Fertility and Eating Disorders

The fertility of both men and women alike depends on getting the right amount of nutrition into the body. If you are suffering from an eating disorder, then on top of the many other health risks, your fertility will be adversely affected.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are exactly what their name describes, a condition in which you don’t eat in a normal and healthy way to fuel your body, which results in illness as your body has either too little or too much nutrition.

Perhaps the most well-known of these conditions is anorexia nervosa, which stems from a distorted perception of the body which results in the sufferer effectively starving themselves as despite their best efforts, they still see themselves as overweight. Anorexia isn’t just an abnormal aversion to food, but also typically involves excessive exercise and obsessive behaviour.

Bulimia nervosa is another fairly well known eating disorder, and is more subtle in its presentation because bulimics tend not to become extremely thin. Bulimia tends to present with binge eating which is followed by purging through self-induced vomiting or excretion. Bulimia is often associated with substance abuse, and can often go undetected.

Eating disorders also extend to the opposite end of the spectrum, where one overeats to the point where it is a compulsive behaviour in response to their emotions. This type of eating disorder tends not to involve purging, and so often presents with an obvious and swift increase in weight.

What do eating disorders have to do with fertility?

As mentioned earlier in this article, our fertility relies on getting in the right amounts of the right foods and materials we need to sustain ourselves. Therefore it’s not surprising that anyone who is eating too much or too little will suffer health repercussions that extend to their fertility.

Eating disorders are strongly related to stress, depression, and anxiety, all three of which are proven to lower fertility and sex drive, making it very difficult to conceive. This becomes a vicious cycle as not being able to conceive can cause more of these feelings which worsen the situation.

The poor diet of bulimia and anorexia will eventually take its toll on the body. Common infertility issues that are a consequence of these conditions are:

  • Amenorrhea – the loss of periods and hence the regular monthly cycle which involves ovulation, the process by which an egg is made ready for fertilisation and pregnancy.
  • Ovarian failure – the failure of the ovary to provide an egg for fertilisation.
  • Diminished egg and sperm quality.
  • Low sperm count and motility.
  • A womb which isn’t suited to pregnancy and child bearing.

Excessive overeating and the resulting weight gain can also seriously affect fertility. Too many fat cells within the body disrupts the balance of hormones required to keep the menstrual cycle regular and efficient.

What can I do?

Fortunately eating disorders are well recognised in both the NHS and general community as an illness which needs support and care. Helplines are available if you don’t feel ready to talk to someone. Going to see your doctor can be immensely valuable as they will undoubtedly be sensitive to your condition and talk to you about the steps you can take and what support is available. Rest assured that eating disorders aren’t all that uncommon, and with support and treatment, can be overcome for a better lifestyle. Certainly the desire to conceive and become pregnant can be strong motivation to go deal with the condition.

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