Natural compound can ward off fertility problems in women

A naturally occurring compound in mammals can increase viability of egg cells in middle-aged women, reducing their risk of fertility problems, scientists say.

A team led by Dr Johne Liu, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and professor at the University of Ottawa found that putrescine water could increase the viability of egg cells for women in their late 30s and older.

Putrescine is naturally produced in mammals by an enzyme called ornithine decarboxylase,or ODC, and is easily absorbed and cleared by the body.

In a study published by journal Aging, Liu outlined how a simple programme of drinking water or taking a pill that contains putrescine could reduce the rate at which middle-aged women produce eggs with the incorrect number of chromosomes, the leading cause of reduced fertility and increases in miscarriages and congenital birth defects.

In female mammals, ODC levels are known to rise during ovulation, when the egg cell matures and is released from the ovary.

Liu had previously known that ODC levels rise very little in older females and inhibiting ODC levels in young mice lead to an increase in egg cells with chromosomal defects.

Taking this a step further, Liu's team gave older mice putrescine water in the period immediately leading up to and during ovulation, and found that it reduced the incidence of defective eggs by more than 50 per cent.

"This is a remarkable outcome for such a simple approach.

However, we could not have imagined this without first understanding the role that ODC and putrescine play in maintaining the chromosomal integrity of egg cells," Liu said in a statement.

"While there is work to be done before it can be approved for clinical use, we feel this approach could be used for natural conception as well as in vitro fertilisation," Liu said.

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