Women wanting to know how many eggs they have left may in future be able to have their hair tested to reveal their hormone levels.
A signalling chemical related to women’s fertility called anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) is incorporated into hair shafts while they are still underneath the skin. Testing the hair may give a better indication of fertility than current blood tests.
AMH is released by eggs in the ovaries, the number of which decline with age. Blood AMH levels broadly correlate with how many eggs a woman has left, and therefore how long it will be before she stops being fertile.
Some firms offer AMH blood testing for any woman trying to get pregnant – although doctors’ bodies have warned that for the general population, it isn’t a good indicator of how likely someone is to conceive. But for people having IVF, it does predict which women are likely to respond well or poorly to stimulation of their ovaries, according to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
In future, women may be able to send off a hair sample for testing, instead of having a blood sample taken. In a group of 152 women aged between 18 and 65, hair AMH levels correlated with levels in their blood, and with the number of eggs present in their ovaries as seen by an ultrasound scan – but hair levels of the hormone tracked age better than blood levels, suggesting the hair test may be more accurate.
Hormone levels in hair may be a better indicator of longer-term average blood levels than a one-off blood sample, says Sarthak Sawarkar at US fertility company MedAnswers, who did the study. “Hair is a medium that can accumulate biomarkers over several weeks, while hormone levels in blood can fluctuate rapidly in response to stimuli,” he said in a statement.
The work was presented at this year’s online meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.