Balancing the scales in fertility treatments

We've all been there. It's easy to gain or lose a few pounds throughout the years, and still feel relatively healthy. Until recently, little attention was paid to how being overweight or underweight could affect your ability to become pregnant. Currently, doctors are focusing on how too little or too much body weight can affect in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.

To gauge body weight, doctors measure a woman's body mass index (BMI). Underweight women have a BMI of less than 18.5 and overweight women have a BMI over 25.

How can BMI affect IVF?

A recent study found that women undergoing IVF who were overweight or underweight had a lower rate of pregnancy (about 50% less likely) than women with normal weight. Dr. Paul Miller of Greenville Hospital in South Carolina, who coauthored this study, found that embryos were more likely to attach to a uterus of normal-weight women than of women outside the healthy weight range. "Even in a very controlled environment, when it comes time to implant, these embryos don't do as well in these thinner women... likewise with the heavier women."

Another study in Australia saw very obese women had a 60% lower chance of getting pregnant through fertility treatments versus normal-weight women. Those underweight also had a lesser chance of conceiving through fertility treatments.

Researchers speculate that women who are overweight or underweight may have problems with leptin and leptin receptors. Leptin is a hormone that's produced in the fat cells of the body that lets your brain know when you're full. It also sends nutritional information to the rest of the body. Researchers theorize that in cases when levels of leptin are abnormally low (such as in underweight women) or when leptin receptors are desensitized (such as in overweight women), the brain is unable to communicate properly with the pituitary gland, causing ovulation problems.

If you are underweight, your doctor can help you come up with a nutritional plan that will increase your BMI so you can optimize your IVF treatment. It's really important to be candid when talking to your doctor, especially if you've had an eating disorder in the past. Your doctor will understand your challenges and together you can achieve your health and family planning goals.

If you are overweight, you should also talk frankly with your doctor. Together, you can come up with an exercise and well-balanced nutrition plan that will fit your lifestyle and help lower your BMI so that you can meet your health and family planning goals.

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