They were on average 35 years old and showed average or below average exposure to PRFs compared to others in the United States, Norway, and Australia based on their urine samples.

Flame retardants are common in textiles and homes throughout the country, and as technology continues to develop, we will come to know more about flame retardants and other chemicals and their effects on human fertility.

 

Are These Fears Justified?

We don’t yet know about the effects of PRFs on human fertility. It’s hard to say what long-term effects may be, and one study isn’t quite enough research yet. Future studies may take into account the effect of PRFs on men, or study younger women. Whatever future studies may uncover, until science evolves, it won’t hurt to play it safe when trying to get pregnant.