London - A simple treatment appears to offer a cheap alternative to IVF for women who are struggling with infertility, scientists said.
They found that those whose fallopian tubes are flushed with poppy seed oil are more likely to become pregnant.
For 100 years, doctors have used poppy seed oil to check for blockages in women’s reproductive systems. The oil is used because it contains iodine, which glows white in scans to show whether the tubes are clear.
But doctors noticed that when they swapped it for water mixed with iodine, fewer became pregnant – indicating that the poppy oil boosted patients’ fertility.
Scientists at the University of Adelaide carried out tests and found 40 percent of women whose fallopian tubes were flushed with poppy seed oil became pregnant within six months.
This compares with 29 percent whose tubes were flushed with the water and iodine solution.
Figures from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority show that 32 percent of women up to 35 become pregnant after IVF, although this falls to just 14 percent once they hit 40. Professor Ben Mol, who led the study, believes he may have been conceived following the procedure.
He 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. 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.
"Our results have been more exciting than we could have predicted. My mother went from being infertile for years to becoming pregnant. I was born in 1965.
"I have a younger brother, so it’s entirely possible – in fact, based on our research, it’s highly likely – that my brother and I are both the result of this technique."
The study of 1 119 women was also carried out by experts at VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam.
The authors, whose results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine, say their findings could spare some women the huge cost and emotional strain associated with IVF treatment.
They believe the high natural iodine content of the oil could be behind the phenomenon.
Research on mice suggests it creates a better environment for a woman’s egg in the womb, and is thought to make the womb more receptive to being implanted by an embryo.
The act of flushing out the tubes could help couples conceive by clearing debris that could prevent sperm from reaching the egg.