The Link between Malnutrition and Infertility in Women

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Malnutrition is a major problem in developing countries. Though we generally equate malnutrition with a poor diet, the term in a broader sense refers to both undernutrition and overnutrition.

Nutrition problems are strikingly different in developing nations (deprivation and undernutrition) and developed nations (eating disorders and obesity), although obesity and eating disorders are on the increase even in developing countries.

Malnutrition in Women

Individuals suffer from undernutrition, if their diet does not provide them with adequate calories, protein, or the vitamins/minerals which are essential for maintenance and growth, or if they cannot fully utilize the food they eat due to illnesses like tuberculosis.

Undernutrition that leads to being severely underweight can cause female infertility. In women, having a seriously low percentage of body fat can disrupt hormones and prevent ovulation (the normal release of a woman's egg or ovum from the ovary).

Suppressing ovulation is nature's way of preventing a pregnancy in an undernourished woman. After all for a pregnancy to progress normally and for a healthy baby proper nourishment is vital.

Underweight women may develop irregular menstrual cycles or periods that stop completely. These conditions make conception difficult or impossible.

Malnutrition and severe weight loss could occur because of:

Ignorance, famine, and poverty, extreme dieting, or conditions like anorexia nervosa or bulimia. It can also happen in women who are very athletic or exercise vigorously and who consequently have a low percentage of body fat.

Undernutrition can also be the cause of certain disorders of hormone abnormalities such as amenorrhea, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, hypothyroidism, etc., all of which can lead to infertility.

People suffer from over-nutrition, on the other hand, if they consume too many calories and not enough nutrients to process these calories. For example, over consumption of carbohydrates, junk food or alcohol can lead to several vitamin deficiencies, such as thiamine (vitamin B1).

While not normally considered part of malnutrition, obesity is a form of not eating properly and maintaining a healthy weight. There is a definite relationship between obesity and reproductive disturbances known as syndrome ‘O’: over-nourishment, overproduction of insulin, ovarian confusion, and ovulation disruption.

Obesity and abdominal obesity are especially common in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) enhancing the features of insulin resistance and associated with reproductive dysfunction.

Malnutrition is also one of the several causes of infertility in men.

When malnutrition leads to being severely underweight, men may have low sperm counts and diminished sperm quality and motility. Excessive exercise and severe restrictions in food intake can even reduce or totally stop sperm production.

An improper diet leading to deficiencies in certain vitamins, such as vitamin C, folate (folic acid), selenium, and zinc can contribute to male infertility. Anemia has similar effects.

Excessive exercise in men is another factor where body fat stores are depleted to supply energy for the exercise. Too much exercise may also increase the temperature of a man's testicles and damage sperm.

Diets that are lacking in calories or vitamins are not the only cause of malnutrition. Stress, competitive work environments, fast-paced lifestyles, toxic exposures, prescription medications, can create stress in the mechanisms of the body and can directly or indirectly lead to malnutrition and infertility.

The best way to prevent infertility caused by being malnourished and underweight is to maintain a healthy weight and normal amounts of fat stores through a nourishing diet that includes sufficient calories and nutrients and to exercise moderately. It is recommended that malnourished and underweight men and women who want to bear children ensure they are eating a healthy diet with sufficient vitamin intake and gain weight before attempting a pregnancy. A healthy body is essential for any individual trying to have a baby.

Nutrition is important at every stage, for every one! Stay updated and stay healthy, ask a gynaecologist, all your questions, while staying at home, download LAIMA.

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