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Lifestyle Habits May Impact Fertility

Lifestyle Habits May Impact Fertility

Couples that are having difficulty getting pregnant may benefit from changing some lifestyle habits. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, three lifestyle factors that may have an affect on fertility are weight, smoking, and exercise.

Weight loss or low weight may affect the hormonal signals that the brain sends to a woman's ovaries or a man's testes. In mild cases, a woman's ovaries may still make and release eggs, but the lining of the uterus may not be ready to have a fertilized egg implant because of inadequate hormone levels. In more serious cases, the woman's ovaries may not produce eggs at all. These women may have irregular or no menstrual cycles. Low weight or weight loss in men may decrease the sperm count or affect how well the sperm function. If low weight has been identified as a problem that may be contributing to infertility, the ideal treatment is to stop losing weight or, sometimes, to gain weight. In some circumstances medication may be recommended.

Smoking reduces fertility in men and women. In fact, the fertility of a 30-year-old woman who smokes is on par with a 40-year-old smoker. Smoking decreased the flow of oxygen to all your organs, including the uterus and ovaries. This results in an increased rate of egg loss and higher rates of genetic damage to the eggs and poorly functioning fallopian tubes (that carry the egg from the ovary to the uterus). It also causes higher rates of ectopic pregnancy and an unhealthy environment within the uterus that contributes to higher rates of miscarriage. The good news is that the body can, at least partially, recover. So, the best time to try to stop smoking is now.

Exercise and diet are very important to general good health. Normal exercise generally does not affect fertility; however, excessive exercise may impact fertility by decreasing the sperm count in a man or interfering with ovulation in a woman. If this is contributing to infertility, decreasing or modifying the exercise program is the best treatment.

Being obese or overweight also impacts a woman's fertility. With increased weight, an increase in insulin levels may cause the ovaries to overproduce male hormones and stop releasing eggs. Losing weight will correct the hormone imbalances and allow the ovaries to make eggs.

For a woman who is overweight and has high insulin levels, medications that increase her body’s ability to respond to insulin may help her get pregnant. Any other metabolic or medical conditions also need to be addressed before attempting to get pregnant.

Caffeine can also affect a woman’s chance of getting pregnant. Studies suggest that more than 250 mg of caffeine a day – about 2 cups of coffee – make it harder for a woman to conceive.

Updated: 12/9/2012

Irina Burd, MD, PhD, Maternal Fetal Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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