Your anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) is checked, you can tell to the hour when you are ovulating and you are pretty sure you’re the only one of your friends who uses acronyms such BFP, DPO and CD* in their every day life. You are just about ready to go for your next IVF cycle.
But here are 5 tests that may significantly impact on your fertility and IVF success.
As always though, don’t just start supplementing and self treating these things without medical advice as if your levels are already spot and you start self-prescribing, supplementation could do more harm than good. But they are definitely worth chatting to your fertility specialist about if you are concerned or have had recurrent failures.
Like everything in fertility the research is mixed, but low levels of Vitamin D has been associated with endometriosis, the development of insulin resistance in women with PCOS and uterine fibroids1. When the vitamin D in follicular fluid (the fluid surrounding each of your eggs) was measured in a group of women doing IVF, it was found that when women were deficient in vitamin D, for every one unit increase in vitamin D there was a 6% increase in the chances of an ongoing pregnancy rate2. I’d take that.
Speak to your fertility specialist to see what your levels are (when you are pregnant they will test you for it anyway) and in the meantime focus on absorbing vitamin D from the sun – in a completely sunsmart way of course.
That pesky thyroid has a big role to play and if it isn’t working properly can impact pretty much everything you can think of to do with reproducing life. This includes impaired ovulation, fertilization, implantation, miscarriage, and late pregnancy complications3. The acceptable levels of thyroid hormones can vary and there is some debate whether or not things like thyroid autoimmunity even matters enough to need to be tested3; though a recent meta-analysis suggests that although it does not impact number of eggs retrieved, fertilisation, implantation or clinical pregnancy rate thyroid autoimmunity may be implicated in miscarriage rates (this is still overwhelmingly unlikely to happen though and certainly not something to add to your worries – I have high thyroid antibodies and still got a take home baby. Two, infact.)4. What it does highlight though is that completing thyroid testing is a worthwhile activity, especially because depending on your medical history thyroid problems can often be treated.
The role of autoimmunity in fertility is becoming more accepted and many doctors may test for immunology issues as standard when you start treatment. Some autoimmune tests include anti-nuclear antibodies, anti-DNA/ histone antibodies, antiphospholipid antibodies, antisperm antibodies, natural killer assay and cardiolipin antibodies. That is a lot of antibodies and only the tip of the iceberg.
Not all these markers are always a direct reason for infertility and some women can have them and oops! just happen to fall pregnant accidentally. They all are implicated in infertility though and it is certainly worth another blood test or two to ensure that they aren’t a hiding passenger on your fertility journey. Again, if something is found, depending on your circumstances, your fertility specialist may have a suitable treatment.
Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and may benefit fertility by helping to keep oxidative stress in ovaries and eggs to a minimum which in turn improves egg quality. Several studies have been conducted investigating melatonin as a supplement for women undergoing IVF and found that when the optimal level of melatonin was reached that it was associated with a higher number and quality of mature eggs at harvest5. It has also been found to support the production of progesterone in women with luteal phase defect (though don’t even think about stopping those progesterone suppositories if you doctor has prescribed them; although a significant difference was found the impact on actual progesterone levels was still relatively small)5.
As always, do not go self-medicating, as although melatonin has not been found to be poisonous, supplementation is not always recommended in women undergoing IVF for a number of reasons. Supplements can sometimes interact with the prescribed medications taken and in women with autoimmune conditions melatonin supplements can have immune-stimulatory capabilities. Speak to your doctor before starting any supplements and in the meantime try to balance your melatonin levels by ensuring you get adequate sleep and natural daylight.
This isn’t a blood test but rather a sperm test for the men. Ideally it should be done as part of your initial work up at your clinic but it can easily get overlooked – particularly if you and your partner already have an obvious reason for your difficulty with fertility. In fact one study suggests that for couples with unexplained infertility, 80% of these couples later had their reason ‘explained’ as being due to sperm defragmentation when the appropriate tests were done6. That does seem a little amazing…
After a sperm sample is provided, in a sperm fragmentation test, the sperm is looked at to see if the DNA is healthy and intact. If DNA fragmentation is high this means that a high percentage of sperm is damaged. The treatment options are limited, though Menevit supplements may be of assistance (your doctor may have recommended this anyway), and it may mean that ICSI will have a greater chance of success for you than standard IVF.
Please note that this list is not exhaustive. They are just a few points designed to open up the conversation with your fertility specialist. Iron, zinc and magnesium levels are just a few others you might want to discuss.
*If you’re not quite there with the acronym thing BFP means big fat positive, DPO is days post ovulation and CD is cycle day.
- Vanni, V., Vigano, P., Somigliana, E. , Papaleo, E., Paffoni, A., Pagliardini, L. & Candiani, M. 2014 Vitamin D and assisted reproduction technologies: current concepts. Reproductive Biological Endocrinology. 2014; 12: 47. Published online 2014 May 31. doi: 1186/1477-7827-12-47
- Ozkan, S., Jindal, S., Greenseid, K., Shu, J., Zeitlian, G., Hickmon, C. & Pal, L. (2010) Replete vitamin D stores predict reproductive success following in vitro fertilization. Fertility and Sterility. Vol 94 (4) 1314–1319.
- Unuane, D., Velkeniers, B., Deridder, S., Branvenboer, B., Tournaye, H. and De Brucker, M. (2016) Impact of thyroid autoimmunity on cumulative delivery rates in in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection patients. Fertility and Sterility. 106 (1) 144 – 150.
- Busnelli, A., Paffoni, A., Fedele, L. &, Somigliana, E.(2016). The impact of thyroid autoimmunity on IVF/ICSI outcome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction Update. 22(6) 775-790.
- Fernando, S. & Rombauts, L. (2014) Melatonin: shedding light on infertility? – a review of the recent literature. Journal of Ovarian Research 7 98
- Lewis, S. (2013) The place of sperm DNA fragmentation testing in current day fertility management. Middle East Fertility Society Journal. 18 (2) 78 -82