‘Women hoping to achieve pregnancy should focus on achieving a good-quality pregnancy and the life-time health of their child – not just on getting pregnant.’ Fertility steroids are under the spotlight as
Professor Sarah Robertson issues a stark warning this week in the journal Human Reproduction. I welcome her caveat. Hailed as a breakthrough in preventing miscarriage, steroids are touted as the antidote to failed IVF cycles and miscarriage. The best thing since sliced bread. Now a new study firmly refutes the use of corticosteroids to boost women’s fertility and prevent miscarriage. The theory behind the use of oral or injected steroids is that they suppress the immune system, reducing Natural Killer Cells, to prevent pregnancy loss in the first trimester. Natural Killer Cells are natural and good – necessary – to allow healthy implantation of the placenta to nourish the growing baby.
Fertility steroids linked to adverse outcomes
Worrying new findings show women on these meds are 64 per cent more likely to miscarry. Babies born to women on steroids in the first three months of pregnancy are 3-4 times more likely to have cleft palate. Risk of preterm birth doubles. Premature birth is a challenging start to life and poses threats to health – over a lifetime. The first three months of life in the womb are critical in the development of a healthy baby. The growing baby takes aboard everything that enters the mother’s system – and is highly sensitive to chemicals. The placenta is the baby’s lifeline of oxygen and food for growth.
Why does this matter?
A German pharmaceutical company called Grunenthal produces a new wonder drug in the late 1950s and early 1960. It blighted the lives of thousands of children. The Thalidomide scandal saw healthy babies born without arms or legs. Mothers prescribed the miracle anti-sickness drug to quell early pregnancy nausea were horrified. My mother was a pharmacist back then. Newly pregnant with me, she stood in her starched white coat, choking back her nausea. Deciphering doctor’s handwriting, filling prescriptions for other mums-to-be. Never once did she consider taking the magic pill, so freely offered by the drug reps. I am lucky.
Professor Sarah Robertson is lead researcher and director at the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide. Her expertise is in the field of immunology. ‘Suppressing the immune system is linked to impaired placenta development. This increases the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth and birth defects. Doctors may be too concerned with getting patients pregnant – instead of ensuring the pregnancy has the desired outcome. The use of corticosteroids may be harmful to the body’s natural biology – there can be dire consequences that don’t appear until later.’
She advises that unless a patient already has an immune disease, corticosteroids are be best avoided.