New research has found that a medical technique dating back 100 years could help certain couples struggling to achieve pregnancy.
Led by Professor Ben Mol from the University of Adelaide's Robinson Research Institute along with other researchers in Australia and the Netherlands, the study is the largest to look at the technique, known as hysterosalpingography (HSG), which was first carried out back in 1917.
HSG involves flushing the fallopian tubes with an iodized poppy seed oil, with both water-based and oil-based solutions in use since the 1950s.
For the research Mol and his team compared the effects of flushing the fallopian tubes with either an oil-based or water-based solution in 1119 women.
"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. Until now, it has been unclear whether the type of solution used in the procedure was influencing the change in fertility," says Mol, who himself was conceived after his mother underwent the HSG procedure.
He told the National Post that she had tried to conceive for nine years beforehand. He said he thinks he might never have been born if not for the procedure.
The team found that almost 40 per cent of infertile women in the oil group and 29 per cent of infertile women in the water group achieved successful pregnancies within six months of the technique being performed.
Commenting on the results, Professor Mol said, "The rates of successful pregnancy were significantly higher in the oil-based group, and after only one treatment. This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment. It offers new hope to infertile couples."
Mol also pointed out another benefit of the treatment is the cost, which is a fraction of the expense of one cycle of IVF, which can also be a long and emotional process for couples.
Although the team pointed out that further research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind the treatment, Mol explained that "It was long believed that testing a woman's fallopian tubes could have fertility benefits through 'flushing out' the kind of debris that hinders fertility."
"This is an important outcome for women who would have had no other course of action other than to seek IVF treatment."
The oil-based product used in the study was Lipiodol Ultra-Fluid, an iodized solution of fatty acids from poppy seeds.
Although the product is currently available in 47 countries around the world Professor Mol added that since it "is not currently practiced widely ... the first thing couples need to do is to speak with their doctor about it."
The research team received no financial assistance from the makers of Lipiodol for the study, which was supported by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
The results can be found online in The New England Journal of Medicine and are being presented at this week's 13th World Congress on Endometriosis in Vancouver, Canada.
With a file from Emma Prestwich
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