Effects of flying and jet lag on fertility pt 1.

I am just returning from yet another trip to Europe, Belgium this time!  This has been my 9th transatlantic trip this year.  Last year I made 10 trips, and the year before that 11.  With an average of a trip every 6-8 weeks I spend a lot of time either sat in a plane or at an airport or, trying not to fall asleep in meetings whilst I try to get over the jet lag!!

Travelling like this is stressful.  I always have a connection to make in the US because I do not live near an international airport, and sometimes I have another connection in Europe as I travel to cities that do not connect directly with the USA so I can often end up with 2 transfers…it can be very stressful making these connections when flights get delayed or security lines hold me up.  For example on this particular trip to Belgium, due to a series of unfortunate and unrelated disruptions it took me 9 hours longer to reach my destination (on top of the planned 14 hours of travel).

I am simply sick and tired of it.  Yes, I get to go visit some cool cities, I am grateful for that opportunity, but it is physically disruptive to my life.  As this is my last trip of the year and I already have 7 trips planned in the first 5 months of next year :-s I am beginning to wonder whether it is such a good idea to do all this travelling.  I am not sure how many of these I will be able to commit to with my next round of IVF coming up.

This got me thinking about how little I know about the effects of flying on my fertility.  Is it even an issue?  Should I be concerned?  So I did a bit of research and here is what I have found so far:

There is currently no overwhelmingly strong evidence that flying has a direct cause of reduced fertility.  However, there are a few studies that indicate that there may be some correlation.

One study I found to be compelling used mice to investigate whether shifting the body clock has an effect on their fertility [1].  The results of this study showed that there may be serious implications for a woman’s reproductive health if her work involves shift work or time zone changes.

To understand the outcome of this study, you need to understand the body clock.  Our body clocks are called circadian rhythms, these are physical, mental and beahvioural changes that follow a roughly 24 hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in the environment.  Your circadian rhythm is produced by your body, but it is also influenced by the environment.  Light is the main thing that influences circadian rhythms – it turns on or off genes that control your internal clock.  Your circadian rhythm can change your sleep-wake cycles hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions [2].  (I know travelling certainly screws up my body temperature because I discovered this last year when we were trying to conceive the good old way and I was actually bothering to monitor my temps.)

The researchers of this study found evidence suggesting the severity of circadian disruption may be linked to the severity of pregnancy disruption: mice subjected to advances of the light-dark circle had greater circadian clock disruption and lower reproductive success.  This group’s pregnancy success rate was only 22% compared with the control group of 90%.

WOAH. That’s quite a difference!

So what does this mean?  This means that if this affects mice, there is a good chance it affects humans too – but to what extent remains unknown, more research is needed before conclusions can be made confidently. ….but I couldn’t find anything taking this research further forward.

Now, there have also been a large survey study of flight attendants to examine fertility….there are two interesting conclusions, first that flight crew were found to be more likely to suffer from irregular periods, and also more likely to suffer a miscarriage.  But I find the study designs less compelling, so I’m not even going to write about this in much detail (but you can judge for yourself here).

So is there something that can be done to prevent suffering from the effects of flying and jet lag?  No one knows for sure, but we do know that Melatonin is an important hormone that regulates other hormones…this can be taken as a supplement, but it can also have negative effects on fertility too when taken as a supplement.  And this is what I will talk about in some more detail in Part 2 later this weekend!

flying.jpg

Am I less fertile because I travel trans-Atlantic a lot?

[1]  Summa KC, Vitaterna MH, Turek FW (2012) Environmental Perturbation of the Circadian Clock Disrupts Pregnancy in the Mouse. PLoS ONE 7(5)

[2] Circadian rhythms fact sheet on the National Institute for General Medical Sciences website

Fertilomat.com – an experiment

At first I wasn’t  sure how I felt about this website: Fertilomat.com Initially, I was mad about it.  I was mad because I believe it was just targeting vulnerable women who are concerned about their level of infertility.  But then I thought, well it appears to be combining a whole bunch of medical research and turning it into a user friendly format for women to interact with, that’s got to be a good thing.  This website has developed a ‘predictive’ model that combines data from various research areas into fertility, such as effect of BMI, alcohol and caffeine.  But the big problem I have with this website is that they are not transparent with how the model is developed or what the potential error is.  This makes me suspicious.

Plus their business model sucks.  They charge women 19 Euros to view a two page personal report based on 23 questions about lifestyle.  The questions are very simple, such as weight, height, age, alcohol intake, caffeine etc. Although I can see that this model may have taken many hours of research and cost them a bit of money to develop, I feel conned because the research that they do cite is free to download anyway.  I also wonder how the authors of all the various research reports being used feel about their data being used to make money from women in this manner?  The website could have chosen a different approach and made money in other ways, by advertising on their website, or charging medical practitioners to use their model.  Maybe I am just biased…

So as a matter of interest I paid for the two page personal report providing me with my fertility score.  Quite frankly I was very disappointed.  First of all because for some reason the form I filled in reset to my height as 4ft and weight as 55lbs.  I am 5’8″ and 130lbs, so the output was useless anyway.  Here are the two charts that were included in my 19 Euro report…

Depressing...

Depressing…

Of the two pages of My ‘personal’ report, I actually received 1 1/2 pages of report. 1/2 page was dedicated to repeating back my answers to the 23 questions, the other 1/2 page were the two charts above.  Then the last 1/2 was some text pointing out that my BMI was far too low (of course it was because the interface was CRAP and assumed I was 4ft and 55lbs) and my fertility score is below average, and next year it will decline.  It also told me that it was good that I was avoiding alcohol because 1 litre of wine in a week can decrease fertility by 60% (thanks, I read that in the free research report you cited).  It told me: ‘the fact that you don’t smoke increases your chances of getting pregnant’.  Ummmm no that’s not how it works!!!!  Then the last paragraph filled up space telling me that If I want to know more about my fertility I should see a doctor/gynaecologist to check for further tests such as ultrasounds.  And that was it!!!!

Simply put people, and as I suspected, this is a CON: Fertilomat.com But I am glad I spent the 19 Euros because hopefully now I can share this so other women won’t!

Beer, Beer and more Beer!! Wait – should you really be drinking beer?

Beer – the cool, refreshing, golden nectar.  My first beer was admittedly at a young age of 13.  I hated it, but that’s what everyone else was drinking, so beer it was.  As my palette has grown accustomed to the varieties and tastes I have become a distant admirer of certain beers.  Particularly German Hefeweizen beers.  So during my 2WW it was difficult to come all the way to Germany and avoid the stuff…..so……here I am – two beers in hand!!!

Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Mmmm Beer!

Hofbrauhaus in Munich. Mmmm Beer!

Officially, Chris and I both gave up alcohol almost 17 months ago.  I say ‘officially’ because we have both had alcohol in these months as we have caved on occasion.  However, we have significantly reduced our intake of alcohol to maybe one or two beers/glasses of wine a month, if at all.  The reason?  Because ‘they’ tell us alcohol affects both fertility and the development of the foetus in the early stages.

It is logical, after all, if alcohol is capable of making you do silly things with your mind, then surely it can affect other things too.  I have no qualms in giving up alcohol, plus it saves on the purse, and reduces the calorie intake (never hurts).  There are many conflicting views about the impact of alcohol on fertility.

The UK Government suggests a pregnant woman, or a woman who is trying to conceive should drink no more than 1-2 units once or twice a week (ie one small glass of wine).  Their drink aware campaign (www.drinkaware.co.uk) website is quite informative about alcohol and fertility for both men and women.

One interesting bit of research I read about from Harvard University found that couples undergoing IVF found that women who drank more than six units per week were 18% less likely to conceive, while men were 14% less likely*.  Although this statistic sounds quite high you will only need to drink 3 times a week or more, that is quite a lot.  LAst time I drank that much was at University!!  Generally, I go with the school of thought that one small drink every once in while is unlikely to have any significant impact.  But as the stakes grow higher and more money is invested in our treatment, the more cautious I am about alcohol intake.

So what about that picture above with me holding two beers from Friday night?  Well they actually are not mine, they are the beers of my new colleagues.  BUT! I did enjoy three non-alcoholic Weizen beers!  Obviously the fact that I had three meant I must have enjoyed them.  It was only after one of my German students told me that he was taking a case of the non-alcoholic stuff back to Rome with him that I thought I should give it a go.  Usually, non-alcoholic beers remind me of the bitter taste of Beck’s non-alcoholic that was served when I was on my tours of duty in Afghanistan.  Beggars can’t be choosers, but that stuff put me off it all for several years.  Well at least until now that is.

The non-alcoholic beer definitely doesn’t give you that light headed happiness feeling you would ordinarily experience with the alcoholic version.  But throughout the night I realized that I felt comfortable drinking with my new friends without the pressure of feeling like I had to drink.  In fact near the end of the evening, one of my friends pointed to my glass and said to the waiter “I’ll have what she’s having”, I quickly pointed out it was non-alcoholic.  Obviously he immediately changed his mind, and looked disappointed at me.  He was disappointed because all along he thought I was keeping up with the lads without getting pissed and I was drinking them under the table!  But it was quickly laughed off and nothing more was said.

I think I will try these non-alcoholic options more.  In fact, a fellow blogger (the longest journey) came up with a cracking idea….to put some juice/fizz in a wine glass to give the impression of drinking wine.  Psychologically, that surely has to have the same effect as a non-alcoholic beer.  Well I’m going to try it and let you know 😉

At the top of Kofel in Oberammergau.

Bye Bye Bavaria!  Thank you for the beer discovery!

*Harvard University Website. Alcohol hinders having a baby through IVF, couples warned.

Accessed from: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2009/10/alcohol-hinders-having-a-baby-through-ivf-couples-warned/

Half way through the two week wait and feeling low…

So this is it…the half way point in the 2 week wait (AKA the 2WW).  I am feeling a little low.  It is probably as a result of a mix of things – first of all, being stuck inside all weekend behind a computer, second of all, I am impatient being in the middle of the 2WW, thirdly I am fed up with the progesterone suppositories leaking everywhere.  Is there a chance that my feelings are related to hormones and medications?  Maybe, I can’t tell.

diesel worried

Diesel don’t look so worried, it’s gonna be OK

My lowness hasn’t been helped that I had two course projects due this evening.  Both were programming assignments….the first project I developed a web app that uses the CDC’s most recent data on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Here is some info on it).  I was unable to fully deploy the app online before the deadline. It worked perfectly yesterday on my computer and all day today I have bee trying to figure out why it won’t go live. Sooooooo frustrating.  Hopefully my graders will see my code and be generous.

My second project was a little dull, statistics and investigating relationships in cars between Miles Per Gallon and transmission types (amongst other things).  I completed my report, but in the last hour before the deadline I could not get it to convert to a pdf file.  Such a simple task.  I am gutted.  I will have to re-take this module as it counts for 60% of the grade.

I will admit that I have screamed and cried at my computer several times this weekend.  I am not very good at not being in control of it!

Our cats, Sushi and Diesel, have been overly affectionate the last couple of days.  I am sure they can sense when we are down or ill.

Next week is a new week, no more snow, warmer temperatures, back to some gentle exercise, and the end of the week we are having friends over to watch rugby, eat some bad foods, and play some board games.  Something to look forward to.  With all that fun it will then be time to take the test. Which incidentally, will be the same day as our 3 year wedding anniversary – it would be a good present to ourselves if we got the big fat positive.  Monday Monday!!!

These guys help when I feel low

Sushi and Diesel being cute together, can’t help but me smile

go home cat, you're drunk
go home cat, you’re drunk – Classic Diesel

Research shows that age is not correlated with fertility…um OK

I’m back on my data hunt for my course project to develop a web app…and I came across a research paper that explored factors associated with fertility in a small district in India*.  The abstract of the paper begins with:

“This paper focuses on the cause and effect relations on human fertility. Here fertility is used as the number of children ever born for a woman….”

Alarm bells rang as soon as I see ’cause and effect….’.  But I was intrigued, so I read on.  The factors that this study looked at were ‘natural factors’ (including age of woman, age of woman at marriage, religion and type of family) ‘economic factors’ (including employment of woman and spouse, income of woman and spouse) and ‘knowledge factors’ (including education of woman and spouse).  I should now mention that this is clearly NOT a piece of medical research, rather came from a journal of anthropology.  Studies that look at non-medical factors can be revealing never-the-less, so here we go…
I loved the result that the more educated a woman and her spouse were the fertility rate lowered.  Basically you can possibly turn this around and say that the less educated you were the more likely you were to have children.  I think we can guess why.  But it is the way that the report concludes which makes it sound rather amusing…
“Conclusion: Higher employment, higher income of both husband and wife and nuclear family system could bring the reduction in the fertility level of the women in Kanyakumari district”

CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION – BAHHHHHH

I know that this research paper was probably trying to assess what causes the high birth rate in this particular district, but I think the translation and the way the conclusions have been made make this a paper a funny read if you are into that kind of geekery.  So Ladies – lose the jobs, dumb up your brain cells and knock a few out of your husband too, and don’t worry, age is not correlated with fertility, that is if we want to learn some lessons from Kanyakumari district!

Oh yes and here is another one of my favourite xkcds.

Cancer Causes Cell Phones – Duh!

* K. Senthamarai Kannan* and V. Nagarajan, “Factor and Multiple Regression Analysis for Human Fertility in Kanyakumari District“. Available at: http://www.krepublishers.com/02-Journals/T-Anth/Anth-10-0-000-08-Web/Anth-10-3-000-08-Abst-PDF/Anth-10-3-211-08-416-Kannan-K-S/Anth-10-3-211-08-416-Kannan-K-S-Tt.pdf