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‘Great tool to have in your fertility kit’

For couples thinking of expanding their family in the New Year, a simple blood test can give an indication of a woman's fertility outlook.

The Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) day three test measures the amount of FSH in a woman's blood on day three of her menstrual cycle. FSH is the hormone that tells the ovaries to release eggs. Together with Luteinising Hormone (LH) it is produced in the pituitary gland. The higher the level of this hormone, the harder the ovaries have to work to release eggs. If a woman's FSH levels are high, it suggests that her egg reserve might be diminished or reduced. Unfortunately, the test only sheds light on quantity, not quality. A woman could, for example, have a large number of invalid eggs.

“A lot of women live or die by this test,” said Lisa Bagchi who organised a local fertility support group called Paperwhites. She and her husband Kris struggled to have a baby before eventually turning to In vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. Their son, Arlo, celebrated his first birthday this month.

Mrs Bagchi had the FSH day three test done and got a high score of 11.89, and she did not respond to any of the follicle stimulating hormones given before IVF treatment.

“Many clinics will cut you off if your number is 15 or higher,” said Mrs Bagchi. “It means you won't respond well to stimulation medication. If it comes out that you have a low FSH and you are having problems, the doctor can say we need to look at other factors as to why this might not be working. If the test comes out high you can be very crestfallen.

“Fertility clinics always go by your highest test result, even if you have had a lower one. My highest was 11. Not a great number but typical of someone of my age which was 38. I didn't respond to any of the meds. What can you do? You can't really do anything about it because it is your ovaries and eggs.”

Refusing to give up on their dream of having children, she turned to a natural remedy, she kept reading about wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is thought to have many healthful benefits, in general including increasing red blood cells and lowering blood pressure, but is also thought to work well as a follicle stimulator.

Wheatgrass is the young grass of the common wheat plant. Mrs Bagchi read about it in the book 'The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies' by Randine Lewis , a popular book about resolving your infertility issues.

You can take wheatgrass in powder form, in a juice, frozen in an ice cube or in tablet form. Eating wheatgrass in the western world was popularised in the 1930s when Charles Schnabel, an agricultural chemist, fed wheatgrass to dying hens. The hens not only recovered, but they produced eggs at a higher rate than healthy hens. Mr Schnable began drying and powdering the grass and giving it to friends and family to supplement their diet.

“I didn't get anything out of my first IVF cycle,” said Mrs Bagchi. “I decided to go ahead and try wheatgrass. It couldn't hurt me. I did it for an entire month. I drank it every single day. I ate it fresh when I could and powder when I couldn't. And then a month later it worked. My FSH level went from 11.89 to 6.03. I cut it in half. The next cycle I had quadrupled my response to the medications. I am convinced that wheatgrass was the answer for us.”

Some women believe that the FSH day three test should be a regular part of a woman's annual check-up, because knowing the results could help women decide whether to continue building a career, or enjoying the child-free life for a little while longer, or start working on a family right away.

“Most people don't know anything about it unless you are doing IVF or assisted reproductive therapy,” said Mrs Bagchi.

“FSH is a great tool to have in your fertility kit. You should know your FSH levels. It is just simple blood work. It is also estradiol and your LH levels are tested. It gives the doctor a good picture of where you might stand.”

However the FSH level day three test is not a fool-proof test. One problem is that what level of FSH is a good level is somewhat open to interpretation. Some labs consider a score of 11 to be good, while other labs might not agree. There are other tests that can also be done, and by looking at the different results, get a clearer picture. It also looks at egg quantity, not quality.

The FSH day three test can also be used to find out if a woman is peri-menopausal, because after menopause a woman's FSH levels are high for the rest of their life.

Mrs Bagchi said to couples struggling to have children, to not despair. This year, the Paperwhites fertility support group graduated around 12 couples who went on to have successful pregnancies. The group provides emotional support and also exchanges information about different resources and treatments that are available.

“Our numbers indicate there is hope,” said Mrs Bagchi.

Membership to Paperwhites Fertility Support Group is free and open to all.

Meetings happen the first Tuesday monthly at Spirit House, 65 Middle Road, in Devonshire. E-mail them at paperwhites.bermuda[AT]gmail.com, check out their website at www.paperwhitesbermuda.com or telephone 538-5472.

Lisa Bagchi and her one-year-old son, Arlo

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Published December 28, 2010 at 1:00 am (Updated December 28, 2010 at 7:39 am)

‘Great tool to have in your fertility kit’

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