A woman’s weight can be the deciding factor between getting pregnant and dealing with infertility. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, 12 percent of all infertility cases are a result of a women either weighing too little or too much. Estrogen and Fertility - Estrogen is a sex hormone primarily produced by the ovaries and stored in fat cells.
They are responsible for growth and development of female secondary sexual characteristics such as breasts, pubic and armpit hair, endometrium, regulation of the menstrual cycle and the reproductive system.
During the menstrual cycle, estrogen prepares a suitable environment for fertilization, implantation and nutrition of an early embryo (Nichols 2014). But when a woman is obese, her body produces too much estrogen, which acts like birth control and lowers her chances of conceiving.
Being underweight is also problematic as it means that the body does not produce enough estrogen, causing hormonal changes and shutting down the reproductive cycle.
Body Mass Index
Obesity is on the rise. According to research, approximately 1.6 billion adults worldwide were overweight and at least 400 million were obese in 2005. These figures were expected to rise to 2.3 billion and 700 million, respectively, by 2015 (Bhattacharya 2010).
Body Mass Index, or ‘BMI’, is an individual’s weight to height ratio. It is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters.
BMI categories are as follows:
- Underweight = <18.5
- Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
- Overweight = 25–29.9
- Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
Body Fat Percentage
Another way to determine body fat is by performing a body fat test, which can be calculated by dividing total mass of fat by total body mass.
According to the American Council on Exercise, the average amount of body fat should be 25-31 percent for women and 18-24 percent for men.
Westernized Diet and Infertility
Eating a healthy diet is the first step to achieving healthy body weight. Unfortunately, Westernized foods are the primary food source for much of the world. Although they are fast, tasty and cheap, processed foods act like poison to the body.
Ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, GMO’s, and hydrogenated oils (such as soybean oil) can cause damaging inflammation in the body. The result is an increase of Westernized diet related diseases, including obesity, which can affect fertility.
Research indicates that a combination of five or more low-risk lifestyle factors, including diet, weight control, and physical activity was associated with a 69 percent lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility (Chavarro et al, 2007).
Menstrual cycle irregularities have also been reported in individuals consuming a soy-rich diet, which is a common ingredient in Westernized foods in the form of soybean oil. Meat intake has been positively associated with infertility too. Women who eat red meat and processed meat specifically have a 32 percent greater risk of experiencing fertility issues.
However, eating a diet rich in vegetable protein has been associated with a modest decrease in the risk of infertility (Chavarro et al, 2008).
To increase fertility and achieve a healthy body weight, consider eating less processed foods, especially meat, and more plant based foods.
The following is a list of foods recommended for a person following a whole food plant based diet, or for those simply needing ideas of what foods are great fertility boosting foods to start including more of alongside healthy meat choices (such as meat from organically reared animals):
- Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, etc
- Vegetables: lettuce, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots, etc
- Tubers and starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, winter squash, corn, green peas, etc
- Whole grains: millet, quinoa, barley, rice, whole wheat, oats, etc
- Legumes: kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, lima beans, cannellini beans, black beans
Your Partner's Role in Fertility
As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. Excess weight in males may be linked with altered testosterone, estradiol levels, poor semen quality and infertility. Research has shown a trend of increased infertility with increased male BMI.
Male obesity not only affects sperm quality, it has been associated with altering the physical and molecular structure of germ cells in the testes and ultimately mature sperm.
Studies have shown that couples with an overweight or obese male partner, with a female of normal BMI, have increased odds ratio for increased time to conceive compared with couples with normal weight male partners (Palmer et al, 2012).
Lifestyle factors, such as eating more whole foods that are plant based, and exercise can reverse infertility issues.
During an animal study, an intake of selenium enriched probiotics by obese rodents improves both their metabolic health and fertility measures (sperm count and motility) which could offer great benefits for humans supplementing with these supplements too.
Furthermore, improvements in metabolic health, such as the benefits experienced with regular exercise, result in improvements in sperm motility and molecular composition such as reduced DNA damage.
Parenthood is a journey of two people. Encourage one another to make better food decisions. Cook and exercise together, and try to inject some fun into it to help it become a long standing habit . Even if it is just at the weekends when you are both off together.
Every positive thing you do will have huge benefits to your fertility. Hold each other responsible and remind yourselves that your future child’s health starts with your own.
Bhattacharya, S., Pandey, S., Pandey, S., & Maheshwari, A. (2010). The impact of female obesity on the outcome of fertility treatment. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, 62.
Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Rosner, B., & Willett, W. (2007). Diet and Lifestyle in the Prevention of Ovulatory Disorder Infertility. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 1050-1058.
Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Rosner, B., & Willett, W. (2008). Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 210.e1-210.e7.
Nichols, H. (2014, September 16). What is estrogen? What does estrogen do? http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277177.php
Palmer, N., Bakos, H., Fullston, T., & Lane, M. (2012). Impact of obesity on male fertility, sperm function and molecular composition. Spermatogenesis, 253-263.
You may also like to try Healthy Vegetarian Oils as some are believed to help shed excess weight.