Thursday, January 12, 2012

Traditional Chinese medicine 'makes fertility treatments more effective'

Probably just a placebo effect -- though the difference is larger than a normal placebo effect

Traditional Chinese medicine has long been used to ease pain and treat disease. Now researchers have found it can also boost fertility if used in combination with fertility treatments.

A team led by Dr Shahar Levi-Ari from Tel Aviv University compared the success rates of couples using intrauterine insemination (IUI) both with and without Chinese herbal and acupuncture therapies.

IUI involves a laboratory procedure to separate fast moving sperm from more sluggish sperm. The fast moving sperm are then placed into the woman’s womb close to the time of ovulation when the egg is released from the ovary in the middle of the monthly cycle.

The results, which have been published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine, show a significant increase in fertility when the therapies are administered side-by-side.

When combining IUI with traditional treatments, 65.5 per cent of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4 per cent of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy.

The scientists said the method is as 'close to nature' as possible and can be used by women employing sperm donors, or after a partner's sperm is centrifuged to enhance its motility in the uterus.

Dr Lev-Ari said he had long been interested in how Chinese herbal and acupuncture therapies could work to boost Western-style fertility treatments, contributing to an increase in conception and take-home baby rates.

In a retrospective study, his team followed the progress of 29 women between the ages of 30 and 45 who were receiving IUI treatment combined with TCM therapy, and compared their results to a control group of 94 women between the ages of 28 and 46 who were undergoing IUI treatment alone.

In addition to their IUI treatments, the 29 women in the first group received weekly sessions of acupuncture and a regime of Chinese medicinals, which consisted of powdered or raw Chinese herbs such as PeoniaAlbae and Chuanxiong. All herbal preparations were approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.

Out of the 29 women in the test group, 65.5 percent conceived, and 41.4 percent delivered healthy babies. In the control group, only 39.4 percent conceived and 26.9 percent delivered.

The vast difference in success rates is even more surprising when the age of the average participant was taken into account.

The scientists noted: 'The average age of the women in the study group was 39.4, while that of the control group was 37.1. Normally, the older the mother, the lower the pregnancy and delivery rates.'

There are several theories as to why Chinese medicine can be beneficial to fertility rates, including the possibility that herbal remedies and acupuncture can affect the ovulation and menstrual cycle, enhance blood flow to the uterus, enhance endorphin production and induce calm.

Now that the researchers have established that traditional remedies can have a major impact on the success of fertility treatments, they plan to design randomised clinical trials, including placebos, to further validate their initial findings.


“Couch potato pill” may also prevent heatstroke

A drug discovered nearly four years ago that builds muscles in lazy mice may also prevent heatstroke, according to lab research reported on Sunday.

If further tests work out, the compound could help athletes or soldiers who are so sensitive to heat that they could die from exertion on a hot day, its authors say.

In 2008, a drug known as AICAR became dubbed the “couch potato pill” after it was found to develop muscles and boost endurance among completely inactive laboratory rodents. It is now being explored as a treatment for several muscle diseases and metabolic disorders.

In a paper published by the journal Nature Medicine, researchers in the United States said they discovered by chance that AICAR also protects mice against a disorder called malignant hyperthermia. This deadly condition is linked to a basket of flaws in a gene called RYR1, a trait which exists in mice as well as humans.

A rise in body temperature causes a leak of calcium in muscle cells, triggering a molecular cascade that eventually makes the muscles contract and break down. Potassium and protein then pour out of the crippled muscle cells and into the bloodstream, reaching toxic levels that lead to heart or kidney failure.

Tests on mice genetically engineered to have the RYR1 mutation found that AICAR worked perfectly in preventing malignant hypothermia, says the study. “When we gave AICAR to the mice, it was 100 percent effective in preventing heat-induced deaths, even when we gave it no more than 10 minutes before the activity,” said Susan Hamilton, a professor of molecular physiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

AICAR — full name 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleoside — works by stopping the calcium leak, thus preventing the vicious circle from getting under way.

The finding may lead one day to a drug that would be used preventatively for heat-sensitive young athletes or soldiers in the desert who must wear heavy gear.

Abnormalities in the RYR1 gene are believed to occur in about one person in every 3,000. But the researchers theorise that the future drug may also work for people without the RYR1 flaw.

“We think the fundamental process that occurs during heatstroke in individuals with RYR1 mutations is likely to be similar to what happens even in their (the mutations’) absence,” said Robert Dirksen, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

“The difference may be that individuals with RYR1 mutations are more easily thrust into the process, whereas those without (the mutations) need to be pushed more — for example, by exposure to even greater temperatures or a long time, in order to move beyond a critical threshold.”


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