Ovulation, or the release of the egg from the ovary, is necessary for menstrual periods and pregnancy to occur. However, being underweight or overweight can interrupt this cycle.
The Importance of a Healthy Weight
A healthy weight helps to balance your immune system and promote proper body functions. However, unhealthy eating, poor lifestyle habits, and genetic factors can cause women to become overweight (obese) or underweight. Excess weight gain in women is known to have a negative impact on their ovulation—whether they ovulate, and if they do, when this happens. This and other spin-off effects can interfere with fertility. Understanding how the interruption affects you can motivate you to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments or see your doctor.
Ways Your Weight Can Affect Ovulation
Factors such as a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an underactive or overactive thyroid, insulin resistance, diabetes, or medications can affect your weight, which can then cause trouble ovulating in the following ways:
- Irregular Menstrual Cycle – Irregular menstrual cycles are often due to anovulation or failure of the egg to release from the ovary. Without the egg, pregnancy cannot occur. Irregularities that may occur are skipped menstrual cycles, heavy periods, periods lasting longer than usual, a short time between periods or spotting between cycles. Excess androgen production in women with PCOS and too much insulin in the bloodstream are two main reasons for these irregularities.
- Increased Estrogen Levels – The right level of the hormone estrogen is required to stimulate the release of the egg from the ovary to the fallopian tube each month. However, being overweight can throw the hormonal levels out of balance. This happens because excess weight can cause an overproduction of estrogen, which can then prevent the egg from being released when it’s time to ovulate.
- Insulin Resistance – Being overweight can lead to insulin resistance. When the body is unable to use the hormone insulin to remove glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream, the condition is called insulin resistance. Additional weight gain can then occur much easier since the body ends up storing the glucose as fat instead of burning it for energy. Insulin resistance is also a risk factor for diabetes and can result in trouble ovulating or failure to ovulate, irregular periods, or difficulty getting pregnant.
How to Promote Regular Ovulation and Boost Fertility
These tips can help you ovulate regularly and optimize your chance at fertility:
- Manage your weight:Being overweight or underweight can affect both whether you ovulate and when you ovulate. Furthermore, studies show that women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 or under 19 are more likely to have trouble getting pregnant. As such, eating healthy and exercising can help achieve a healthy weight and restore hormonal balance.
- Track when you ovulate:Knowing when you ovulate can help you determine if your body is releasing the egg as it should. There are home kits available to help you predict when this is happening. The information you collect can be helpful to your doctor during a medical evaluation. The egg is usually released on day 14, counting from the first day of your period the previous month. Signs you’re ovulating include an increase in basal body temperature, tender breasts, bloating, and an increase in vaginal discharge that looks like egg white.
- Choose the right foods: A diet rich in proteins and low in carbs can help to boost fertility in women who ovulate irregularly or have trouble conceiving. It is especially useful in women with PCOS and insulin sensitivity. You should also avoid trans-fat to reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility. The risk can increase as much as 31 percent if trans-fat foods such as margarine, baked products, and fried foods are part of your daily diet. Beans, legumes, nuts and high-fat dairy choices such as milk and cheese are protein-rich foods that can help you ovulate more regularly.
When to Speak With Your Doctor
If your menstrual cycle has been irregular for a while and you suspect it is related to your weight or believe it is linked to infertility, you can talk with your doctor or fertility specialist. Your doctor can examine you and perform various tests to determine what’s causing it. You may have to follow a special diet, exercise, or take medical treatment such as hormone therapy to restore hormonal balance and regulate your cycle. Additionally, fertility treatments such as in-vitro fertilization may also help optimize fertility.