Anorexia and Infertility – Overview
Eating disorders like anorexia can affect your fertility negatively. Fertility problems can develop during the onset of such a disorder or may even arise years after remission.
Studies have shown that women who suffer from anorexia for longer durations of time are twice at risk of developing fertility problems, as compared to the general population.
However, some studies have also shown that women suffering from eating disorders are not necessarily more prone to develop fertility issues.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa is a disorder where a person does not allow themselves to eat normally. This habit severely restricts the calorie intake of their body and results in abnormally low weight.
The patient’s BMI is calculated to measure the severity of anorexia nervosa.
For instance, a person with a BMI or 17 is considered to be suffering from mild anorexia while a person with a BMI of 15 is considered to be suffering from severe anorexia.
Some patients suffering from anorexia nervosa can maintain an excessively low-calorie diet while others may resort to binge eating episodes.
These episodes are usually followed by self-induced vomiting, taking laxatives or engaging in excessive exercise.
How Does Anorexia Affect the Reproductive System?
Anorexia and similar eating disorders are usually accompanied by mental and physical health problems. Health problems caused by eating disorders can prove deadly if medical help is not sought in time.
For instance, patients suffering from anorexia may experience serious cardiac issues. Anorexia is thought to be one of the most dangerous psychiatric disorders.
Anorexia tends to affect your body by:
- Depleting fat stores
- Lowering protein stores
- Decreasing vitamin and mineral stores
People suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders can be identified by:
- Risk of thyroid imbalance (low thyroid)
- Decreased BMI
Relation Between Body Fat and Hormones
Maintaining hormonal balance in the body requires healthy fat stores in the body. Body fat is essential for healthy living. Fat cells are vital for the production and synthesis of hormones.
For instance, excessively lower fat deposits prevent the production of estrogen, which is required for the normal functioning of your reproductive system. Fat cells are also important to maintain testosterone levels in the body.
Men with excessive low body fat tend to produce abnormally low testosterone hormone, which impacts their erectile function and sperm production abilities.
Relation between Nutrition and Hormones
Women suffering from anorexia don’t need to have abnormally low body fat because they can have normal weight for their height and still suffer from irregular or absent periods.
Although the direct connection between nutrition and hormone development is not yet understood completely, studies have shown the connection between a person’s quality of diet and the risk of developing fertility problems. This is true for men and women alike.
People suffering from eating disorders like anorexia are more likely to have a diet that lacks the basic nutritional requirements.
If a person is forcibly expelling the food through self-induced vomiting or laxatives, their bodies are unable to absorb essential nutrients from the food they eat.
The human body needs a variety of minerals, vitamins and proteins along with proper hydration to function normally. So, when your body does not receive essential nutrients, your body is unable to produce sufficient levels of hormones, which in turn affects your fertility.
What are the long-term effects of Anorexia on Fertility?
It is not clear that anorexia can affect fertility in a person, although some evidence does support this theory.
Some researchers have discovered that people with eating disorders are more likely to face problems when conceiving, as compared to the general population. Some studies have also shown that such people may take longer to get pregnant.
In contrast, some studies have found no direct relation between lack of nutrition and infertility. The severity of the eating disorder can also determine the extent it affects your bodily functions.
For instance, people suffering from severe anorexia can suffer from damage to the bones, heart and reproductive system.
The best option in such situations is to consult with an experienced and well-trained gynecologist. You should be honest about your history with the eating disorder so that they can perform basic fertility testing to get a baseline on potential problems.
How Does Anorexia Impact Pregnancy and Childbirth?
Eating disorders like anorexia can affect pregnancy and childbirth. If a woman is suffering from an eating disorder while being pregnant, they are putting the health of their fetus at risk.
A history of eating disorders can also put the mental health of the mother at risk.
Some health risks associated with anorexia for the child during pregnancy include:
- Higher risk of miscarriage
- Higher risk of pre-term delivery
- Higher risk of low birth weight of the baby
Some of the health risks associated with anorexia for the mother during pregnancy include:
- Heart problems
- Partum or post-partum depression
It is strongly recommended to seek help during pregnancy if you suffered, or are suffering from an eating disorder like anorexia.
Talking to a counselor or nutritionist can also help you to make better choices for yourself and your baby. This is also a great way to handle the stress of pregnancy and childbirth.