According to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, high cholesterol levels are linked to infertility among couples trying to conceive a baby. The study was done by NIH researchers in conjunction with Emory University and University at Buffalo. The fat cells found in the bloodstream have been correlated with cardiovascular disease for some time now, but the impact of cholesterol on fertility is new information. Researchers theorized that cholesterol levels could have an effect on fertility because the body uses cholesterol to produce the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. The results of the study appear to show the researchers were correct. Couples in which the man and woman both exhibited high cholesterol levels took longer to conceive than those couples who both had cholesterol in normal ranges. Interestingly, when the woman’s total cholesterol level was high, the study showed a delay in conception, but when the man was the only partner with high cholesterol conception was not delayed.
Researchers took cholesterol readings for 501 volunteers in Michigan and Texas between 2005 and 2009. They only measured free cholesterol, instead of breaking down measurements of HDL, LDL and triglycerides as a physician would typically order for blood tests. The researchers followed each couple for one year, or a lesser period of time if they were able to conceive a child first. The woman in the group ranged in age between 18 and 44 and the men were all over 18. No other age range was described for the men. The statistical analysis undertaken by the researchers to study a possible link between high cholesterol and infertility took into account differences in age, race, education and body mass index. In the study group, 347 couples were able to conceive, 54 could not and 100 dropped out.
The link between cholesterol and infertility leads researchers to emphasize engaging in a healthy lifestyle for couples wishing to conceive. Eating too much fatty food can contribute to high cholesterol. Having the right cholesterol level is necessary for production of sufficient sex hormones. Either too much cholesterol or too little can impact hormone production. The study did not examine the impact of any type of pharmaceutical treatment of high cholesterol. Whether treatments such as Lipitor might help with conception was outside the scope of the study. The couples in the study were not using any type of cholesterol treatment.
Dr. Alan Cooperman of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle will contribute the most toward successful conception. He says the study does not yet show a direct correlation between high cholesterol and an inability to conceive. Working to be as healthy as possible will assist the effort to become pregnant, instead of a diet designed to lower cholesterol.
The recent study undertaken by NIH does appear to provide some link between high cholesterol levels and infertility. Reading too much into the results could be a mistake, to the extent that those with high cholesterol also lead a less healthy lifestyle. Couples wishing to conceive should concentrate on making themselves as healthy as possible in order to increase their chances of success.
By William Costolo