Eating disorders can affect fertility. An expert tells you what you need to know

Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa can lead to several issues, including infertility. Here’s how they are linked.

male infertility
Take care of your eating patterns in case you are planning to conceive. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Prathyusha Attaluri Published on: 26 February 2022, 11:00 am IST
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Eating disorders such anorexia and bulimia can take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health. Not many people know that such disorders can also affect your ability to conceive in the future. Yes, eating disorders have a direct impact on your fertility. Even if you manage to get pregnant with an existing eating disorder, it can put you and your baby at risk. It takes a lot of time and effort to bring an eating disorder under control.

Some of the common eating disorders are:

Bulimia: People suffering from bulimia often face repeated instances of binge eating and no control over overeating. It also includes excessive exercise to avoid weight gain and self-induced vomiting.

Anorexia nervosa: People suffering from anorexia indulge in restrictive eating to stay thin. They have a fear of weight gain due to which they exercise frequently.

Binge eating: The disorder is similar to bulimia, but the individual suffering from it does not focus on avoiding weight gain. Eating large amounts of food in a short period can also cause guilt and depression among people suffering from binge eating.

eating disorders and infertility
Watch what you eat and avoid binge eating. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

How can eating disorders affect fertility?

People who suffer from eating disorders are nutritionally compromised. Being overweight or underweight due to different eating behaviours can also lead to hormonal imbalance. This can disrupt normal menstrual cycles and ovulation.

As a woman’s endocrine system (which is responsible for the production of hormones) is affected, it reduces the quality of eggs. Women may suffer from amenorrhoea or no menstrual cycles or irregular periods, which causes issues in getting pregnant. During the period of an eating disorder, hormones tend to fluctuate. Many times, eating disorders can also cause ovarian failure among women in their 40s.

The essential vitamins and nutrients required for the growth of the fetus are depleted, especially when dealing with binge eating disorders. Due to irregular periods, it is hard to know when it is the right time to start trying for a baby, increasing the chances of unplanned pregnancies. Women suffering from amenorrhea due to an underlying eating disorder are also more likely to face bone loss and osteoporosis.

Which hormone levels are impacted due to eating disorders?

Women who are underweight due to anorexia can witness decreased levels of leptin, a hormone that controls appetite and body weight. It also controls the hypothalamus in the brain, which controls the production of two hormones- follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Both these hormones are important for the process of ovulation. A decrease in the leptin hormone can hinder the working of the hypothalamus and cause issues in ovulation, leading to irregular periods and infertility.

eating disorders and infertility
You need to pay attention to eating disorders that can impact your health significantly. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Apart from hormonal imbalance, obesity or being overweight is another factor linked to fertility. Overeating can produce high levels of male hormones or androgens, especially among younger women. This can also cause irregular periods and block the process of ovulation, leading to infertility.

Psychological effects of eating disorders

Mental health disorders are common among people suffering from eating disorders. Women can suffer from stress due to distorted body shape and perfectionism. Stress and depression are linked to disruption in menstrual cycles and infertility. Stress can even increase the risk of unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Impact of eating disorders on pregnancy

Eating disorders can create complications for both the mother and the baby during pregnancy. Having an eating disorder during pregnancy can cause low birth weight, premature labour, stillbirth, miscarriages, and delayed fetal growth. It can also increase the risks of C-sections.

As the psychological effects of eating disorders could lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking and drinking, these habits in turn affect your fertility as well.

eating disorders and infertility
Eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, can make it more difficult to conceive. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What can you do for pregnancy?

It is possible to get pregnant with an eating disorder with proper management and care. Try to manage your psychological issues with the help of therapists or psychiatrists who can help you deal with the effects of several disorders. You should also stay in touch with your gynecologist. If you manage to get pregnant, eating a proper diet and staying hydrated are the ways to give birth to a healthy child.

You should also take all the required vitamins and minerals with your pre-pregnancy diet. A nutritionist or a dietician can help you prepare a chart for regular meals. It is important to manage weight before, during, and after pregnancy to avoid other health conditions.

Reach out to a fertility specialist if you are unable to conceive within 12 months of trying. Also, taking care of your mental health during pregnancy is important. Studies suggest that women suffering from eating disorders are more likely to face anxiety and depression during and after pregnancy. Therefore, mental health screening is necessary in such cases.

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About the Author
Dr Prathyusha Attaluri Dr Prathyusha Attaluri

Dr Prathyusha Attaluri, Fertility Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Hyderabad

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