Inflammation and Fertility- What's the link?
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may have come across the word ‘inflammation’, so what is it?
Inflammation is an essential process in tissue repair and immune protection. In response to stress, which may take the form of injury, illness, eating an unhealthy diet, sleep deprivation, other physiological stress or emotional stress, the body’s immune system responds by releasing various chemical regulators to restore the normal environment, or ‘homeostasis’.
These chemical regulators may be released from the white blood cells of the body which communicate with other cells and tissues. Some of these chemical messengers are small proteins called cytokines which can be measured to quantify inflammation or activation of the immune system.
Can Inflammation Cause Fertility Problems?
Inflammation, and the resolution of inflammation, is usually a tightly regulated process and controlled inflammation is actually essential for the process of implantation.
While acute inflammation is a normal, healthy response to short-term stress or injury, chronic low-grade inflammation is implicated in a number of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and most importantly – infertility.
Bottom line, yes, inflammation affects fertility.
Dampening out of control inflammation can affect both male and female fertility; it is a proven strategy for improving egg and sperm quality. Therefore, controlling inflammation can significantly increase your chances of getting pregnant.
We will get to these anti-inflammatory strategies to boost fertility soon!
Hand in Hand with Oxidative Stress
One contributor to increased inflammation can be elevated levels of oxidative stress. This is also true for increased oxidative stress promoting inflammation, so it is a bit of the chicken and egg scenario. Either way, inflammation and oxidative stress are inextricably linked.
Oxidative stress is happening within the body all the time. Reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative stress are necessary for many biological processes (processes within the body) but just as the name sounds, these reactive oxygen species are unstable. If levels rise too much, or there is a reduction in the defence systems used to combat reactive oxygen species (eg. antioxidants), they can cause considerable damage to DNA and cell membranes, leading to cell death.
Our Cell Powerhouses
Mitochondria, a little organelle that sits within most cells, is the main source of reactive oxygen species. As oxygen is broken down (metabolised) to produce energy, electrons can escape from the energy production chain and these transform oxygen from a stable molecule to one that loses some electrons to become unstable.
If your mitochondria are not functioning properly this will generate considerably more reactive oxygen species (more on mitochondria later), leading to greater oxidative stress.
While most reactive oxygen species are produced from processes in the body, they can also come from outside sources including smoke, pollutants, tobacco, certain drugs and radiation.
How Inflammation Affects Fertility
Elevated levels of inflammation and oxidative stress negatively affect sperm and egg quality, reducing fertilisation and conception rate. Detecting low-grade inflammation and oxidative stress are 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.
Unexplained Infertility: Over 70% of females with unexplained infertility have high levels of inflammation and oxidative stress.
PCOS: Women with PCOS show chronic low-grade inflammation, characterised by increased plasma levels of inflammatory cytokines, which have been associated with insulin resistance. Levels of oxidative stress are also increased in PCOS. Circulating levels of antioxidants, which are our defence against oxidative stress, are also lower.
Endometriosis: Endometriosis is an oestrogen driven inflammatory condition. For 20% of people seeking fertility treatment it is the sole reason they require assisted reproductive technologies.
Male Factor: Increase in circulating markers of inflammation and oxidative stress are seen in male factor infertility. They lead to DNA fragmentation which is a key contributor to poor fertilisation rates, low rates of blastocyst formation and recurrent early pregnancy loss.
Chronic inflammation and fertility - How do we Dampen Inflammation and Oxidative Stress?
The good news is that adopting strategies to dampen chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are very effective in enhancing fertility and increasing pregnancy success.
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 key is prebiotic dietary fibre.
Make sure you are getting lots of wholegrains in your day and fresh fruits and vegetables that are packed with natural prebiotics - just like Fertile Gut!
Try incorporating some of these prebiotic foods into your day:
Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage, custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, barley and rye bread.
A scoop of Fertile Gut in a berry smoothie is also a great way to pack in proven prebiotic fibre, antioxidants and polyphenols. A great start to any day!