Many natural family planning advocates are excited about a new at-home progesterone test that may pinpoint the time of ovulation.
“This is absolutely a breakthrough,” said Dr. Richard J. Fehring, director of the Institute for Natural Family Planning at Marquette University.
Fehring was on a team of scientists that studied the possibility of developing a test to detect progesterone, a hormone produced in the ovaries after a mature egg is released. Progesterone also acts to prepare the uterus for embryo implantation.
“I’m very excited about this,” Fehring told Our Sunday Visitor. “This could be very helpful for many couples.”
Fertility monitors and ovulation predictor kits currently allow couples to track estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels from home. Estrogen and LH are the hormones that allow the egg to mature and be released from the ovary. But the presence of those hormones does not guarantee ovulation or confirm if or when it occurs.
Prototypes of the new progesterone test, developed by MFB Fertility, a Colorado-based company, are being manufactured. Amy Beckley, one of the test’s creators, told OSV that she hopes to have the test available to the public by late June.
“They’re doing feasibility testing right now,” Beckley said. “We don’t want to make these too fast and then have them not work.”
Filling a need
The test, which detects the presence of progesterone in urine, could be beneficial to women who already use natural family planning, but may have irregular cycles or other related difficulties pinpointing when they ovulate.
Beckley, a molecular biologist, told OSV that she has irregular cycles and tried for two years to conceive a child. She found it difficult and stressful to use NFP methods such as charting her basal body temperature.
“The temperature charting just did not work for me. For one, I’m a mouth breather,” Beckley said, noting one factor that effects the accuracy of readings for NFP. “I just got to the point where I was more stressed about it. I would lay there at night, not moving, trying to get an accurate temperature.”
Beckley said she began researching the possibility of measuring progesterone, which up until now has only been possible by having a blood test or an ultrasound. Beckley said she learned a lot of research had already been done on the topic, including a 2013 scientific paper written by a team of Marquette University researchers.
“They had basically outlined how somebody could detect progesterone in your urine and turn it into a point-of-care method that you could use at home,” Beckley said. “But nobody had developed that test.”
Beckley and her business partner, patent lawyer Christina Chamberlain, launched an online crowdfunding campaign to support the production of the Ovulation Double Check test. By early May, the campaign had raised the $28,000 necessary to begin production.
Fehring said Ovulation Double Check and the crowdfunding campaign took off when it hit the NFP world.
“Many people are excited about this,” said Fehring, adding that Institute for Natural Family Planning at Marquette has plans to update its charting app to include information from Ovulation Double Check.
Simcha Fisher, a Catholic blogger and author of “The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning” (OSV, $9.95), told OSV she is also excited about the new test, adding that “anything that makes NFP easier and more effective is a huge gift to couples.”
“For people who have strange or hard-to-read cycles, it’ll give them a huge advantage of having some definitive information, rather than just saying, ‘This is my best guess of what’s happening with my body right now,’” Fisher added that the ovulation strips that test for estrogen and LH may be able to tell a woman if she is about to ovulate, “but sometimes the body can provide signs of ovulation without actually ovulating.”
The progesterone test strips could help many couples who, for various reasons, also have difficulty obtaining accurate information through regular NFP methods. For example, women with polycystic ovary syndrome, high stress levels, perimenopause, in the postpartum/breast-feeding stage or in the first few cycles after delivering a baby can have inconclusive signs regarding whether or not they are ovulating.
“These progesterone test strips will be able to be used to confirm ovulation without the need to adhere to a mucus system that the user may not prefer to use, and without requiring daily temperature taking and interpretation of temperature graphs,” said Mikayla Dalton, a Boston Cross Check instructor for the Archdiocese of Boston.
Dalton told OSV that the Boston Cross Check method is similar to sympto-thermal method of NFP and uses the ClearBlue Monitor in a similar fashion to the Marquette Method, which uses 21st century technology along with observations of cervical mucus, basal body temperature and other biological fertility indicators.
Dalton said the progesterone strips would be immune from factors that make it difficult to use NFP, such as mouth-breathing, illness, sleep patterns and the changing of seasons.
“This has the very appealing potential for reducing abstinence,” said Dalton. “I think there are many people excited about this. But it’s not here yet. We hope it will be.”
‘A great step forward’
Michael D. Manhart, executive director of the Couple to Couple League, an international Catholic nonprofit organization that promotes and teaches natural family planning to engaged and married couples, told OSV that an at-home progesterone test could help many couples, particularly those who have trouble conceiving or who suffer repeated early miscarriages.
Manhart said low progesterone levels are often a cause for early miscarriages, and many times a progesterone supplement can help a mother bring the child to term. Knowing early on whether a woman has low progesterone could help her know what she needs to have a successful pregnancy.
“From a conceptual standpoint, this is a great step forward. We’re certainly looking forward to the days when these things are readily available,” Manhart said.
However, Manhart said the tests are “not quite ready yet for prime time,” adding that while the prototypes are being developed in an FDA-compliant facility, “that is still a world away from FDA approval for something like this.”
Noting the FDA regulations, Beckley said the test is being produced carefully and in accord with government standards. She also said profits from the tests will be used to establish a grant program that will help pay for fertility or child-related issues. The grant will be administered by a board that will consist of Beckley, her business partner, consumers and representatives from the NFP community.
“I suspect the funds will be used to fund NFP research and/or instruction,” Beckley said. “The purpose of the fund is to give back to the people who buy and use our products. Therefore, it will be up to them as to where they want the money to go.”
Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.
A version of this story appears in the May 22, 2016, issue of OSV Newsweekly on Page 4.