Study Finds Poppyseed Oil Treatment May Boost Fertility


Hear us out: This is a lot less wacky than it sounds. Researchers say a common medical imaging technique involving poppyseed oil may actually help women conceive. They published their report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It’s called a hysterosalpingography, and you won’t want to try it at home. The process involves flushing a person’s fallopian tubes with contrast dye mixed with fluid, usually poppyseed oil, then using an X-ray machine to look for blockages. It’s a time-tested technique for getting a clearer picture of a patient’s reproductive workings.

Could it also be a way of getting those workings to, well, work? Researchers wondered if the flushing process had any effect on fertility success, and, if so, if the oil used had anything to do with it.

To find out, they recruited would-be parents from 27 hospitals in the Netherlands. Each of the 1119 women involved in the study underwent a routine hysterosalpingography as doctors tried to pinpoint the cause of their difficulty conceiving. Half of the procedures used poppyseed oil as a medium for the contrast dye; the other half used water. Six months after the imaging session, the researchers followed up to see who’d gotten pregnant.

The oil appeared to have provided a distinct advantage for women trying to conceive. At the six-month mark, 39.7 percent of women in the oil-flushing group were pregnant, compared to 29.1 percent in the water group—and they got pregnant faster as well. The benefits seemed to last through pregnancy and into childbirth; at the next follow-up, 38.8 percent of women in the oil group had had babies, compared to 28.1 percent of women in the control group.

Reproductive medicine expert Tim Child, of Oxford Fertility, was not involved in the study but expressed excitement. "I think this will change people’s practice," he told New Scientist.

Those people could include Child himself, who said he’d consider trying oil flushing on its own, unaccompanied by X-rays. "It looks like it’s not just an investigation [but] a treatment," he said.

The research team notes that their study had some limitations. All study participants were healthy and under the age of 39, and it’s possible the oil’s benefits may not extend to everyone. And flushing a patient’s fallopian tubes won’t help if the root of the issue lies elsewhere.

"If you know your infertility is due to poor semen quality or no ovulation, then this is not going to help," corresponding author Ben Mol, of the University of Adelaide, told New Scientist, "but if there’s any other cause this might be beneficial," he says. "It’s really cheap compared with IVF."

Mol says he may have the procedure to thank for his own existence. After starting the study, he learned that his parents had been trying to conceive for eight years before his mother had a hysterosalpingogram. And then, Mol says, they succeeded: "It’s highly likely my brother and I are the result of this."

[h/t New Scientist]

More Details Emerge About 'Oumuamua, Earth's First-Recorded Interstellar Visitor

In October, scientists using the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope sighted something extraordinary: Earth's first confirmed interstellar visitor. Originally called A/2017 U1, the once-mysterious object has a new name—'Oumuamua, according to Scientific American—and researchers continue to learn more about its physical properties. Now, a team from the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy has published a detailed report of what they know so far in Nature.

Fittingly, "'Oumuamua" is Hawaiian for "a messenger from afar arriving first." 'Oumuamua's astronomical designation is 1I/2017 U1. The "I" in 1I/2017 stands for "interstellar." Until now, objects similar to 'Oumuamua were always given "C" and "A" names, which stand for either comet or asteroid. New observations have researchers concluding that 'Oumuamua is unusual for more than its far-flung origins.

It's a cigar-shaped object 10 times longer than it is wide, stretching to a half-mile long. It's also reddish in color, and is similar in some ways to some asteroids in own solar system, the BBC reports. But it's much faster, zipping through our system, and has a totally different orbit from any of those objects.

After initial indecision about whether the object was a comet or an asteroid, the researchers now believe it's an asteroid. Long ago, it might have hurtled from an unknown star system into our own.

'Oumuamua may provide astronomers with new insights into how stars and planets form. The 750,000 asteroids we know of are leftovers from the formation of our solar system, trapped by the Sun's gravity. But what if, billions of years ago, other objects escaped? 'Oumuamua shows us that it's possible; perhaps there are bits and pieces from the early years of our solar system currently visiting other stars.

The researchers say it's surprising that 'Oumuamua is an asteroid instead of a comet, given that in the Oort Cloud—an icy bubble of debris thought to surround our solar system—comets are predicted to outnumber asteroids 200 to 1 and perhaps even as high as 10,000 to 1. If our own solar system is any indication, it's more likely that a comet would take off before an asteroid would.

So where did 'Oumuamua come from? That's still unknown. It's possible it could've been bumped into our realm by a close encounter with a planet—either a smaller, nearby one, or a larger, farther one. If that's the case, the planet remains to be discovered. They believe it's more likely that 'Oumuamua was ejected from a young stellar system, location unknown. And yet, they write, "the possibility that 'Oumuamua has been orbiting the galaxy for billions of years cannot be ruled out."

As for where it's headed, The Atlantic's Marina Koren notes, "It will pass the orbit of Jupiter next May, then Neptune in 2022, and Pluto in 2024. By 2025, it will coast beyond the outer edge of the Kuiper Belt, a field of icy and rocky objects."

Last week, University of Wisconsin–Madison astronomer Ralf Kotulla and scientists from UCLA and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) used the WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona, to take some of the first pictures of 'Oumuamua. You can check them out below.

Images of an interloper from beyond the solar system — an asteroid or a comet — were captured on Oct. 27 by the 3.5-meter WIYN Telescope on Kitt Peak, Ariz.
Images of 'Oumuamua—an asteroid or a comet—were captured on October 27.

U1 spotted whizzing through the Solar System in images taken with the WIYN telescope. The faint streaks are background stars. The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image. In these images U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faint
The green circles highlight the position of U1 in each image against faint streaks of background stars. In these images, U1 is about 10 million times fainter than the faintest visible stars.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Color image of U1, compiled from observations taken through filters centered at 4750A, 6250A, and 7500A.
Color image of U1.
R. Kotulla (University of Wisconsin) & WIYN/NOAO/AURA/NSF

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

Scientists Analyze the Moods of 90,000 Songs Based on Music and Lyrics

Based on the first few seconds of a song, the part before the vocalist starts singing, you can judge whether the lyrics are more likely to detail a night of partying or a devastating breakup. The fact that musical structures can evoke certain emotions just as strongly as words can isn't a secret. But scientists now have a better idea of which language gets paired with which chords, according to their paper published in Royal Society Open Science.

For their study, researchers from Indiana University downloaded 90,000 songs from Ultimate Guitar, a site that allows users to upload the lyrics and chords from popular songs for musicians to reference. Next, they pulled data from labMT, which crowd-sources the emotional valence (positive and negative connotations) of words. They referred to the music recognition site Gracenote to determine where and when each song was produced.

Their new method for analyzing the relationship between music and lyrics confirmed long-held knowledge: that minor chords are associated with sad feelings and major chords with happy ones. Words with a negative valence, like "pain," "die," and "lost," are all more likely to fall on the minor side of the spectrum.

But outside of major chords, the researchers found that high-valence words tend to show up in a surprising place: seventh chords. These chords contain four notes at a time and can be played in both the major and minor keys. The lyrics associated with these chords are positive all around, but their mood varies slightly depending on the type of seventh. Dominant seventh chords, for example, are often paired with terms of endearment, like "baby", or "sweet." With minor seventh chords, the words "life" and "god" are overrepresented.

Using their data, the researchers also looked at how lyric and chord valence differs between genres, regions, and eras. Sixties rock ranks highest in terms of positivity while punk and metal occupy the bottom slots. As for geography, Scandinavia (think Norwegian death metal) produces the dreariest music while songs from Asia (like K-Pop) are the happiest. So if you're looking for a song to boost your mood, we suggest digging up some Asian rock music from the 1960s, and make sure it's heavy on the seventh chords.


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