Optimizing The Immune System For Pregnancy
Having an immune system disorder can make getting pregnant more difficult. Problems with the immune system can occur due to viruses, medications, genes, and the environment. For women of reproductive age, an autoimmune disorder is the most likely cause of infertility. Learning how to manage the condition with specific lifestyle changes can help improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy.
What are autoimmune disorders?
Some people have an overactive immune system, which can cause the body to attack and damage healthy tissues mistakenly. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, celiac disease, and type 1 diabetes are a few examples of autoimmune conditions. The exact cause of autoimmune disorders is unknown, but genetics and environment are both thought to play a role. Research shows women are 4 times more likely to have an autoimmune disease than men.
Effects on fertility
Immune disorders can affect fertility in a few different ways. As the body attacks non-foreign tissue, inflammation prohibiting ovulation can occur. Additionally, when sperm and eggs are present, the body may sense this as a threat and attempt to destroy the specimens, making conception next to impossible. An autoimmune attack on the ovaries can also lead to diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), making pregnancy much more difficult.
Positive lifestyle changes
Women planning pregnancy should attempt to control autoimmune disease flares, most likely using a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Managing stress through exercise, meditation, yoga, or therapy is a great place to start. Eating a healthy diet can also help keep inflammation at bay, improving overall health. Plant-based foods, whole grains, and healthy fats are all great options, while fried foods, red meat, and sugar should be limited or avoided. Women planning pregnancy should also ensure the diet includes sufficient folic acid, an essential vitamin that prevents birth defects. Getting enough sleep can also help keep autoimmune disorders under control and promote fertility.
Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs should be avoided while planning pregnancy. This is especially true for women with autoimmune disorders, as such substances can trigger inflammation. On the other hand, coffee consumption has been shown to decrease inflammation. In moderation, caffeine may be acceptable while planning pregnancy.
Pregnancy is possible
Although lifestyle changes won’t completely cure an autoimmune condition, healthy choices throughout the day can help control flares, decrease inflammation, and increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy. If such changes do not result in a positive pregnancy test, assisted reproductive technology (ART) interventions can help. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an excellent option for women with DOR and other fertility problems caused by an underlying autoimmune condition. Even for women with an immune system disorder, pregnancy is possible.