How Are Eating Disorders Related to Infertility?

Eating disorders are linked to fertility problems, although it's not yet known exactly to what extent and in what specific way. More research is still needed.
How Are Eating Disorders Related to Infertility?

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 11 June, 2022

Eating disorders may be linked to infertility in both men and women. Most evidence points to this occurring, although there are also some studies that don’t find a direct association.

It’s important to emphasize that eating disorders do not occur only in women. Men also experience them. In both cases, the ability to conceive would be reduced.

One aspect to highlight is the fact that the effects of eating disorders on fertility don’t always appear immediately. This means that the consequences may be felt long after the problems have been overcome.

Which eating disorders can cause infertility?

The bes- known eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia nervosa. However, there are also others that fall into a non-point category known as other eating disorders not otherwise specified.

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a condition in which a person stops eating normally and severely restricts the amount of calories he or she eats, with the goal of losing weight or maintaining an extremely low weight. It’s perhaps the most common of the eating disorders.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a disorder in which there are recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by actions designed to compensate for those excesses. Most commonly, people self-induce vomiting, but laxatives, enemas, intense exercise, or very severe diets with fasting are also commonly used to expel the excesses.

Anorexia y bulimia que afectan la fertilidad.

Eating disorders affect many aspects of life and health not limited to a person’s body weight.

Binge eating

Binge eating is also part of eating disorders. This disorder is characterized by the rapid ingestion of large volumes of food. Usually, there’s no previous hunger and they generate feelings of guilt and sadness. To be classified as a disorder, it must occur at least twice a week.

Pregorexia

Pregorexia is a disorder in which a pregnant woman does not eat enough for fear of gaining weight. It’s usually accompanied by intense exercise.

It’s common for women with pregorexia to have been anorexic before. That’s why pregorexia is linked to infertility, as it turns out that a large group of these patients had problems conceiving and prolong this problem in the behaviors surrounding their gestation.

We think you may also enjoy reading this article: Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders: What’s the Difference?

Vigorexia

Vigorexia is one of the most common eating disorders affecting men. It involves an addiction to physical exercise and the consumption of an unbalanced diet that’s heavily oriented towards protein intake. There’s usually an excessive preoccupation with the physique and an obsession with having an athletic and muscular body.

Night eating syndrome

This is a disorder similar to binge eating. The main difference is that in night eating syndrome, binge eating only occurs at night. Also, large volumes of food are not eaten at one time, but several small meals throughout the hours that should be rest hours.

Megarexia

Megarexia is one of the less visible eating disorders. It could be said to be the opposite of anorexia and refers to people who are overweight, but don’t see this as a health problem, but as a manifestation of vitality. They even come to see themselves as thin or athletic.

Eating disorders lead to infertility through various pathways

Eating disorders are serious problems that can even be life-threatening. In addition to the negative effects they have on general health, they have an impact on fertility. Let’s take a look at how.

Like this article? You may also like to read: Sadorexia: An Increasingly Common Eating Disorder

Body fat

The body needs adequate levels of fat to maintain hormonal balance. Fat cells impact the production and synthesis of hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. If the body doesn’t generate enough of these hormones, the reproductive system is affected.

Nutrition and fertility

Although science has not fully deciphered the relationship between nutrition and fertility, there’s evidence that diet quality influences fertility.

People with eating disorders don’t meet their basic needs. This leads to poorer quality eggs and sperm. It also makes it difficult for the body to synthesize hormones.

Menstruation and ovulation

Most women with eating disorders also have absent menstruation (amenorrhea) or irregular periods. This causes problems with ovulation and hinders the possibility of becoming pregnant, although it doesn’t eliminate it.

Ovarian and uterine shrinkage

In some women with anorexia, especially those with chronic amenorrhea, a reduction in the size of the uterus or ovaries has been detected. This is thought to be related to hormonal imbalance.

Sperm count and erectile dysfunction

There are not enough studies on this, but the available data indicate that men with very low fat levels also have very low testosterone levels, which leads to poor sperm counts. They are also likely to experience problems with erectile dysfunction.

Hombre delgado con infertilidad.

The long-term infertility effects of eating disorders

There are strong suspicions that eating disorders can produce negative effects on fertility, even when they’ve already been overcome. In reality, there’s no long-term research that can substantiate this.

However, it’s widely accepted among physicians that people with a history of eating disorders have a higher rate of infertility and more difficulty conceiving. Also, women tend to take longer to become pregnant than the rest of the population.

This appears to be related to the severity of the disorder at the time. When it’s very severe, it may have left permanent damage to the reproductive system.

On the other hand, when pregnancy occurs in a woman with an eating disorder or a history of eating disorders, there is an increased risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and low birth weight babies. There’s also an increased risk of the mother developing heart problems.

Also, postpartum depression is more likely to occur. Then, they may pass on a distorted idea of body image to their children.

Don’t underestimate eating disorders

Eating disorders cause infertility because they affect physical and mental health. If a person plans to have children, it’s a good idea to be in good health. Otherwise, you may encounter obstacles to conceiving.

The approach to eating disorders is multidisciplinary. It requires the intervention of a physician, a psychologist, and a nutritionist, at the very least. A good nutritional rehabilitation process may be sufficient for functional fertility.

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