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Fertility, Pregnancy, Sexual Health, Women's Health

Fertility quiz: How well do you know your body?

Fertility quiz: How well do you know your body?

2364734203_937bfdfe48_zRemember all the rumors that you heard about sexuality and fertility as a teen (or even a 20-something or a 30-something)? It’s hard to sort fact from fiction.

According to the Institute for Reproductive Health (IRH) at the Georgetown University Medical Center, an accurate understanding of sexuality and fertility is surprisingly low around the world. That’s why IRH has created an online quiz to probe fertility awareness, called “Know Your Bod,” which poses the challenge: “You live with your body everyday. Do you really know it? Find out.”

The online quiz asks ten questions including the true-or-false query, “A woman will get pregnant only if she has sex on the same day she ovulates? ” After you select an answer, the quiz provides a simple educational summary that explains the correct answer. At the end, it shows your score and how you compare to the general population.

The quiz was officially introduced this week at the International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia. It was developed as part of IRH’s Fertility Awareness for Community Transformation Project, which strives to increase fertility awareness and the use of family planning.

Victoria Jennings, PhD, director of IRH, explained in a recent Georgetown press release:

Accurate understanding and awareness about human fertility is surprisingly low around the world, regardless of age, sex or education level. If we could lift the taboos and improve fertility awareness, would people be informed and empowered to make better sexual and reproductive health decisions? At IRH, we believe the answer to this question is ‘yes.’

So why not take the challenge? How well do you know your bod?

Jennifer Huber, PhD, is a science writer with extensive technical communications experience as an academic research scientist, freelance science journalist, and writing instructor.

Previously:Ask Stanford Med: Expert in reproductive medicine responds to questions on infertilitySex without babies, and visa versa: Stanford panel explores issues surrounding reproductive technologies, and Med students want more sexual-health training
Photo by Scott Maxwell

Chronic Disease, Fertility, Men's Health, Research, Stanford News

Male infertility linked to host of other ailments

Male infertility linked to host of other ailments

A new study offers some important news to men struggling to have children: Infertile men appear more likely than their fertile counterparts to develop other ailments, including diabetes, and heart disease, and also face a higher risk of alcohol or drug abuse.

“I think it’s important to know that sperm counts and fertility may tell a little more than just about reproductive potential,” Stanford urologist Michael Eisenberg, MD, lead author of the study, said.

The study was published yesterday in Fertility and Sterility, and our release offers more details:

The researchers examined records filed between 2001 and 2009 of more than 115,000 reproductive-aged men from an anonymized insurance claims database. They analyzed the men’s medical visits before and after fertility testing to determine what health complications they developed in the years after fertility evaluations. The researchers compared general health conditions of men with infertility diagnoses to men without the diagnoses and to vasectomized men.

Of the three groups, infertile men had higher rates of most diseases the researchers were screening for in the study, including heart disease and diabetes, even when results were adjusted for obesity, smoking and health-care utilization. In addition, men with the most severe form of male infertility had the highest risk of renal disease and alcohol abuse.

Eisenberg said he hopes the findings have a silver lining: “For members of this group of reproductive-age men, they usually don’t go to the doctor unless there is a big problem. A lot of time fertility is one of the first things that brings them to the doctor, so in some ways that might be an opportunity to engage the health-care system and see what’s going on with their general health.”

Previously: Sleep apnea linked with male infertility, Male infertility can be warning of hypertension, Stanford study finds and Ask Stanford Med: Expert in reproductive medicine responds to questions on infertility

Evolution, Fertility, Pregnancy, Research, Science, Stanford News, Stem Cells, Videos

Viral RNA essential for human development, say Stanford researchers

Viral RNA essential for human development, say Stanford researchers

Viruses are tricky, but we humans may be trickier still. Stanford stem cell biologists Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD, and Jens Durruthy-Durruthy, PhD, published a study today in Nature Genetics indicating that the genetic remnants of ancient viral infections that still linger in our genome are essential to early human embryonic development.

As Sebastiano explained in our release:

We’re starting to accumulate evidence that these viral sequences, which originally may have threatened the survival of our species, were co-opted by our genomes for their own benefit. In this manner, they may even have contributed species-specific characteristics and fundamental cell processes, even in humans.

The researchers, who talk about their work in the video above, relied on a new RNA sequencing technique to investigate the expression of what are called long-intergenic noncoding, or lincRNAs. These molecules don’t contain protein-making instructions, but instead affect the expression of other genes. They’ve been implicated in many important biological processes, including the acquisition of a developmental state called pluripotency that is necessary for a fertilized egg to develop into the cells and tissues of a growing fetus.

More from our release:

They identified more than 2,000 previously unknown RNA sequences, and found that 146 are specifically expressed in embryonic stem cells. They homed in on the 23 most highly expressed sequences, which they termed HPAT1-23, for further study. Thirteen of these, they found, were made up almost entirely of genetic material left behind after an eons-ago infection by a virus called HERV-H.

[…] After identifying HPAT1-23 in embryonic stem cells, Sebastiano and his colleagues studied their expression in human blastocysts — the hollow clump of cells that arises from the egg in the first days after fertilization. They found that HPAT2, HPAT3 and HPAT5 were expressed only in the inner cell mass of the blastocyst, which becomes the developing fetus. Blocking their expression in one cell of a two-celled embryo stopped the affected cell from contributing to the embryo’s inner cell mass. Further studies showed that the expression of the three genes is also required for efficient reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem cells.

I can’t stop marveling at the close ties we have with viruses. It makes me think of the words of Michael Corleone in The Godfather: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” As Durruthy-Durruthy told me, “It’s fascinating to imagine how, during the course of evolution, primates began to recycle these viral leftovers into something that’s beneficial and necessary to our development.”

Previously: My baby, my… virus? Stanford researchers find viral proteins in human embryonic cellsMastermind or freeloader? Viral proteins in early human embryos leave researchers puzzled  and Species-specific differences among placentas due to long-ago viral infection, say Stanford researchers
Video by Christopher Vaughan/Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine

Fertility, Pediatrics, Public Health, Research, Sexual Health, Stanford News, Women's Health

IUD is overlooked as excellent birth control for teens, Stanford expert says

IUD is overlooked as excellent birth control for teens, Stanford expert says

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When teenagers think of birth control, the pill and condoms are likely the first to come to mind – and indeed the pill is the number one choice of contraceptive among adolescents. But according to Stanford ob/gyn expert Paula Hillard, MD, the IUD is a long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) excellently suited for adolescents. In an editorial published in the October issue of Journal of Adolescent Health, Hillard urges doctors to consider the benefits of LARCs for young women.

The IUD and other LARCs don’t require consistent, correct daily use, so they’re easier to use and less likely to fail. In addition to being extremely effective, IUDs have a high rate of satisfaction among adolescents. Some types of IUDs can also be used therapeutically for problems like heavy bleeding or cramping. LARCs are also cost-effective over time, and the initial investment is no longer a barrier in California due to the Family PACT program, which allows teens to confidentially access birth control at no cost. In addition, the Affordable Care Act mandates that contraceptive methods must be covered in most cases without a co-pay.

So what are the barriers to use? They include misconceptions and lack of information on the part of both teens and providers, as well as provider concerns about the insertion procedure in young women who haven’t given birth.

In an email, Hillard told me:

Many physicians and most adolescents are unaware that modern IUDs provide contraception that is 20 times more effective than birth control pills, the patch or the ring. IUDs are a method of birth control that is very safe, very effective, and “forgettable”.  IUDs are considered to be “top tier” contraceptive methods (along with subdermal implants and sterilization, which is not appropriate for typical adolescents) by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

IUD use has increased from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent among teens 15-19 years old over the past decade. Still, around 50 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists don’t consider an IUD as a first-line contraceptive for adolescents.

Hillard closes her piece with a discussion of the challenges and importance of counseling for adolescents. Proper counseling includes giving the most effective options priority, and discussing side-effects up front (which improves adherence to contraceptive regimens, including in adults). She writes:

It remains important for us as clinicians to fight for reproductive justice and contraceptive access for all women, with the elimination of barriers including costs. In our counseling, we need to honor principles of informed consent, be aware of power differences between ourselves and our patients, be certain that our counseling is not coercive, and carefully respect our patients’ choices.

Previously: Research supports IUD use for teens, Will more women begin opting for an IUD?, Study shows women may overestimate the effectiveness of common contraceptives and Study: IUDs are a good contraceptive option for teens
Photo by Liz Henry

Bioengineering, Ethics, Fertility, Genetics, In the News, Parenting, Pregnancy

And baby makes four? KQED Forum guests discuss approval of three-parent IVF in UK

And baby makes four? KQED Forum guests discuss approval of three-parent IVF in UK

newborn feet Scope BlogLast week, the U.K. House of Commons voted to legalize a controversial in vitro fertilization technique called mitochondrial donation, popularly known as the “three-parent baby” technique. The technique is intended for mothers who have an inherited genetic defect in their mitochondria – the fuel compartments that power our cells – and can help them from passing on the incurable disease that often entails years of suffering and ends in premature death.

Doctors replace the DNA from a donor egg with the mother’s DNA, use sperm from the father to fertilize it, then implant it into the mother’s uterus via IVF technology. The donor egg’s cytoplasm contains defect-free mitochondria and DNA from both parents. Proponents say the technique gives parents with mitochondrial disease the chance to have disease-free children, but critics say it brings us one step closer to the reality of genetically modified “designer babies.”

On Friday, Stanford law professor and biotechnology ethicist Hank Greely, JD, was among the guests on KQED’s Forum broadcast to discuss the issue. He’s in favor of the procedure, noting that when looking at genetic modifications, “the purpose, the nature, [and] the safety” should be considered. “There are some things that I think shouldn’t be done,” he said, adding that “things like this, which gives women who have defective mitochondrial DNA their only chance to have genetic children of their own… if the safety proves up… seems to be a good use.”

Previously:  Daddy, mommy and ? Stanford legal expert weighs in about “three parent” embryos and Extraordinary Measures: a film about metabolic disease
Photo by Sean Drelinger

Fertility, Men's Health, Research, Sleep

Sleep apnea linked with male infertility

Sleep apnea linked with male infertility

14258396551_0d3b8edb81_zOver the past two decades, there have been a number of studies suggesting that men’s sperm counts have been steadily declining. Now research out of Spain and published in the journal Sleep suggests a connection between sleep apnea and decreased sperm production.

Michael Eisenberg, MD, a Stanford expert in male fertility, thinks the results are important but inconclusive. When reached for comment he told me:

My research focuses on the links between a man’s overall health and his reproductive health, so this study has a lot of connections. I think it shows another health factor that can impact fertility; we are seeing sleep apnea more and more commonly, and here’s something showing a link with decreased sperm production. A big drawback of the study is that before we can incorporate it in clinical practice the research needs to be replicated in humans.

The research, conducted collaboratively by research institutions in Spain, induced intermittent hypoxia (lack of oxygen) in male mice to mimic sleep apnea. These mice, along with a control group who had been experiencing normal oxygen levels, were mated, and researchers compared the numbers of pregnant females and fetuses, which were significantly lower for the hypoxic group.

Previously: Male infertility can be warning of hypertension, Stanford study finds, Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men and Low sperm count can mean increased cancer risk
Photo by Kelsey

Big data, Cancer, Cardiovascular Medicine, Fertility, Men's Health, Research, Stanford News

Male infertility can be warning of hypertension, Stanford study finds

Male infertility can be warning of hypertension, Stanford study finds

sperm graffitiA study of more than 9,000 men with fertility problems links poor semen quality to a higher chance of having hypertension and other health conditions. The findings suggest that more-comprehensive examinations of men undergoing treatment for infertility would be a smart idea.

About a quarter of the adults in the United States (and in the entire world) have hypertension, or high blood pressure. Although it’s the most important preventable risk factor for premature death worldwide, hypertension often goes undiagnosed.

In a study published today in Fertility and Sterility, Stanford urologist Mike Eisenberg, MD, PhD, and his colleagues analyzed the medical records of 9,387 men, mostly between 30 and 50 years old, who had provided semen samples in the course of being evaluated at Stanford to determine the cause of their infertility. The researchers found a substantial link between poor semen quality and specific diseases of the circulatory system, notably hypertension, vascular disease and heart disease.

“To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a study showing this association before,” Eisenberg told me when I interviewed him for a press release about the findings. “There are a lot of men who have hypertension, so understanding that correlation is of huge interest to us.”

In the past few years, Eisenberg has used similar big data techniques to discover links between male infertility and cancer and heightened overall mortality, as well as between childlessness and death rates in married heterosexual men.

Eisenberg sums it all up and proposes a way forward in the release:

Infertility is a warning: Problems with reproduction may mean problems with overall health … That visit to a fertility clinic represents a big opportunity to improve their treatment for other conditions, which we now suspect could actually help resolve the infertility they came in for in the first place.

Previously: Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men, Men with kids are at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their childless counterparts and Low sperm count can mean increased cancer risk
Photo by Grace Hebert

Fertility, Research, Women's Health

PCOS linked with higher risk of type 2 diabetes even in young women who are not overweight, study finds

PCOS linked with higher risk of type 2 diabetes even in young women who are not overweight, study finds

Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is present in 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age and is associated with reproductive and metabolic dysfunction, may be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Previous research has shown this correlation in women who are also overweight; now, an Australian study has shown that even young women with PCOS who are not overweight may be at a significantly higher risk for developing diabetes.

From a release:

Over 6000 women aged between 25-28 years were monitored for nine years, including 500 with diagnosed PCOS. The incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes was three to five times higher in women with PCOS. Crucially, obesity, a key trigger for type 2 diabetes, was not an important trigger in women with PCOS.

The women studied were aged 25-28 in 2003 and were followed over 9 years until age 34 to 37 years in 2012.

Findings from the large-scale epidemiological study were presented at the recent joint meeting of the International Society of Endocrinology and the Endocrine Society in Chicago.

“Our research found that there is a clear link between PCOS and diabetes,” study author Helena Teede, PhD, said in the release. “However, PCOS is not a well-recognised diabetes risk factor and many young women with the condition don’t get regular diabetes screening even pre pregnancy, despite recommendations from the Australian PCOS evidence based guidelines.”

Previously: Study shows bigger breakfast may help women with PCOS manage symptoms and NIH study suggests progestin in infertility treatment for women with PCOS may be counterproductive

Cancer, Fertility, Parenting, Pregnancy, Women's Health

A cancer survivor discusses the importance of considering fertility preservation prior to treatment

pregnancy_testBack in 1998, Joyce Reinecke, JD, was on a cross-country business trip when her increasing fatigue and lightheadedness resulted in her being admitted to the emergency room and the discovery that she had tumors in her stomach, one of which was necrotic and bleeding causing her to be severely anemic. She was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, and the tumors, as well as all of the surrounding lymph nodes, were surgically removed. Before she was discharged from the hospital an oncology fellow casually mentioned to Reinecke that since she was scheduled to start chemotherapy she might want to consider options to preserve her fertility.

At the time, Reinecke and her husband hadn’t considered how her treatment would affect their future plans to have a family. The couple eventually decided to complete a round of in vitro fertilization and work with an agency to select a gestational carrier. Their twin daughters were born in February 2000. Reinecke, executive director of the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, shared her patient perspective during a keynote speech at the Family Building After Cancer: Fertility Preservation and Future Options Symposium held at Stanford earlier this month.

To continue the conversation, I reached out to Reinecke about the issue of fertility and cancer survivorship. In the following Q&A, she discusses advancements in the field, why patients need to be proactive in sharing their wishes to have a family with providers, and questions to consider prior to treatment.

What motivated you to focus your career on expanding patient and provider awareness of fertility preservation?

When my girls were around two, I received several inquiries from family acquaintances who had young adults in their lives who were newly diagnosed with cancer. These people had reached out to my parents, to try to understand more about what I had done, where I had gone, etc. in order to preserve my fertility. In speaking to others and hearing about their challenges in finding fertility information and services, I started to really feel that something about the status quo was not right. These patients/family members had learned about possible infertility because they knew of my story, not because their doctors had discussed it with them. This really emphasized to me that my situation – learning about my possible infertility in a very ad hoc way – was not unique, not unusual, but the norm, and perhaps, lucky.

I began doing research around the issue, to see what was out there, what information was available online, etc. I found very little, but I did stumble upon information that Fertile Hope was having a fundraiser. I was in complete shock that a new nonprofit focused on this very issue existed, not to mention that it was based in New York. I went to the fundraiser, signed up to volunteer, met with Lindsay Beck, and signed on as Employee #2. The rest is history.

A past study shows that less than half of U.S. physicians are following the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s guidelines suggesting all patients of childbearing age be informed about fertility preservation. How can patients make sure they get the necessary information about their fertility options prior to treatment?

This question is tricky, because I feel like the onus for initiating this discussion has to be on the provider. Newly diagnosed patients are overwhelmed with all sorts of medical information and decisions to make, not to mention the emotional distress of the diagnosis. Also, patients don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes providers mistakenly believe a patient isn’t interested in fertility preservation because they don’t ask about it. However, providers have to remember that newly diagnosed young adults probably have very little understanding about how chemotherapy and radiation work – unless they have a cancer that has a direct impact on their reproductive system they probably have no inkling that their fertility is at stake.

That being said, patients need to advocate in their own interest (or enlist a family member to help them do this if they cannot during this difficult time). That means communicating their wishes and values about future parenthood with their providers. That means asking the right questions: Will I be able to have children in a few years? Ever? What can I do about it? It might also mean being able to challenge their doctor’s disapproval or ask that treatment be pushed back [so the patient has time to] bank sperm or eggs. Which is sometimes hard to do.

Continue Reading »

Fertility, Health and Fitness, Men's Health, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

sperm graffitiMen with multiple defects in their semen appear to be at increased risk of dying sooner than men with normal semen, according to a study of some  12,000 men who were evaluated at two different centers specializing in male-infertility problems.

In that study, led by Michael Eisenberg, MD, PhD, Stanford’s director of male reproductive medicine and surgery, men with more than one such defect such as reduced total semen volume, low sperm counts or motility, or aberrant sperm shape were more than twice as likely to die, over a seven-and-a-half-year follow-up period, than men found to be free of such issues.

Given that one in seven couples in developed countries encounter fertility problems at some point, Eisenberg told me, a two-fold increase in mortality rates qualifies as a serious health issue. As he told me for an explanatory release I wrote about the study:

“Smoking and diabetes — either of which doubles mortality risk — both get a lot of attention… But here we’re seeing the same doubled risk with male infertility, which is relatively understudied.”

Moreover, the difference was statistically significant, despite the fact that relatively few men died, due primarily to their relative youth (typically between 30 and 40 years old) when first evaluated. And the difference persisted despite the researchers’ efforts to control for differences in health status and age between the two groups.

Eisenberg has previously found that childless men are at heightened risk of death from cardiovascular disease and that men with low sperm production face increased cancer risk.

Previously:  Men with kids are at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their childless counterparts and Low sperm count can mean increased cancer risk
Photo by Grace Hebert

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