Weight Loss: How Being Overweight Can Affect Fertility
A weight loss of as little a 5-10% can improve a woman’s chances of falling pregnant. In the world’s first comprehensive study on weight loss and its effect on fertility, researchers found that losing even five percent can have a significant effect on a woman’s chances of conceiving.
The study, which involved 23 fertility centers, was carried out by the University Medical Center in Groningen, Netherlands, with the findings of the study being announced in May 2016. The results show that weight loss following a lifestyle intervention improved conception rates among obese, infertile women who experienced irregular menstrual cycles. More specifically, obese infertile women who had just completed a six month lifestyle intervention were more than four times as likely to naturally conceive compared with women who were given fertility treatment alone.
Obesity, which is defined as having a Body Mass Index of over 30, can affect fertility by causing hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation. Insulin resistance, which usually presents with stubborn belly fat, is associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal condition especially in infertile women, affecting up to one in five women of reproductive age. According to Sandton-based Aesthetic and Anti-Aging practitioner, Dr Sly Nedic, “PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder, affecting young women at a reproductive age. While obesity, hypertension and insulin resistance are a few of the symptoms of PCOS, it is also the leading cause of infertility. It has now become an epidemic.”
In an article published over ten years ago in the BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal), it was already found that PCOS was accounted for 90-95% of women who attend infertility clinics with anovulation. In some menstrual cycles, an egg does not mature, and a woman does not ovulate, which is referred to as anovulation. A hormonal imbalance is the main difficulty with PCOS. “In women with PCOS, the body manufactures more androgens than normal. Androgens are male hormones which females also produce. High levels of these hormones affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Increased levels of androgens in a woman’s body are responsible for the majority of symptoms, however, many symptoms are coming from an underlying insulin resistance,” Dr Nedic explains.
In fact, insulin resistance seems to be particularly detrimental for modern PCOS epidemics. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome has a variety of signs and symptoms, which do not necessarily include having identified cysts in order to diagnose this disease. In fact, according to Dr Nedic, they are often absent during an ultrasound diagnosis.
PCOS Symptoms and signs
- Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
- Infertility or recurrent miscarriage
- Hissutism (excessive facial hair and body hair)
- Oily skin/acne
- Obesity/abdominal fat
- Male pattern baldness
- Insulin resistance
- Dyslipidemia (unhealthy levels of one or more levels of lipid (fat) in the blood)
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Sleep apnea
“All of the above affect young women who are at a reproductive age. Statistics show that 50% of these women, if left untreated, can develop diabetes type 2 by the age of 40. Meanwhile, their chances of suffering from a cardio metabolic syndrome, heart attack or cerebrovascular insult is 5-7 times higher, while the risk of contracting endometrial cancer is also increased by three-fold,” says Dr Nedic.
In one study, 187 obese and overweight women with PCOS were immediately treated with a drug that induces ovulation. In the other study, 142 women with PCOS began a weight loss program which consisted of a lower calorie intake, exercise and anti-obesity medication before starting the fertility treatment. Women who were treated with the treatment alone had an ovulation rate of 44.7 percent and a live birth rate of 10.2 percent. The women who received the treatment after the weight loss program had a 62% ovulation rate and a 25% live birth rate. Not only can it assist with fertility issues, but a weight loss of 5-10% can also result in an increase in HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol, which can lower the developing heart disease. Modest weight loss can also decrease blood pressure.
Research has also shown that a weight loss of 5-10% can decrease a person’s Hemoglobin A1C, which is the marker used to screen for diabetes, by half a point on average. Furthermore, this degree of weight loss has been found to decrease insulin levels and can help to decrease insulin resistance. Medical research has shown that there is strong and consistent evidence that overweight and obese patients in well-designed programs can achieve a weight loss of as much as 10% of their baseline weight. Prescription medication together with lifestyle adjustments such as a healthy eating and exercise plan, can help kick-start a weight loss journey, or can help someone get back on track.
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