Obesity and Infertility: Obesity, A Cause of Female Infertility?

Obesity and infertility have been linked together by several studies. But what is the precise relationship between obesity and female infertility? And why do women who are obese have a greater risk of fertility and other pregnancy-related problems?


Research on Obesity: Obesity Statistics and Rising Infertility Rates

With rising infertility rates—nearly 10% of all couples in the United States are affected by infertility—more experts are pointing the finger at another growing phenomenon among the nation’s population: obesity. The rates of obesity in America are rising; in 2004, 33% of American women were defined as medically obese.

A person is defined as being obese if thirty per cent of her body weight is made up of fat tissue.

Obesity is linked to several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and infertility.

But how does obesity cause infertility?

Obesity results in an increased production of estrogen; this hormonal imbalance in turn interferes with ovulation, which of course, is the basis of successful conception.

Ovulatory disorders are the leading cause of female infertility, resulting in the disruption of hormones, menstrual cycles, and conception. Approximately 15% of such disorders are linked to weight disorders, mainly being overweight and obese.

High estrogen levels associated with obesity can also result in pre-cancerous transformations (usually reversible) in the uterus.

According to several studies, women whose obesity could be traced back to their childhood (childhood obesity) had a greater risk of amenorrhea, a condition in which menstrual cycles are absent.

Women who are overweight or obese are less likely to respond to fertility drugs, because excess weight interferes with the proper absorption of a variety of drugs used in infertility treatment.

Obesity is a characteristic of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); obesity can also affect male fertility.


Obesity and Pregnancy

Women affected by obesity not only have problems with fertility, but are also at a greater risk for pregnancy complications.

Such pregnancy complications include:

  • having a Caesarean section
  • giving birth to a large baby
  • gestational diabetes

Women who do not treat their obesity by drastically altering their diet and exercise programs before becoming pregnant are also at a greater risk of pregnancy loss (miscarriage).


Treating Obesity

There are many options available in treating obesity, such as:

  • altering your diet. Avoid foods that are high in saturated or trans fats or that are high in sugar. Enrich your diet with whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean sources of protein
  • exercise regularly. Even moderate forms of exercise, such as walking or low-impact aerobics, can lead to healthy weight loss
  • gastric bypass surgery. Many people who are obese turn to surgery in order to reduce their appetites
  • Always consult your physician on any of the above obesity treatments.

    For more information on being obese or overweight and how it affects your pregnancy, read this Plus-Sized Fertility article.


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