All types of businesses and consumer brands have seized on the consumer’s desire for more “natural” products and services. Unfortunately, the word “natural” is often misused, in that it suggests that something “natural” is somehow better. But when it comes to fertility care ― specifically in vitro fertilization, or IVF – data show that isn’t the case.
According to a comprehensive study released this week at American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)’s 2016 Scientific Congress & Expo by our group Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, so-called “natural IVF” was shown to have no distinct advantages over traditional IVF.
In fact, the data from the natural IVF arm of the study, the first large-scale controlled trial of this type conducted in the U.S., showed that 24% of patients didn’t have an egg available for fertilization, and nearly 50% didn’t have an embryo available for transfer.
Natural IVF has been promoted by some fertility clinics as a less expensive approach, with the main difference between it and traditional IVF being that ovarian stimulation medications are not used to help develop multiple eggs in the ovaries. Instead, “natural” IVF seeks to retrieve a single egg without traditional stimulation medications, which then will be fertilized in the lab just like traditional IVF process.
Some hopeful patients feel that without the use of stimulation medications the process is more “natural” and somehow healthier despite any evidence. Some others feel that, given the cost of care with fertility medications, traditional IVF care is out of their financial reach.
“After undergoing both natural cycle and traditional stimulated IVF, I can wholeheartedly recommend traditional IVF to any woman seeking help in conceiving a healthy baby,” said Laura Davis, a study participant and a patient at RMANJ. “I wanted to give natural IVF a try, but realized that my best option for conceiving was traditional IVF.” Laura’s team was able to retrieve more than 20 eggs through the first stimulated ‘traditional’ cycle—eight of which were healthy embryos. One single embryo transfer and nine months later, Laura gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
“I come from a family of six and was really hurting after undergoing a failed natural IVF cycle and thinking I couldn’t have a family,” Laura says. “Just knowing that my husband and I had the opportunity to continue to grow our family with the remaining embryos through traditional IVF gives us peace of mind and makes it all worth it.”
The evidence is clear: patents in the natural IVF arm of the study had fewer eggs to fertilize, fewer available embryos to transfer, and ultimately require more time and money to achieve success versus traditional IVF care. Based on this data, we do not recommend natural IVF to patients in our program in New Jersey.
Infertility care can often be described as a marathon, where the “runner” must draw on all their strength and resources - emotional, physical, and financial - to cross the finish line. Unfortunately, too many patients in the “natural IVF” arm of this new trial never even left the starting line. Our goal ― naturally ― is to provide care that is safe, successful, cost-effective, and that also is mindful of the investment of time made by our patients.