We all know the ups and downs (and frustrations) of watching our weight. Whether it’s some extra winter pounds, weight loss or gain from stress, or a long term struggle to find a lifestyle and diet balance to achieve a healthy BMI, weight management can feel exhausting sometimes.
We also know the usual health risks to extreme weight loss or gain. Most people associate an unhealthy weight with health concerns such as heart disease, plaque buildup, diabetes, or lack of nutrients, periods or weakness.
But did you know that having an unhealthy weight can actually negatively impact your fertility health as well?
Surprisingly having a BMI that’s too high or too low can hurt your chances of conceiving. According to the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) infertility cases are split half and half between both overweight and underweight women.
This means that 50% of women who experience weight related infertility are underweight, and 50% are overweight.
According to this study, 12% of infertility cases are weight related or exacerbated by weight related symptoms.
Someone is considered overweight if they have a BMI between 25 to 29.9. Anything above 30 is considered obese.
While health concerns associated with being overweight such as diabetes, heart disease, and plaque buildup are usually the main focus of excessive weight symptoms, being overweight can also lead to infertility issues. This is mainly due to how being overweight affects hormones.
Hormone imbalances are not uncommon in those who struggle with excessive weight. They can lead to increased intensity and exacerbated symptoms for those who suffer from PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) as well as ovulation irregularities.
The US National Library of Medicine has published studies that point to obesity increasing infertility risks and even success rates of infertility treatment. They found that obesity can even “impair ovulation, oocyte quality, fertilization, embryo quality and implantation”.
Furthermore, a 2007 study reported up to 40% of patients seeking fertility help through ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) had a BMI that placed them in either the overweight or obese category.
This same study recognized that women who did not fall within a healthy BMI category often faced more hardship finding success with their infertility treatments, while those who had a healthy BMI experienced more favorable statistical outcomes of success. Thankfully, once you begin losing weight studies show that these fertility issues begin to quickly improve. Once weight loss begins and a healthier lifestyle is adopted, most patients show a decrease in PCOS symptoms. This means normal ovarian function and hormone production may be restored by working toward a healthier weight.
A person is considered underweight if their BMI is below 18.5. Being underweight is often associated with malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, and reduced immune function. But it can also lead to hormone imbalances that can cause missed periods and a lack of ovulation.
If no ovulation occurs, then pregnancy cannot occur. Some underweight women have reported that it has taken them over a year to get pregnant compared to those who fall into a healthy weight category. Missed periods and a lack of a menstrual cycle can increase the likelihood of an infertility diagnosis.
Having lower body fat can lead to a suppression of regular hormone production. This is what can stop ovulation from occurring or interfere with it’s regularity.
Like with excessive weight gain, some struggle with weight deficiency due to mental health concerns presenting in conditions such as anorexia or an imbalanced diet due to anxiety or depression, others may have a low BMI due to genetics or excessive exercise.
Some women naturally have a higher metabolism, while others may lead a lifestyle that does not provide them with proper nutrition to exercise balance.
Examining the cause of a weight deficiency and working to make lifestyle changes either through mental health support or consulting your doctor about a nutrition plan that’s right for you can lead to significant improvement in fertility health.
Just as with those who struggle with excessive weight, those who are underweight may see their infertility improve once their BMI begins to reach healthier levels. A Harvard study even reported that women who experienced a lack of ovulation or had irregular ovulation cycles were able to reduce their infertility risk by up to 80% by altering their calorie input and exercise output in 5 or more ways.
Whether you’re just starting out on your fertility journey, or you are in the midst of it, consulting your doctor about how your weight may be affecting your fertility health can be very beneficial if you are concerned about conceiving.
Keep in mind, those who are considered to be at risk for infertility are couples or individuals who have been trying to get pregnant for a year with no success, or 6 months for those who are over 35.
If you have just begun to try to get pregnant, don’t stress. Just try to maintain a healthy balance in your life. If your BMI is a bit too high or low, working toward reaching healthy levels will only benefit you and your fertility.
If you are diagnosed with infertility, consulting with your doctor to formulate a solid plan of action toward reaching this healthy BMI is a wonderful first step. Often, doctors will recommend a balanced diet plan that fits your specific body and needs, and can help you adjust your exercise levels to fit your individual case.
They may recommend supplements that can help boost fertility health, such as folic acid or B vitamins. Avoiding highly processed foods and foods with a large amount of sugar or trans fats can also be beneficial.
Here at Fertility Finders we’ve worked hard to connect people with some of the best fertility clinics and nutritional counselors specializing in infertility available.
We can help guide you toward top fertility care to ensure you can begin your fertility journey as soon as you’re ready, without having to slog through the uncertainty about whether or not a clinic provides quality care. Contact us today to learn how we can help you either begin or continue this important chapter of your family’s journey!