For couples looking to start a family, receiving the news that you or your loved one is pregnant is happy news. Unfortunately, there are some women for whom this goal is elusive. Whether it’s genetics, age, or some aspect of health, the reasons for infertility are varied and sometimes uncertain.
However, new research from the University of Southampton suggests that one chronic condition may be the reason that some women have trouble becoming pregnant. Endometriosis, which affects nearly 10% of all women, is a condition where tissue that usually lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus. Symptoms include chronic abdominal pain, irregular periods, and lowered fertility.
Previously, experts believed that endometriosis had no effect on the health of an egg before it was released from the ovaries, but researchers have found that this isn’t the case. They posit that endometriosis causes a very hostile uterine environment that can affect an egg’s ability to mature properly. With this new information, researchers believe that steps can be taken to increase fertility in women suffering from the condition.
"Endometriosis is strongly associated with infertility and up to 50 per cent of women who require infertility treatment have it. Struggling to have a baby can be terribly upsetting for a couple, so this new research gives some hope to people.”
Blocking egg maturation
The researchers made their discovery after experimenting with immature eggs in mouse models. They found that eggs that were incubated in the follicular fluid of women who have endometriosis had higher levels of free-radical chemicals called Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
These chemicals were found to block the maturation process, leaving the egg immature and unable to be fertilized. Dr. Simon Lane, leader of the study, says this could provide an explanation for the infertility associated with endometriosis.
"We believe these results could have clinical implications for many women struggling to fall pregnant. . . More research is now needed to investigate whether the damage caused by endometriosis is treatable or preventable," he said
Antioxidants prevent damage
While there is no surefire way to treat endometriosis, the researchers believe that antioxidants could be beneficial. During the course of their study, they analyzed two antioxidants – Resveratrol and Melatonin – and found that adding them to follicular fluid helped reverse negative fertility effects. In some cases, ROS levels decreased and eggs were able to mature.
“It is very encouraging to see the possibility of the damage being prevented by antioxidants but more work is needed before we can put our results into practice," said researcher Ying Cheong.