The act of conceiving, getting pregnant, requires many steps among which are: release of an egg from a follicle (ovulation), fertilization of the egg by sperm, transport of the egg through the Fallopian tubes to the uterus, and attachment to the uterine wall, (implantation).
Each step to becoming pregnant must occur in the right order and requires interaction with hormonal and immune system pathways.
Infertility is the inability to conceive after 1 year of unprotected intercourse. Ten to 15% of reproductive-age couples are unable to conceive. Thirty percent of the time infertility is due to issues with both the man and the woman, or no cause can be determined (idiopathic infertility).
Hormonal and/or immunological imbalances.
Hormonal imbalances affect the way the body interacts with the immune system and affects the ability to conceive.
Seminal fluid, the liquid from male testicles that delivers sperm to the egg contains hormones, cytokines, and other immune messages that interact with the cells lining the female reproductive tract. The factors in seminal fluid prepare the site to receive sperm and set up the proper environment for implantation of the egg. The sequence of events resembles an inflammatory response, but too much inflammation can result in infertility issues.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease:
Common pelvic inflammatory diseases such as appendicitis and colitis result in inflammation of the abdominal cavity, which in turn may affect the Fallopian tubes and lead to scarring and blockage of the tubes. Since the Fallopian tubes are the pathway by which the egg gets to the uterus for implantation, implantation may not occur. Abdominal surgery, scar tissue, and sexually transmitted infections can also result in inflammatory pelvic disease.
Endometriosis is an inflammatory and hormonal condition that occurs when the tissues lining the uterus grow and spread outside of the uterus. They release blood at menses, the monthly cycle. Thirty-five to fifty percent of infertility cases in women are due to endometriosis.
Poor Egg or Sperm Quality.
Life style decisions such as abuse of alcohol or drugs, smoking, poor diet, obesity, lack of consistent physical activity, and environmental factors may all contribute to poor viability of the egg or sperm.
Smoking contributes greatly to inflammatory responses of the body.
If either partner smokes, the chances of conceiving, via natural or clinical means, are reduced by 33%. Smoking by men lowers their sperm counts and affects the health of their reproductive organs. Women who smoke take longer to conceive compared to non-smokers and are at increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and low-birth-weight babies. Even women who do not smoke, but live in homes where they are passively exposed to smokers, may take more than a year longer to become pregnant than women living in smoke-free homes.
Infections and Medical Conditions.
Women and men with sexually transmitted diseases often show no symptoms. Untreated infections can result in excessive inflammatory responses which damage and scar reproductive organs.
Up to 50% of infertility problems in women and men may be associated with the presence of anti-sperm antibodies, large immune proteins that attach to the sperm and trigger immune responses.
In women, antibodies to sperm may attack her partner’s sperm and result in inflammation and damage of vaginal tissues. Over 70% of all men who get a vasectomy develop anti-sperm antibodies. If damaged sperm fertilizes an egg, chances of a miscarriage increase.
The reasons behind idiopathic infertility are not understood. It has been my experience that when couples focus on returning to immune balance, to immune homeostasis, they appear to enhance their chances of having children.