Originally published April 25 2012
Birth defects are one-third more likely in babies conceived with IVF, according to studies
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) Technology is a wonderful thing in most cases, but sometimes doing things the old-fashioned way is not only better, it's safer too.
To wit, a new study found that babies conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) - when a mother's egg is fertilized outside her body then transplanted to her womb - are more at risk for birth defects.
According to a review of scores of studies by Zhibin Hu at Nanjing Medical University in China, babies conceived that way, or by using intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) - in which a single sperm is injected directly into the egg - are one-third more likely, or 37 percent, to be born with problems or malformations.
Researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, could not find a logical reason why technology seemed to cause the additional incidents of birth defects, or even if technology was responsible.
Still, in examining 46 separate bodies of research on IVF, which has been available to women for more than 30 years and which has often been the subject of research, found that in terms of having "normal" babies, replacing technology with the natural child-bearing process produces more kids with more physical and mental problems and limitations.
"Children conceived by IVF and/or ICSI are at significantly increased risk for birth defects, and there is no risk difference between children conceived by IVF and/or ICSI," the team wrote, in examining data on more than 124,000 children born through artificial insemination.
That compares with three in 100 children in the U.S. who are born with serious birth defects such as a malformed limb or organ, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Reuters reported.
Technology seems to be responsible... but why?
Crunching the numbers, a 37-percent increase would increase the U.S. rate to four in 100 children born with some sort of defect.
"(The report) confirms what most people accepted anyway, that, yes, there is an increased risk in congenital abnormality associated with assisted reproductive technology," William Buckett, a professor at McGill University who was not involved with Hu's research team, said.
The authors of the study said birth defects among IVF/ICSI-conceived children involved a range of bodily functions and systems, including musculoskeletal malformations, genitals, and the digestive and neurological systems.
That said, the research team could not say why technology seemed to be linked to the birth defects.
One theory is that it's possible people who have trouble conceiving naturally and try fertility treatments may somehow be at increased risk for having children with birth defects anyway.
Another school of thought is that rough handling of the embryos during the actual process of fertilization, or the drugs involved in fertility treatments - or both - may be at fault.
Buckett said another theory is that it only appears as though birth defects occur more frequently in children conceived outside the womb because they are followed more closely by medical personnel and researchers.
"Couples who have had babies born as a result of IVF are followed up more closely, and therefore subtle abnormalities may be detected that otherwise might not have been detected," he said.
Is there anything parents who use IVF can do to lower the risk of having a child with a birth defect?
Hu says no, but that's because more studies are needed.
"It is really too early to find out ways to reduce the risk, because the reasons accounting for the risk are largely unknown," he told Reuters in an email.
Higher risk of ovarian cancer
Parents desperate for children and who have no other way to conceive may find the risk acceptable.
But there are other concerns as well regarding IVF: the increased likelihood of women who conceive in that manner developing ovarian cancer.
A research team from the Netherlands Cancer Institute studied data from women who had received at least one form of fertility treatment, and 6,000 women who had not undergone IVF treatment. Of 61 women who developed ovarian malignancies, 31 had borderline ovarian cancer and 30 had invasive cancer.
Some scientists dismissed those figures as statistically insignificant. Nevertheless, the "data clearly show that ovarian stimulation for IVF is associated with an increased risk of borderline ovarian tumors and this risk remains elevated up to more than 15 years after the first cycle of treatment," said lead researcher Flora van Leeuwen.
The risks go even higher when artificial insemination leads to multiple babies.
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