Wellness Wednesdays: How and Why Optimizing BMI Improves IVF Success Rates

By:Dr. Sonya Kashyap & Dr. Spence Pentland

how BMI affects your fertility and IVF
BMI Index Comparison (Women) [Image Credit: Weightlossmex.com]
A recent article by Postmedia News Sharon Kirkey highlighted Canadas fertility specialists on-going discussion about whether guidelines should be established for helping (or not helping) severely obese women get pregnant.

So why is weight playing a role in the fertility treatment debate?

Most people are already familiar with the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight: being overweight increases your risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes while being underweight can have negative effects on your heart, immune system and bone density. But your body mass index (BMI) can also play an important role in the success or failure of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

BMI-based body size guides for women and men [Image Credit: International Journal of Obesity]
BMI-based body size guides for women and men [Image Credit: International Journal of Obesity]
According to Dietitians of Canada, a healthy BMI for fully grown adults below the age of 65 who are not pregnant or nursing falls between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything above 24.9 classifies you as overweight or obese. And according to a 2004 study published in the journal Human Reproduction as well as information from the Society of Reproductive Technologies (SART), having that extra weight makes it more difficult for you to become pregnant through IVF. The data revealed that women who have a BMI greater than 35 have significantly lower success rates with IVF than their similarly aged peers with a healthier BMI. Even a BMI greater than 30 is associated with compromised outcomes. And if your IVF is successful, your pregnancy is more prone to complications such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure than if you had a healthy BMI.

Women are not the only ones who have to worry about their weight when trying to start a family. A study by the Aberdeen Fertility Centre at the University of Aberdeen revealed that overweight men have a lower sperm count and less healthy sperm than their average body weight counterparts. While dealing with the stress of fertility problems, having to worry about juggling complicated fad diets is probably the last thing anyone wants to do. Here are some simple tips for cleaning up your diet and improving not only your lifestyle, but your chances of having a healthy and successful pregnancy:

  • Treat the root of the problem: in order to address the root of overeating or apathy, you need to identify its cause and address it. If emotions are the root cause, which often they are, counting calories will get you nowhere. Instead, try counselling, coaching or hypnosis to help you manage. And if emotions are not the root cause, with time they often become a contributing one, so having someone to talk to can be very useful. If your job is stressful or your relationship is an unhappy one, these things will be reflected in your physicality and taking steps to improve them will have a positive impact.
  • Colour code it: the most nutritious foods are often the most colourful. Spinach, blueberries, carrots and the like all have more essential nutrients than foods that are white, grey, or brown. A lack in nutrients results in frequent hunger as your body yearns for the nutrition not being provided. If you give your body what it needs, it will begin to crave those healthier food items rather than empty processed calories.Colourful Fruits & Vegetables
  • Stick to the perimeter: the aisles of a grocery store can be a very dangerous place for someone trying to lose weight. Their shelves are often stuffed with chips, pop, cookies and other refined and processed foods not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Try to focus your shopping on the perimeter of the store; there, you can find fresh produce, meats and breads. Remember to keep your breads whole grain and meats lean.
  • If you dont want to eat it, dont buy it: its difficult to eat poorly if you dont have cupboards full of junk. Keep a small selection of cheat foods like dark chocolate to cure your sweet tooth and avoid bringing home items you know youll be tempted to eat.
  • Make little changes: Instead of getting fries with your burger, get the salad instead. Do you usually have a soda with every meal? Try enjoying a glass of water. These small changes in your diet can amount to big changes in your body.
  • Cultivate willpower: Sometimes its difficult to walk away from tempting foods. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cravings are diagnostic they help us understand where your bodys imbalances are. For example, a regular craving for sweets could indicate a spleen issue whereas salt cravings could mean your kidney is stressed. Treatments such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine treat the underlying health issues to help stop the cravings and enhance your willpower to make healthy choices for both mind and body.