Sunday, March 22, 2009

IVF babies in health alert: Test-tube children 30 per cent more likely to have defects

This is reasonable in theory but runs contrary to some previous reports. This is also a good example of how medical publications use RELATIVE rather than absolute risk to scare people. The raw facts behind the "30% more" are that the risk rises from a small 2.5% risk in natural conceptions to a still small 3.5% risk in IVF conceptions. That creates quite a different impression, doesn't it?

Couples having IVF treatment are to be warned for the first time that their children have a higher risk of genetic flaws and health problems. Official guidance will make clear that test-tube babies could be up to 30 per cent more likely to suffer from certain birth defects. The alert has been ordered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the Government's watchdog on fertility issues.

It means that the one in six British couples estimated to be infertile will have to balance their desire for a child against concerns that IVF methods could lead to life-threatening defects or long-term disabilities. A number of studies have already raised concerns over the growing use of the procedure, which accounts for more than 10,000 births in Britain every year.

Research published online last month in the Human Reproduction journal found that IVF babies suffer from higher rates of birth defects than those conceived naturally. The scientists from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta looked at more than 13,500 births and a further 5,000 control cases using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. They found that IVF babies suffer from a range of conditions, including heart valve defects, cleft lip and palate, and digestive system abnormalities due to the bowel or oesophagus failing to form properly.

In addition, IVF babies have a small but increased risk of rare genetic disorders including Angelman Syndrome, which leads to delays in development, and Beckwith-Wiedemann Syndrome, which can lead to a hole in the abdomen and learning difficulties.

HFEA experts believe parents should be told of the concerns associated with IVF - although they emphasised that not all the risks are fully understood and more research is needed.

One theory is that the fertility drugs which stimulate egg production can lead to poorer quality eggs, which nature would usually weed out. Another is that older women - whose eggs are of a lower quality - are more likely to turn to IVF to conceive.

Until now, official HFEA guidance on the safety of IVF has expressed only limited concerns about babies born by ICSI - where a single sperm is injected into an egg to create an embryo. The method is feared to lead to a doubling of birth defects including genital and urological abnormalities, kidney problems and deformities of the stomach and intestines.

But now the watchdog is to warn generally of the risks associated with all types of the procedure. Patients will be able to access the HFEA's advice on its website from next month, while IVF clinics will have to tell couples of the risks from October.

The HFEA will also make clear that the majority of babies born by IVF are healthy.

Last night, IVF specialist Richard Kennedy, of the British Fertility Society, said: 'We have known for some time that there is a slightly increased risk of abnormalities for all IVF treatments, not just ICSI. 'It is only right that patients should be told about this and it is a good thing that the HFEA is updating its guidance. 'What we need to remember is that the overall risks of an abnormality occurring is increased with IVF but it is still a small risk. Nevertheless, patients still need to be aware.' Around 2.5 per cent of babies in the general population are born with some form of birth defect, while in IVF, this may rise to around 3.5 per cent, he added.

Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: 'IVF should never be the first port of call for someone trying to conceive and we need a lot more money to go into research to help restore fertility for natural conception. 'IVF is often used when couples are "sub-fertile", meaning they take longer to conceive, or by single women wishing to conceive using donor sperm. Patients need to consider the risks.'

An HFEA spokesman said: 'Following the publication of a U.S. study into birth defects, HFEA's Scientific and Clinical Advances Committee reviewed our guidance and advice about the risks. 'As with any medical procedure, it is important patients understand what the treatment involves and what the risks may be. 'Our code of practice says that clinicians must tell patients about the possible side effects and risks of treatment, including any risks for the child. 'Anyone who has concerns about their treatment should discuss this with their doctor.'


The Primal diet: the silliest diet ever?

Hollywood's latest food fad is the most extreme yet. Do not try this at home

John, a 36-year-old from London, is discussing the foods his diet allows. Carrots perhaps? Or quinoa? “I'm very keen on a raw hare carcass,” he says. “Raw mallard is good too. So's raw tongue and raw organ meat. Ideally, it'll have been sitting around for three or four weeks and be really off. Some people like it when it's liquid mush but I prefer it really off, but still so you can stick a fork in it.”

If the Pineapple, Atkins and Cabbage Soup diets seemed extreme, then consider the fanatics worldwide following the latest allegedly detoxifying trend - the Primal Diet, an eating plan consisting of raw meat, eggs and dairy - preferably past their sell-by dates. The diet, the latest to hit Hollywood, was founded by Aajonus (pronounced oj-enus) Vonderplanitz, a 62-year-old nutritionist from California - and it can be only a matter of time before it's endorsed by a twig-thin starlet. The theory is that raw fats bind to the toxins in the body, which are then more readily transported out of the system.

At its most basic level adherents exist on 95 per cent raw meat, including chicken (made more palatable with a marinade of herbs and spices). When they eat out they can rely on culinary classics such as sashimi, steak tartare and beef carpaccio. The remaining 5 per cent is made up with vegetable juices and low-carbohydrate fruits, such as avocados. True aficionados, however, favour “high” meat (so called because of Vonderplanitz's claims that it inspires a natural high), with a small sideorder of rancid unpasteurised yoghurt and fermented vegetables.

“It took me a long time to try high meat because I was scared,” John says. “It does stink like hell and it tastes like an aged raw cheese. The first time I tried it I had to chase it down with a glass of mineral water and I did have a couple of days detoxing, with a bit of diarrhoea. But now my only regret is being squeamish for so long. I used to have all sorts of health problems but now I feel great. I've heard of a couple of people with parasites from it, but I've been doing it for seven years and I haven't died yet.”

John was right to be scared. “Advocating a diet that relies on eating raw meat is simply irresponsible and could be downright dangerous,” says Dr Andrew Wadge, the Food Standards Agency's chief scientist. “It is a simple fact that raw meat may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness and even death. There are still around 500 deaths a year in the UK from food poisoning.”

But “high” primal diet followers say that the risks are worth it. Websites are filled with testimonials claiming that various ailments - including incurable cancers - were cured after a couple of months of rancid raw buffalo.

Vonderplanitz shrugs off any criticism, arguing that doctors have never observed the effects of his diet, while he has witnessed it “reverse 95 per cent of all diseases, while energy, mental clarity and emotional wellbeing are acquired within 30 days to two years”. He does, however, advocate eating rotting meat only if it is organic and free range, ideally grass-fed, and a period of preparing the body by eating fresh raw meat is advised.

A spokeswoman for the Centre for Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge says there has been no research into the possible benefits of eating raw or rotten meat, “because the health risk would be too great”.

But when it comes to squeezing into a bikini, it seems that some people will risk anything. “Fad diets like this are quick-fix solutions,” the spokeswoman says. “We think they'll solve all our problems, even though we know in the long term that they are not sustainable and have no real benefit.”



Anonymous said...

yeah, OK, see, I could get onboard with this diet if the meat, etc., wsn't RANCID (i.e. I have seen benefits--at least if your goal is to be really lean--in a raw fish diet a la sushi)! Are these people insane? Talk about playing Russian Roulette with your life.

Anonymous said...

When these morons find themselves crawling with parasites and vomiting their guts up they will have re-learned why cooking meat became popular.

John A said...

The Primal diet sounds far worse than the usual silliness.

Now, non-fresh meat may be OK - as long as it is cooked [or otherwise treated] to kill off [most of the] harmful micro-organisms. Aged beef (the best filet mignon will have had what is basically a layer of mold scraped off in the kitchen), "hung" game, etc are COOKED. I am partial to a good sauerbraten myself. Indeed, "raw" has occasionally passed my lips, such as the steak tartare mentioned. But FRESH raw, not "Raw" stinking of waste products of corruption and filled with non-symbiotic live organisms.

Heck, I look askance at live-culture yogurt, albeit I think it is usually benign.