Autoimmune diseases such as autoimmune thyroid disease, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis have been on the rise in the last 20 years.
According to several scientific studies, these diseases are linked to the most common reproductive disorders: endometriosis, PCOS, premature ovarian aging (POA) and idiopathic infertility (meaning infertility for no known reason).
Basically, an autoimmune disease is a problem with your immune system. Normally, your immune system acts as a protector against foreign invaders (such as germs, bacteria and viruses), and its job is to attack these foreign invaders upon sight to keep us healthy.
However, when someone has an autoimmune disorder, the immune system goes into overdrive and starts attacking non-foreign body parts, tissues and organs and causes your entire body to be inflamed and hostile. As you might expect, this has a negative impact on fertility. In a situation like this, the immune system can attack sperm and embryos, making conception and pregnancy quite difficult.
Additionally, the immune system of a woman with autoimmunity can also attack her own ovaries and cause Premature Ovarian Aging (POA) and/or PCOS.
Basically, a body attacking its own tissues is not a hospitable environment for fertility or pregnancy to thrive in!
What does that mean for your fertility?
In my clinic, I see many women who are having "fertility issues" are actually dealing with an autoimmune-based problem.
There are many symptoms that can indicate something is awry with your immune system, most commonly:
- Poor digestion
- Recurring illnesses
- Skin rashes
- Blood sugar issues (like hypoglycemia)
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle and joint pain and difficulty concentrating
In my book, Yes, You Can Get Pregnant, I discuss most of the recent research published in esteemed medical journals such as Gynecological Endocrinology, Human Reproduction and The European Journal of Endocrinology showing strong associations between reproductive disorders like endometriosis (which is the second most common cause of infertility), AITD, CD, POA and PCOS.
In fact, one study out of Polish Endocrinology found that celiac disease, when untreated, is associated with reproductive disorders, spontaneous abortions and early menopause.
Bottom line: there is a lot of research showing that an immune system gone awry has a severe impact on a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
What can you do now to get your immune system under control?
- Get your thyroid antibodies checked (this is in addition to the standard thyroid panel that you get with your yearly physical; you must specifically ask for your "thyroid antibodies" to be tested) to rule out Autoimmune Thyroid Disease.
- Have your fasting glucose and your Hemoglobin A1c tested to make sure you're not dealing with any blood sugar related disorders like type 1 diabetes or PCOS
- Get your blood tested for celiac antibodies. It's important to keep in mind that if you don’t have these antibodies, you could still have an issue with gluten. The best way to determine if you have a problem with eating gluten is to remove it from your diet entirely for four weeks and then reintroduce it and note how you feel. My rule of thumb: if you feel better off gluten, don’t eat it.
- Eat for optimal immunity. Eat organic, nutrient dense and antioxidant-rich foods and avoid processed, packaged foods, soy products and gluten. Be sure to eat a protein-based breakfast (with 20 to 30 grams of protein) within the first hour of waking and snack on protein every two-three hours.
- Practice self-love. Take some time each day to tune into how you're treating yourself. Send yourself love each day by making a list of five things you love about yourself or take a five-minute meditation break and practice breathing "love" into your body with each inhalation and send out negative emotions with your exhalation.
- Supplement daily with probiotics. Probiotics are the good bacteria found in your digestive tract. Taking a probiotic supplement helps to maintain the natural balance of good and bad bacteria in your body, improves your digestion and boosts your immune system. A few of my favorite brands are MegaFoods, Cutlturelle and Flora-Stor. Take as directed and see a health care professional before taking any supplements.
Incorporate these tips into your daily life and you'll begin managing your immune system and improve your overall health and your fertility.
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