How Weight Affects Fertility

Weight is a hard thing to talk about, especially when it comes to fertility. Ultimately, I believe that all people should be free to be confident, happy, and proud of their bodies, no matter what the shape. We are constantly bombarded with messages and images that critique our body image. I don't  body shame as a doctor (that's the worst).

So let's get real. Studies show that both high and low body fat negatively impact fertility, so we have to talk about it if you're trying to get pregnant.

Obesity can increase miscarriage rates, increase the rates of pre-term birth, decrease natural fertility, and lower success rates of IVF. Increased fat stores can lead to major hormone disruption. If you are struggling with “unexplained infertility”, hormone imbalance can be major cause.

Extra fat can increase estrogen production in both men and women. For men, high estrogen is linked to low testosterone. This can lead to low sperm count, decreased healthy sperm movements, and a change in sperm shape. For women, high estrogen can lead to low progesterone, which can negatively impact ovulation or lead to early miscarriage.  

Low Body Fat

Some people just can't keep the weight on. Just like when people feel like they can never lose the weight, this could be a red flag that there's an underlying health issue that you need to address with a hormone expert. Low body fat can cause anovulatory cycles; decreased fat stores and low fat intake are a problem because fats are the building blocks of hormones.

High Body Fat

Do you feel like you’re doing everything right, and the weight is still not coming off?

Stress majorly affect our body’s ability to let go of extra weight! Cortisol, the stress hormone, causes the body to hold on to fat cells and slows weight loss.  Stress hormones can also affect signaling of estrogen and progesterone, which in turn can affect ovulation and implantation.

Fat cells help our body store toxins. This is a helpful mechanism because it gets toxins out of the bloodstream and stores them where they aren’t as harmful. When you lose weight quickly through an extremely low calorie diet, exercise bulimia, or prolonged fasting, these toxic fat cells release their toxins and stored estrogen. This can affect your cycle and fertility.

This is why I recommend slow, steady lifestyle changes that increase muscle mass, increase resting metabolism, and lead to slow, steady fat and weight loss. This is a low stress approach that allows cortisol to normalize!

When you implement these simple shifts in lifestyle, you should see your weight find it's new normal, whether it be higher or lower. The body is wise, and generally finds the right landing place. It takes time, and the kinder you are to yourself, the more success you'll have. Enjoy your beautiful body and enjoy delicious, nutritious food! 

Dr. Caitlin Fanning Dr. Caitlin Fanning, ND, is a naturopathic doctor and women’s health specialist at Pacific Coast Integrative Health in Capitola, California. She provides compassionate and comprehensive care to patients of all ages and conditions with a focus on women’s health, hormone health, nutrition, stress management, fertility, and preconception care.

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