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Immune Balance and Fertility

 Immune Balance and Fertility

Most women have an immune system that’s in relative balance and able to adapt to the needs of pregnancy; however, many of us may have hidden immune problems that make it more difficult to conceive and maintain a pregnancy. Testing is costly, difficult to access, and is not considered a priority by all fertility experts.

Imbalances in the immune system cause fertility problems for many couples and could be involved in many cases of “unexplained infertility”. Pregnancy requires a woman’s immune system to recognise and support the essentially “foreign” cells that form her baby.

Because half the baby’s genetic material comes from the father, they’re not 100% the mother’s cells, and proteins on the cell walls show this. The woman’s immune system needs to recognise these abnormal cells and make changes to the womb and blood supply to encourage the embryo’s growth and prevent its removal.

Most couples with infertility don’t test for immune status as other more obvious and pressing conditions should be considered first. But it becomes more relevant when the usual causes of infertility (blocked tubes, hormonal problems, male factor, etc.) have been excluded.

Immune conditions are more likely to be involved when couples have unexplained infertility, repeated miscarriages or IVF failures. However, older couples should bear in mind miscarriages rates naturally rise with age.

Infertility and Miscarriage

For women who experience infertility or a miscarriage in their late 30s, the cause is usually:

  1. Chromosomal abnormalities (40-50%).
  2. Blood clotting disorders (20-25%).
  3. Other reasons (25-40%).

Chromosomes have randomness to them that’s unlikely to repeat; however, blood clotting and other causes are often immune-related because either:

  • The mother’s immune system an embryo’s cells as non-self and attacks them in the same way it would a virus or bacterial invader.
  • Clotting factors disrupt the blood supply to the developing embryo, and they’re often immune-based.

Immune system imbalances are crucial issues for many couples who can’t conceive naturally, experience repeated IVF cycle failure or miscarriage. For these couples, the problem is often:

  • The woman’s immune system can either attack eggs in the ovary, the embryo in the fallopian tubes, or the implantation site.
  • When couples have three miscarriages in a row, an imbalanced immune system in one or both parents is the most common cause.
  • Repeated miscarriage affects less than 1% of couples but 2-5% of all pregnancies.

It’s estimated that:

  • 60% of women failing four or more IVF cycles have an immune-related cause.
  • 30% of couples who can’t conceive naturally after three years of trying have an immune-related reason.

Immune causes of infertility

A review of immune factors and reproduction in 2012 i concluded, “Substantial evidence suggests that:

  • antiphospholipid antibodies 
  • lupus anticoagulant
  • anti-sperm antibodies
  • anti-thyroid antibodies
  • anti-endometrial antibodies
  • anti-ovarian antibodies
  • anti-C trachomatis antibodies
  • cytokines 
  • immunological events in endometriosis and premature ovarian failure” 

“…contribute to reproductive failure including unexplained infertility and/or non-chromosomal recurrent miscarriage.”

Without appropriate testing, couples with immune-related infertility will be diagnosed with unexplained infertility. The immune system is complex, and our digestion receives most of our immune challenges. Bizarrely, certain types of roundworm in the gut increase fertility, as dealing with the worms reduces the immune response to other non-self cells (like an embryo). The immune system is also crucial for:

  • The integrity of DNA in eggs and sperm.
  • The function of the ovaries (in both phases).
  • The receptiveness of the endometrium for implantation (70% of IVF failures).

What’s increasingly clear is that the immune system plays a constant and vital role in both creating and maintaining life, and experts say:

“Women with implantation failures or recurrent miscarriage are unbalanced. They are too Th1 activated with cells that attack their pregnancy.”

Alan E Beer MD

Balancing the immune system

There are ways to balance the immune system, with changes to diet, lifestyle and with medicinal herbs and supplements. These are part of the morefertile® memberships that give personalised advice and provide cutting-edge testing and quality products.

i A panoramic view to relationships between reproductive failure and immunological factors.Kokcu A, Yavuz E, Celik H, Bildircin D. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2012 Jul 28. PMID:22843034