Fertility treatments labeled ‘low risk’

Assisted reproductive technology to help conceive a baby is growing safer in the United States and is now considered a low-risk procedure, according to brand-new research. The risk of complications in the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was low for both autologous procedures (in which women use their own eggs) and for donor-assisted procedures.

The findings were based on a decade-long review, led by Jennifer Kawwass, M.D., an assistant professor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, spanning the years 2000 to 2011.

As the use of assisted reproductive technology in the United States increases, efforts have been made to improve patient safety. These safety measures include using less aggressive medication regimens to stimulate ovulation. And egg retrieval before ovulation is no longer done through laparoscopic surgery, but through a less invasive vaginal procedure.

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Kick the habit—the right way!

If you’re one of the millions of people who made a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking in 2015, you might want to think twice about using electronic cigarettes to help you stop. A new study by National Jewish Health shows the more you use e-cigarettes, the higher your risk of respiratory infections.

Researchers tested the liquid used in e-cigarettes and found that after just 10 minutes of use, it substantially increased the level of inflammation and risk of viral infection in human airway cells. The liquid damaged the cells whether it contained nicotine or not—something experts worry about given how some e-cigarettes are flavored to appeal to teens.

These findings come as the popularity of e-cigarettes is surging, particularly among young people. Last year the number of adults using e-cigs topped 40 million, an increase of more than 620 percent.

There are many other, better ways to kick the habit. Talk to your doctor for sound medical advice.

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Better drug info for pregnant and breast-feeding women

A new labeling system should give women and their doctors clearer information on the risks and benefits of prescription medicines when taken during pregnancy and breast-feeding. In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it “wants pregnant and breast-feeding women and their health care providers to benefit from the most useful and latest information about their prescription medicines.”

Dr. Sandra Kweder, deputy director of the FDA’s Office of New Drugs, explained that “the new labeling rule provides for explanations, based on available information, about the potential benefits and risks for the mother, the fetus and the breast-feeding child.”

The new regulations are aimed at labels on prescription drugs and biological products and will take effect for newly approved drugs beginning June 30, 2015. Older drugs will have their labels changed more gradually, the FDA said.

Until now, drugs have been labeled with a series of lettered categories — A, B, C, D and X — that classify the risk of using medicines during pregnancy and breast-feeding. According to Kweder, that system “was overly simplistic and was misinterpreted as a grading system, which gave an oversimplified view of the product risk.”

So, beginning next June, the letter system will be replaced with three detailed subsections — “Pregnancy,” “Lactation” and “Females and Males of Reproductive Potential,” the FDA said. The new labeling should mean that “doctors will have up-to-date and well-organized information on pregnancy and lactation,” Kweder said. “They will be in a better position to help their patients make critical decisions.”

She added that providing this information in a clear manner is important, because during a pregnancy the typical woman in the United States takes an average of three to five prescription drugs.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about all your medications.

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Healthy weight helps make a healthy baby

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you want to be as healthy as possible. Not only will it help you, it will also have an impact on your baby. New research suggests that a mother’s weight before pregnancy may affect her embryo’s early development and possibly the long-term health of the child.

“Previous studies have indicated that a mother’s weight at conception is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in the children later in life,” says investigator Dr. Roger Sturmey of the Center for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research at England’s University of Hull. “What we have found here is that being overweight at conception does appear to result in changes to the embryo at a very early stage, and that these changes are most likely the result of the conditions in the ovary in which the egg matured. These changes may reduce the chances of conception for overweight women, and may even have long-term health implications for the children of overweight and obese women.”

The new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, looked at more than 350 fertilized eggs from 58 women undergoing fertility treatment and found that being overweight or obese at the time of conception had a number of negative effects. Eggs from overweight and obese women were much smaller in diameter than eggs from women with a healthy weight. And these smaller eggs were less likely to reach a crucial stage of development called the blastocyst, which occurs at about five days after fertilization.

The researchers also found considerable alterations in the chemistry of the embryos of overweight and obese women, such as significantly reduced intake of glucose — an important energy source for early-stage embryos — and significantly increased levels of triglyceride fats. These embryos also had altered metabolism of some amino acids, which are the building blocks of cells, muscle and tissue.

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Get set to thrive this winter

In our neck of the woods, this is prime time for colds, influenza (flu), and other respiratory illnesses. While contagious viruses are active year-round, winter is when we’re all most vulnerable to them.

This is due in large part to people spending more time indoors with others when the weather gets cold. Fortunately, we can fight back. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers these tips for avoiding winter bugs:

• Be sure you’re vaccinated against the flu. If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s not too late, as the flu season often runs well into March.

• Wash your hands often.

• Limit exposure to infected people.

• Keep stress in check.

• Eat right.

• Sleep right.

• Exercise.

For more detailed info on staying healthy, visit the FDA’s “Healthy Winter” web page.

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Mental health care is critical during pregnancy

A new series of articles published in The Lancet highlights the importance of the mental health of parents during pregnancy and after childbirth.

More than 10 percent of women in high-income countries experience mental health disorders during the prenatal and postnatal periods. Louise Howard, professor of Women’s Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’-s College London, and lead author of one of The Lancet papers, says: “For many parents, the arrival of a child is a challenging time. The stigma around [pre] and postnatal mental illnesses can prevent people from getting the help they need. It’s important that people seek treatment promptly to prevent suffering and distress for the whole family. We want the public to know that there are effective treatments.”

The first paper in the series looks at the evidence concerning risk factors for prenatal depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the second paper, childbirth as a trigger for severe mood disorders, including mania, severe depression and psychosis, is discussed. The links between parental mental health disorders and risk of low birth weight, premature birth and later psychological problems are examined in the third paper.

The researchers also draw attention to depression in fathers, which is now understood to be more common than previously thought. Although research has primarily focused on psychological disorders in mothers, emerging evidence suggests paternal depression also influences child development.

Overall, the series emphasizes that adverse effects of such disorders on children are not inevitable. Quality of parenting, social support and the length and severity of the parental disorder are the most important factors to take into consideration, according to the authors. The researchers conclude that effective identification and early intervention are critical.

You can view the articles online here.

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Another reason to take folic acid

It’s well known that folic acid helps prevent serious birth defects, such as spina bifida. But new research reveals that women who begin taking folic acid prior to conception may also be much less likely to have babies who are small for gestational age (SGA) at birth. The study was published in the journal BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

Babies are deemed small for gestational age if their birth weight is in the lowest 10 percent of babies born. At birth, SGA can cause an array of complications, such as reduced oxygen levels, polycythemia (excess red blood cells) and low blood sugar. It also can increase the risk of health problems later in life, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease and mental health issues.

The researchers analyzed 108,525 pregnancies in which data on mothers’ folic acid supplementation was accessible. Results revealed that of the mothers who began taking folic acid during pregnancy, 13.4 percent had babies with a birth weight in the lowest 10 percent, while 7.1 percent had babies with a birth weight in the lowest 5 percent. Among women who began taking folic acid prior to conception, however, the percentage of babies with a birth weight in the lowest 10 percent was 9.9 percent, while the percentage with a birth weight in the lowest 5 percent was 4.8 percent. These numbers indicate that taking folic acid before conception can significantly reduce the risk of SGA.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends that women take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day prior to and during pregnancy. 

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Celiac disease: It’s not linked to infertility

Contrary to what many believe, most women with celiac disease are not at increased risk for fertility problems, according to new research in the journal Gastroenterology.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 2 million women of childbearing age in the United Kingdom and found that, overall, women with celiac disease were no more likely to have fertility problems than those without the digestive disorder.

The study did find that women diagnosed with celiac disease between the ages of 25 and 29 had 41 percent more fertility problems than those in the same age group without the disease—in the amount of about 1 in 200 women. This increase was not found among women of the same age with undiagnosed celiac disease, however, which indicates that it may be related more to the women’s concerns than it is to any biological impact of the condition, the researchers conclude.

People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, can’t eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, because it will damage their small intestine. “Celiac patients should rest assured; our findings indicate that women with celiac disease do not report fertility problems more often than women without celiac disease,” the researchers state.

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Poor sperm quality may signal poor health

Sperm, it appears, may hold a mirror up to a man’s overall health. A new study in the journal Fertility and Sterility reports that defects in sperm within semen may be linked to a variety of health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and skin and glandular disorders. The defects probably don’t cause these problems, the researchers say. It’s more likely that semen quality reflects overall health.

“It may be that infertility is a marker for sickness overall,” says lead researcher Michael Eisenberg, M.D., an assistant professor of urology and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, Calif. “There are a lot of factors involving a man’s overall health that turn out to impair sperm production.”

In the study, Eisenberg’s team compared the health of more than 9,000 men who had semen defects with men who didn’t. The researchers found that 44 percent of men with semen defects also had other health problems. These included high blood pressure, and heart and blood vessel disease. In addition, as the number of other health conditions—such as skin disease or glandular problems—increased, so too did the likelihood of semen issues, according to the study.

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Resolve to stay on track

Happy New Year! Now’s the time many of us make resolutions to change or improve something in our lives. The hard part, of course, is making those changes stick.

To help, USA.gov offers tips and suggestions to help you achieve any of the following goals in 2015:

• Lose weight

• Volunteer to help others

• Quit smoking

• Get a better education

• Get a better job

• Save money

• Get fit

• Eat healthy food

• Manage stress

• Manage debt

• Take a trip

• Reduce, reuse and recycle

• Drink less alcohol

Get started on your resolutions by clicking here.

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