You likely already know that being overweight can pose a number of health issues. But for women who are hoping to become mothers, does extra weight present another hurdle? Put another way, can weight loss improve your fertility? That depends on what you read. In today’s post, we’re running through all the latest data on weight loss and fertility, and clarifying why the focus should be less on pounds lost and more on prioritizing habits that support your health as a whole.
- Hormonal balance regulates a woman’s menstrual cycle, and excess weight can affect hormone production. That can have an impact on fertility.
- Men who are overweight or obese may also experience fertility issues as a result of hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction, and weight-related medical conditions that also impact sexual health.
- New data suggests that weight loss alone isn’t the solution, but rather prioritizing healthy habits to support your health as a whole.
- Embracing a healthy lifestyle, instead of focusing on weight loss, can help support fertility in both women and men.
The Relationship Between Your Body Weight & Your Fertility
The menstrual cycle is regulated by a fine balance of hormones. Women who are overweight or obese have greater amounts of fatty tissue, which produces higher levels of a hormone known as leptin. It can be enough to throw hormonal balance off, which is problematic for fertility. The amount of body fat a woman carries, as well as how it’s distributed in the body, can also affect hormonal balance and the rhythm of her menstrual cycle. That’s because excess weight, especially when it’s concentrated in the abdomen, is associated with both insulin resistance and a drop in a key protein responsible for regulating specific sex hormones. Together, it’s enough to wreak havoc on cycle regularity, which means a decline in fertility.
Excess weight and obesity can gum up the works in another way, too. Messing with hormone balance, even subtly, can increase the risk of anovulation, which is when the ovaries fail to release any eggs. Overweight and obese women who do ovulate may also produce lower-quality eggs. According to one study, a body mass index above 29 reduces pregnancy likelihood within 12 months by roughly 4% (1).
Then there’s the risk of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. This obesity-related condition is a metabolic disorder that not only affects fertility, it contributes toward additional weight gain, among other symptoms (2). Quick side note here that if you’re experiencing unexpected weight gain, it’s not a bad idea to speak with your doctor about the possibility of PCOS. For women with PCOS who are hoping to become pregnant, a first step is embracing strategies designed for sustained weight loss to help regulate hormone balance.
But it’s not just women who may experience fertility issues as a result of an unhealthy weight. Overweight and obese men may also be more likely to experience problems with their fertility. Like women, men with excess weight are more susceptible to hormonal imbalances and sexual dysfunction conditions. Weight-related health conditions like type 2 diabetes and sleep apnea are also associated with reduced testosterone and erectile woes (3).
New Data Emphasizes Healthy Lifestyles, Not Weight Loss Alone
For years, experts recommended weight loss as a stepping stone for becoming pregnant, to the point that a sort of conventional wisdom took hold: “lose 10 pounds to boost fertility,” among other variations. But new data is clarifying that advice in an important way.
According to a study published in 2022, it’s not the weight loss itself that affects fertility, but the lifestyle habits that are embraced in the process. The FIT-PLESE study (4) was conducted at nine academic medical centers in the U.S. Women were divided into two groups: one group dieted intensely with meal replacements, took medications, and increased their physical activity. The other group increased their physical activity, with no other interventions. Here’s the kicker: while women in the first group lost an average of 7% of their body weight, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of the frequency of healthy births. Researchers concluded that weight loss alone doesn’t make a woman more fertile, nor does it improve birth outcomes.
Earlier research from 2018 reviewed two large, randomized, controlled trials that showed shorter-term weight loss in overweight and obese women undergoing fertility treatments didn’t improve live birth probability (5).
It makes sense. Short-term weight loss is rarely achieved via health means—this is the stuff of crash diets, a worrying daily caloric intake, hours upon hours of cardio and Kardashian-inspired “weight-loss teas.” Sustained weight loss is something else entirely, something that comes with a healthy, sensible approach to nutrition, fitness, sleep and stress management. And in very happy news, those are the very same habits that experts recommend when it comes to supporting your fertility.
For couples who are planning on becoming pregnant, regardless of their body weight, these are things to prioritize. The evidence is very clear that the preconception health of both parents-to-be plays an enormous role in everything to come, from a successful conception to a healthy pregnancy and baby. Spending three to six months diligently putting your health first—without stressing about the numbers on the scale—can pay off in innumerable ways.
We’ll go ahead and add one more to the healthy habits list. Both hopeful moms and dads-to-be will benefit from a high-quality prenatal vitamin to fill any nutritional gaps. Beli Vitality for Men™ and Beli for Women are science-backed options designed to support you both on the path to parenthood, with finely calibrated amounts of bioavailable nutrients that support your reproductive health. A prenatal vitamin as part of your daily routine is an easy way to ensure that your nutritional bases are covered.
The Bottom Line
It’s true that men and women with excess weight face a higher risk of fertility issues. But weight loss alone isn’t necessarily the solution. When the goal is a baby, the focus should be on improving your health to boost your fertility health. So forget the crash diet and make a plan to sleep and eat properly, exercise regularly and manage stress—and don’t forget the prenatal vitamin!Article Resources
- Van der Steeg, J et al. (2008). Obesity affects spontaneous pregnancy chances in subfertile, ovulatory women. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18077317/
- Barber, T et al. (2019). Obesity and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Implications for Pathogenesis and Novel Management Strategies. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6734597/
- Ding, G et al. (2015). The effects of diabetes on male fertility and epigenetic regulation during spermatogenesis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4814953/
- (2022). Weight loss doesn't help pregnancy chances, study finds. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220314105639.htm
- Gaskins, Audrey. (2018). Recent advances in understanding the relationship between long- and short-term weight change and fertility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6206616/
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This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Beli.