Weighing in on infertility

You've been so good. You've given up coffee, said no to wine, refused to take a cold remedy. You're doing everything you can to get pregnant. But there's one more thing you can do to tip the scales in your favour.

According to Dr. Dean Van Vugt of Queen's University in Kingston, "Whether too heavy or too thin, women don't appreciate how their weight can affect their fertility." He also says both chronic high-calorie and low-calorie diets can have an impact on a person's ability to conceive.

While this may seem initially discouraging to some, think about it. You have a tool at your disposal that can immediately help you improve your chances of becoming pregnant: your diet. By eating healthy, well-balanced meals, you can single-handedly improve your odds of having a baby.

Overweight women have a higher percentage of body fat, and because fat cells produce estrogen, many overweight women have abnormally high levels of estrogen. This frequently disrupts ovulation and menstruation. When women are underweight, their body does not produce enough estrogen. This can interfere with ovulation and may lead to a woman's period stopping completely. Being overweight or underweight makes it difficult for the body to regulate its natural menstrual cycle, making it challenging for these women to become pregnant.

Your doctor or fertility specialist can help you determine your body mass index (BMI) and see if you are at a healthy weight. The BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height. When your BMI is below 18.5 or above 25, your ability to conceive becomes affected. Even a weight loss of about 10% for an overweight person may considerably improve ovulation and increase their odds of becoming pregnant. A healthier weight would also help reduce the pressure that pregnancy places on the uterus as it expands. One of the greatest concerns an overweight pregnant woman faces is the increased risk of miscarriage. Weight loss could decrease this risk and may also prevent other health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

People who are underweight also face an increased risk of miscarriage. If your BMI is below 18.5, a nutritious diet is the best remedy to help restore fertility. Together, you and your doctor can plan a diet rich in nutrients that will help your body regain the balance it needs to encourage regular menstrual cycles. Once regular menstrual cycles are restored, the lining of the uterus becomes more able to support a pregnancy, reducing the chance of miscarriage, as the egg now has a healthy uterine lining to implant and grow in.

How you weigh in really can affect your fertility. Help is as close as your next doctor or fertility specialist appointment. To prepare, go to the Fertility Doctor Discussion Guide, where you'll find questions especially useful for your appointment. You can also calculate your BMI using our BMI calculator.

Cutting calories and improving male fertility

Scaling back is never easy but recent findings show that, pound for pound, your body weight can really affect your fertility. Even in optimal circumstances, only 50% to 70% of sperm are healthy enough to fertilize an egg. Cutting back your caloric intake can significantly improve the quality of your sperm and your chances of a fertile future.

Healthy sperm are dependent upon so many factors. Exposure to chemicals, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and excessive heat can be detrimental to sperm. A poor diet low in folate, zinc, selenium, and vitamin C can also contribute to a low sperm count and function. Saying yes to a healthier lifestyle free of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs can greatly increase your sperm count.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. High-quality, healthy sperm are the result of a nutritious, well-balanced diet and regular exercise. Research has shown that men with a higher body mass index (BMI) have less seminal fluid and a higher abnormal sperm count compared to men with a healthy BMI. Research leader Dr. Ghiyath Shayeb from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland says, "We are pleased to be able to add improved semen quality to the long list of benefits that we know are the result of an optimal body weight." It is important for men who are trying to have a child with their partner to reach an ideal, healthy body weight.

What is your optimal weight? Men with a normal BMI range of 20 to 25 tend to have higher levels of normal sperm as well as higher semen output than men with higher BMIs. Having too little or too much body fat can alter the balance of reproductive hormones, which in turn can reduce your sperm count and increase the chance of abnormal sperm.

The good news? Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is completely in your control. The rewards? As you watch your waistline shrink, your sperm quality and count may also increase. It's that simple. Making healthier choices for yourself will have long-term healthy consequences for the life of your future family.

The first step in cutting back can be as simple as seeing your doctor or fertility specialist. Together, you can determine your weight-loss goals and how to reach it. To maximize your time, answer the questions in the Fertility Doctor Discussion Guide before your next visit. You can also figure out your body mass index (BMI) with our BMI calculator.

Balancing the scales in fertility treatments

We've all been there. It's easy to gain or lose a few pounds throughout the years, and still feel relatively healthy. Until recently, little attention was paid to how being overweight or underweight could affect your ability to become pregnant. Currently, doctors are focusing on how too little or too much body weight can affect in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.

To gauge body weight, doctors measure a woman's body mass index (BMI). Underweight women have a BMI of less than 18.5 and overweight women have a BMI over 25.

How can BMI affect IVF?

A recent study found that women undergoing IVF who were overweight or underweight had a lower rate of pregnancy (about 50% less likely) than women with normal weight. Dr. Paul Miller of Greenville Hospital in South Carolina, who coauthored this study, found that embryos were more likely to attach to a uterus of normal-weight women than of women outside the healthy weight range. "Even in a very controlled environment, when it comes time to implant, these embryos don't do as well in these thinner women... likewise with the heavier women."

Another study in Australia saw very obese women had a 60% lower chance of getting pregnant through fertility treatments versus normal-weight women. Those underweight also had a lesser chance of conceiving through fertility treatments.

Researchers speculate that women who are overweight or underweight may have problems with leptin and leptin receptors. Leptin is a hormone that's produced in the fat cells of the body that lets your brain know when you're full. It also sends nutritional information to the rest of the body. Researchers theorize that in cases when levels of leptin are abnormally low (such as in underweight women) or when leptin receptors are desensitized (such as in overweight women), the brain is unable to communicate properly with the pituitary gland, causing ovulation problems.

If you are underweight, your doctor or fertility specialist can help you come up with a nutritional plan that will increase your BMI so you can optimize your IVF treatment. It's really important to be candid when talking to your doctor, especially if you've had an eating disorder in the past. Your doctor will understand your challenges and together you can achieve your health and family planning goals.

If you are overweight, you should also talk frankly with your doctor or fertility specialist. Together, you can come up with an exercise and well-balanced nutrition plan that will fit your lifestyle and help lower your BMI so that you can meet your health and family planning goals.

To get started, call your doctor or fertility specialist. You may find the Fertility Doctor Discussion Guide a really helpful tool to help you prepare for your doctor's appointment.

Eating well and improving fertility treatments

Being overweight or underweight can complicate fertility treatments. Research has shown that overweight and underweight women generally experience more failed in-vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles and embryo transference because being overweight or underweight can affect the lining of the uterus. Miscarriage is also a heightened risk. So what can you do if you want to improve your chances of conceiving?

The first thing you need to do if you're overweight or underweight is to see your doctor or infertility specialist. You can work together to develop a nutrition plan that will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Dr. William Boone studied the effects of extreme body weights on a woman's chance of getting pregnant and had this to say: "All we know is that overweight or underweight, if you can try and find your way into that middle range, your pregnancy rates will improve significantly." During your doctor's appointment, the importance of eating a balanced diet will be stressed. Eating wholesome, unprocessed foods will restore the nutritional balance your body needs to perform effectively. Your doctor may also recommend a visit to a nutritionist or dietitian, who can provide guidance and suggestions for a nutrition plan that will meet your weight goals.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetable, lean protein, and whole grains is essential for the health of your future child. While it may seem discouraging to measure every snack, think of it as insurance for your family. Each healthy bite is a step forward in your reproductive goal.

Whether you're overweight or underweight, following your new nutrition plan will fortify your body for future pregnancies and also help prevent diseases often associated with extreme weight conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Your doctor may also recommend a moderate exercise program, unless you are extremely underweight.

When it comes to fertility issues, your weight is one thing you can control. Call your doctor or fertility specialist and let them help you optimize your fertility with a nutrition plan tailored specifically for you. Before your appointment, use the Fertility Doctor Discussion Guide to help you be prepared for your visit.