Study Finds Poppyseed Oil Treatment May Boost Fertility

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Hear us out: This is a lot less wacky than it sounds. Researchers say a common medical imaging technique involving poppyseed oil may actually help women conceive. They published their report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s called a hysterosalpingography, and you won’t want to try it at home. The process involves flushing a person’s fallopian tubes with contrast dye mixed with fluid, usually poppyseed oil, then using an X-ray machine to look for blockages. It’s a time-tested technique for getting a clearer picture of a patient’s reproductive workings.

Could it also be a way of getting those workings to, well, work? Researchers wondered if the flushing process had any effect on fertility success, and, if so, if the oil used had anything to do with it.

To find out, they recruited would-be parents from 27 hospitals in the Netherlands. Each of the 1119 women involved in the study underwent a routine hysterosalpingography as doctors tried to pinpoint the cause of their difficulty conceiving. Half of the procedures used poppyseed oil as a medium for the contrast dye; the other half used water. Six months after the imaging session, the researchers followed up to see who’d gotten pregnant.

The oil appeared to have provided a distinct advantage for women trying to conceive. At the six-month mark, 39.7 percent of women in the oil-flushing group were pregnant, compared to 29.1 percent in the water group—and they got pregnant faster as well. The benefits seemed to last through pregnancy and into childbirth; at the next follow-up, 38.8 percent of women in the oil group had had babies, compared to 28.1 percent of women in the control group.

Reproductive medicine expert Tim Child, of Oxford Fertility, was not involved in the study but expressed excitement. "I think this will change people’s practice," he told New Scientist.

Those people could include Child himself, who said he’d consider trying oil flushing on its own, unaccompanied by X-rays. "It looks like it’s not just an investigation [but] a treatment," he said.

The research team notes that their study had some limitations. All study participants were healthy and under the age of 39, and it’s possible the oil’s benefits may not extend to everyone. And flushing a patient’s fallopian tubes won’t help if the root of the issue lies elsewhere.

"If you know your infertility is due to poor semen quality or no ovulation, then this is not going to help," corresponding author Ben Mol, of the University of Adelaide, told New Scientist, "but if there’s any other cause this might be beneficial," he says. "It’s really cheap compared with IVF."

Mol says he may have the procedure to thank for his own existence. After starting the study, he learned that his parents had been trying to conceive for eight years before his mother had a hysterosalpingogram. And then, Mol says, they succeeded: "It’s highly likely my brother and I are the result of this."

[h/t New Scientist]