Obesity & Infertility

Obesity & Infertility

Infertility is a medical condition characterized by a diminished or absent ability to produce offspring. It is not a gender specific condition, infertility can affect both male and females.
The process of getting pregnant involves many steps. First the woman’s body must release an egg from one of her ovaries (ovulation), next the man’s sperm must join with the egg along the way (fertilize). The fertilized egg must go through a fallopian tube toward the uterus (womb) and then the fertilized egg must attach to the inside of the uterus (implantation).
Infertility may result from a problem with any or several of these steps.

Obesity has been linked to cause difficulty with conception and pregnancy. Numerous studies have reported that women who are overweight or obese tend to have a more difficult time becoming pregnant than women of average weight. It has also been proven that once pregnancy occurs in obese women they actually have a higher rate of pregnancy loss. Being overweight or obese can lead to abnormal hormone issues affecting the reproductive process and this can affect both men and women. Abnormal hormone signals, as a result of excess weight, negatively impact ovulation and sperm production. In women, it can cause the overproduction of insulin, which may cause irregular ovulation. A female condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is condition associated with irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation (decreased or stopped ovulation), obesity, and elevated levels of male hormones. This condition affects more than 5 million women in the United States and is the most common cause of female infertility. Women diagnosed with PCOS that are able to get pregnant have high rates of miscarriage, preeclampsia (pregnancy induced high blood pressure), gestational diabetes (pregnancy induced high blood sugar), or premature delivery. One of the best treatments for PCOS is a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet low in refined carbohydrates is important, as this can help regulate blood sugar levels. Exercise can also help the body regulate insulin and keep excess weight off. Losing weight is challenging with PCOS, but doing so can help reduce the male hormone levels in the body, and some women will begin to ovulate naturally. With a proper diagnosis, lifestyle changes and PCOS treatment, women can get relief from this condition and the overwhelming health problems it can cause.

Obesity in males has also been linked to infertility. Studies conducted at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are confirming that men with increased body mass indexes are significantly more likely to be infertile than normal-weight men. The data suggests that a 20-pound increase in a man’s weight may increase the chance of infertility by about 10 percent. Hormone irregularities in men affect stimulation of the testicles that inhibit sperm production. Excess fat actually causes the male hormone, testosterone, to be converted into estrogen, and those estrogens decrease testicle stimulation. Researchers from Reproductive Biology Associates report that a high BMI in men correlates with reduced testosterone levels. The study showed overweight men to have testosterone levels 24 % lower than men of normal weight, and obese men to have levels 26 % lower. Men with high BMIs typically are found to have an abnormal semen analysis as well.

Obesity is a major health issue contributing to several comorbid conditions. Studies have proven obesity affects conception and/or pregnancy. Weight loss is key in helping men and women with fertility issues and weight loss not only can help improve fertility issues but it can help resolve or improve other comorbid conditions associated with obesity.

Michel Gunn

Michel Gunn

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