Could inflammation affect your fertility? A growing body of research suggests it can…
Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury or illness. While it can sometimes be painful, it’s an essential process in tissue repair and immune protection. In response to stress — which may take the form of anything from injury to illness, eating an unhealthy diet, sleep deprivation or various forms of physiological or emotional stress — the body’s immune system responds by releasing various chemical regulators to restore the normal environment, or ‘homeostasis’.
So, that’s where and how inflammation can be a good thing. However, it’s not always desirable, especially when you’re looking to get pregnant. Why? Prolonged and/or excess inflammation can lead to insulin resistance, and many studies suggest it is linked to many conditions that may affect fertility, such as endometriosis, PCOS, pelvic inflammatory disease, implantation failure, early menopause (premature ovarian failure) and recurrent miscarriage.
How Inflammation affects Fertility
Elevated levels of inflammation and oxidative stress (an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body) negatively affect sperm and egg quality, reducing fertilisation and conception rate.
Studies have found that over 70% of females with unexplained infertility have high levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. And when it comes to men, it’s a similar story – increases in circulating markers of inflammation and oxidative stress are seen in male factor infertility. Why? They lead to DNA fragmentation, which is a key contributor to poor fertilisation rates, low rates of blastocyst formation and recurrent early pregnancy loss.
Detecting low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress are unfortunately not routine procedures in fertility pathology, so often the only sign of these underlying conditions may be poor egg quality, poor fertilisation rates, recurrent implantation failure or miscarriage.
How can we Reduce Inflammation and Oxidative Stress?
There are, thankfully, a number of ways that we can dampen chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Research has found that these can be highly effective in enhancing fertility and increasing pregnancy success.
1. Consume a Healthy Diet
Diet is among the most easily controlled factors that can manipulate the gut microbiota and influence inflammation. Modulators of inflammation include Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, but dietary fibre is the most important of all.
Ensure your diet includes plenty of whole grains along with fresh fruits and vegetables that are loaded with natural prebiotics. Other foods high in prebiotics include garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, beetroot and nectarines.
Conversely, processed foods, particularly those high in sugars and fats, should be reduced or, better still, avoided completely.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, though, so don’t feel pressure to adopt wholesale changes to your diet overnight and incorporate every antioxidant-rich, immune-boosting foods that you can find! Instead, aim to try one or two new foods every week while reducing your intake of processed foods and other inflammatory foods.
2. Boost your Intake of Anti-Inflammatory, Antioxidant-Rich Foods
An immune-boosting diet eliminates foods low in antioxidants that cause inflammation. These inflammatory foods include grain-fed meats, vegetable oils, and most processed foods.
When exposed to high temperatures, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fatty acids become oxidised, or damaged. When this occurs, the fat can turn rancid and harmful.
Antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods often overlap. Some of the most widely available include wild-caught fish, non-starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach and kale), nuts and berries.
3. Get the Right Nutrients
Many of the foods above contain nutrients and natural anti-inflammatories that support the immune system and boost antioxidants. But to ensure your body has all the correct nutrient bases that you might not derive from your diet, it’s advisable to take a good multivitamin.
4. Take regular exercise
Observational studies and clinical trials have confirmed that physical activity can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
Researchers have found that exercise, regardless of intensity, volume, and type, increases your body’s antioxidant defences.
Moderate forms of exercise (for more than one hour, but less than five hours a week) are recommended for healthy women of all body types TTC (trying to conceive). Activities such as walking, bicycling and swimming are ideal since they are low-impact, but will still elevate your heart rate.
5. Manage Stress Levels
Research has shown that increased oxidative stress often accompanies severe life stressors, including traumatic events. The stress hormone, cortisol, plays a role in regulating the inflammatory response, but its ability to do so becomes significantly dampened by chronic stress. Chronic stress, meanwhile, can also increase inflammation and impact the immune system.
Yoga, meditation, deep breathing and brisk walking are some of the best ways to reduce the impact of stress on your life.
6. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight is believed to help reduce oxidative stress.
According to a 2015 systematic review, excess fat cells produce inflammatory substances that trigger increased inflammatory activity and free radical production in immune cells.
7. Maximise your Sleep
Sleep, both in terms of quality and quantity, can play a key role, so don’t underestimate its importance.
Researchers associate sleep quality with inflammation, oxidative stress, and antioxidant levels. Poor sleep adversely increases inflammation and oxidative stress, while lowering your body’s antioxidant defence.
Ideally, aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
Fertility challenges such as PCOS, endometriosis, and immunological infertility can all be tied back in part to chronic inflammation. And that’s why it’s so important to reduce any inflammation within the body if you’re TTC.