Inflammation Contributes to Infertility in Obese Women

CU researchers discover a relationship between the chronic inflammation that accompanies obese women and their impaired fertility, raising the prospect of reversing the negative effects of obesity on fertility

Denver (October 20, 2014) – Chronic low-level inflammation has been known for years to accompany obesity, just as obesity in women is known to inhibit production of reproductive hormones. But no one has linked these two “knowns”—until now, in research by CU OB-GYN physicians revealed in a paper being presented today at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM’s) annual conference.

We found that obesity reduces a woman’s responsiveness to reproductive hormone therapies. But if you drop the level of inflammation an obese woman experiences, her responsiveness to fertility hormones increases, improving her chances of getting pregnant,” said Advanced Reproductive Medicine’s (CU OB-GYN’s) Alex Polotsky, MD, lead author of the paper. “This opens up a new avenue for investigating the conundrum of why obesity reduces fertility.”

Exploring the connection between reproductive hormone abnormalities in obese women and inflammation is a novel concept, and the CU OB-GYN team is the first to identify it.

This has important implications for obese women, as studies show that obese women are 43% less likely to achieve pregnancy than are normal weight women. And up to half of infertility patients are overweight.

In the study of Colorado women, obese and normal weight women were given standard fertility hormone treatments. These hormones reduced inflammation levels in the obese women while increasing their reproductive hormone levels, a connection that had gone undetected. Normal weight women, who do not have increased inflammation, did not experience the same increase in reproductive hormone levels.

The low-level inflammation present in obese women (and men) is not something the individual feels. But the chemical markers of the inflammation level are evident, making it possible to track it in conjunction with the women’s reproductive hormone levels.

CU OB-GYN has already moved this research forward. They are now investigating fish oil-derived fatty acid dietary supplements for their ability to reduce the inflammation in obese women, and thus increase their responsiveness to reproductive hormones.

CU OB-GYN’s paper is being considered for the top prize award by ASRM, indicating the breakthrough nature of this research and the promise it holds for so many obese and overweight women experiencing fertility disappointment.

Zain A Al-Safi, MD, is presenting the paper at ASRM in Honolulu, Hawaii. In addition to Al-Safi and Polotsky, CU’s Nanette Santoro, MD, Justin Chosich, Katie Berenbaum and Andrew Bradford, PhD are involved in the study. Ongoing research on the dietary supplements is being conducted in conjunction with the University of Colorado Anschutz Wellness Center and Holly Wyatt, MD.

About University of Colorado OB-GYN

University of Colorado OB-GYN is one of the most diversified OB-GYN practices in the Denver area. Notable services at our women’s health clinics include university hospital care with a private practice model, women’s health research & studies, contraception, pregnancy care, infertility treatment, VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), & menopause treatment.