There's no silver bullet . . . age dictates everything
Published 09/02/2012 | 06:00
A simple hormone test will soon be able to measure how fast a woman's biological clock is ticking and predict how long she will be able to delay having children.
Researchers in Scotland have devised a method of charting the levels of Anti-Mullerian Hormones, which reflect ovarian activity and give an estimate of remaining egg supply.
The breakthrough is just the latest advancement against a backdrop of growing fertility problems.
CSO figures show the average age of mothers giving birth has been rising steadily since the early 1980s. Experts predict that by the end of the decade, the number of couples having difficulty getting pregnant will rise from one in six to one in four.
Deferring motherhood is a Europe-wide trend but there is no escaping the reality that age does matter. A woman's fertility has already begun to decline in her twenties.
Dr Edgar Mocanu, consultant in charge at the Human Assisted Reproduction Unit in Dublin, says there is "a finite interval of time, at least for women, to have a family".
"Female age dictates everything. The younger the female, the better the fertility and the higher the likelihood of conception," he said.
But there is a lot that couples can do to take more control over their own fertility, even long before they plan to get pregnant.
"Power is everything," says Galway-based GP and fertility specialist Dr Phil Boyle.
Dr Boyle, who is pioneering the US developed NaPro, or natural procreative technology, in Ireland, stresses the importance of diet and exercise.
He defines infertility as a chronic health condition that often has several underlying causes.
"If these are diagnosed and treated correctly, the result can be a restoration of normal reproductive function," he explained.
The technique uses a charting system, which identifies abnormal menstrual bleeding patterns, poor cervical mucous flow, hormonal deficiency, PMS and fatigue.
"By looking at all of these areas, we can actually have a good idea what a couple's fertility potential is. We can identify those who are at increased risk of infertility and miscarriage even before they try," he said.
He added that a young woman could take steps to improve her fertility by using the charting system.
"For example, if endometriosis [adhesions on the ovaries] is diagnosed in a woman in her early twenties, you can relieve negative symptoms and, potentially at least, have a very positive impact on reducing the disease progression," he said.
Diet, which has a huge impact on endometriosis, can impact on the general fertility level, he adds.
It is not just women who have a ticking biological clock. A recent study found the chances of men fathering children declined with every year once they reach middle age.