Several recent reports have confirmed that infertility rates in the UK are rising. Social changes have been cited as a significant factor for the increase as young men and women are now more
inclined to focus on establishing a career and financial stability before becoming a parent. However, another reason for the rise of infertility is the widespread decline in sperm quality. Over the last 40 years, sperm counts for men have more than halved. There are several reasons for this decline but in the absence of any specific medical reason, the focus is increasingly on environmental and lifestyle factors. (1)
IVF has become relatively common as a treatment option for fertility issues, however, it's not guaranteed to work. In 2019, the UK percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:
32% for women under 35
25% for women aged 35 to 37
19% for women aged 38 to 39
11% for women aged 40 to 42
5% for women aged 43 to 44
4% for women aged over 44
These figures are for women using their eggs and their partner’s sperm, using the per embryo transferred measure. (2)
Researchers are now working to make IVF treatment more effective with a focus on improving screening tests. The improved screening will help patients optimise their chances of having a healthy baby through IVF.
There is hope in raising the success of treatment through some of the discoveries made by current research. A recent discovery by Australian researchers from RMIT and Monash IVF has identified a protein molecule known as PCX that negatively impacts fertility outcomes. PCX has sugars bound to it, causing the surface of the womb to be slippery, preventing implantation success. They are working on developing a test to measure when levels of PCX are lowest ensuring optimal timing of embryo transfer. (3)
Acupuncture is rapidly gaining popularity as adjunctive therapy to IVF. Traditional Chinese Medicine views nutrition and lifestyle advice as integral to enhancing fertility when receiving acupuncture. Increasing blood flow to the uterus is an important part of acupuncture treatment when supporting a patient through IVF. Researchers have found that acupuncture improves endometrial thickness, increasing the chances of implantation success. (4)
Research has also shown that the provision of acupuncture treatments immediately before and after embryo transfer has either no effect or significantly increases embryo implantation rates. (5)
With the discovery of PCX in mind, I wonder if acupuncture aimed at increasing blood flow to the uterus affects levels of PCX? Time will tell as researchers around the world discover new ways to make IVF more effective and accessible.