Are intralipid infusions really needed during IVF treatment? Hot topic. Or lukewarm, if you believe fertility guru Robert Winston. In 2012 he tweeted: ‘Intralipids are peddled for so-called immune infertility. Yet another remedy being used without real evidence it works.’ Is he right? Let’s take a close look at intralipids and whether they work for fertility patients or not.
First off, intralipid infusion therapy isn’t new. Since the 1960s, intralipids have been fed intravenously to patients to boost nutrition after operations. Premature babies get them too. A blend of soya bean oil, egg yolk, glycerin and water, intralipids infuse your body with calories. You might not make these essential fatty acids yourself – or at least not in the quantity given.
In 2011, UK researchers gave intralipid infusions to 50 women. All had endured numerous unsuccessful IVF cycles. Half of them got pregnant after taking the intralipids. The miscarriage rate was higher for another group who weren’t given intralipids. Small study, but an interesting one.
So what’s going on? Well, some doctors think natural killer (NK) cells in the body attack embryos and that intralipids stop that happening. But larger randomized trials into IVF and intralipids are needed to really prove this. Which is Lord Winston’s point. Many so-called IVF breakthroughs, often heavily marketed by fertility clinics, need large-scale trials. Little ones lack credibility. Some say it’s irresponsible to market new treatments and technologies that don’t have meaty evidence to back them up.
But clinics hold the trump card. Anxious IVF patients are soft targets for hard marketers. In consulting rooms and online, they’re told their bodies may be sabotaging their pregnancies because their embryos are perceived as infections. This NK scare may be completely unfounded. Natural killer cells: you have to hand it to the person who coined that phrase. It’s a mortifying description for vulnerable IVF patients willing to try anything to improve their chances.
The truth is, intralipids might help. Might. Not will. If you’ve had miscarriages, repeated implantation failure and have elevated NK levels, intralipid infusion therapy will be on your clinic’s price list. As will a steroid like Prednisolone, sometimes called Prednisone. Or Clexane, a blood thinner that reputedly guards against uterine clots. The jury’s out on all three.
A typical course of IVF intralipid treatment is two infusions: the first one 7 to 10 days before your scheduled egg retrieval; the second on your embryo transfer day. Some clinics propose a third infusion after a positive pregnancy test and monthly ones till the 20-week mark. They’ll charge you for them too.
You may be charged a consultation fee and/or a booking fee. Nursing services will even come to your home, but you’ll need a prescription, which you may only get after paying for a private consultation.
Our verdict on intralipids during IVF? Be wary. Don’t expect miracles. Don’t have them at all if you’ve got an egg or soy allergy or might react badly to a cannula in your arm.