Plugged-in lifestyle may be worsening infertility

A study by the Indian Society of Assisted Reproduction highlighted that infertility affects about 10 to 14 percent of Indian couples and is more common in cities, where one in six couples seek help.

More women are showing signs of declining fertility and low egg reserves after age 30. As more women enter their 30s without a child, trends and statistics indicate that delayed motherhood is becoming the norm. Although the known triggers and physiological conditions continue to affect women’s hormones, the latest research shows how a sedentary and plugged-in lifestyle robs women of their work-life balance and affects their gynecological health. Sedentary lifestyle or physical inactivity is more likely to make a woman infertile than a man. This often causes hormonal imbalance, polycystic ovary disease and weight problems that affect the embryo. The body mass index (BMI) is a decisive factor and being overweight or underweight is not conducive to egg production.

Causes of infertility

Infertility can be caused by disorders that lead to infrequent ovulation or no ovulation at all. The polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hypothalamic dysfunction and premature ovarian failure are among the common abnormalities.

For some women, damaged fallopian tubes can also lead to infertility as they prevent the sperm from reaching the egg or the fertilized egg from reaching the uterus.

Then there is endometriosis. This chronic disorder can damage the eggs and the sperm by causing inflammation in the body and the uterine lining. Polyps or tumor in the uterus, birth defects, cervical stenosis and other uterine problems can also lead to infertility in women.

Lifestyle stressors

One of the biggest reasons for infertility is a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle combined with excessive stress and an unhealthy diet. Unhealthy habits increase the chance of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, which can even lead to infertility.

As women effectively transitioned from the kitchen to the workplace, this led to increased stress and the compromise of physical and emotional health. Young women are so busy pursuing their jobs and maintaining their homes at the same pitch that they overlook the reproductive cycle or biological clock. Various studies have been conducted by scientists around the world to investigate the subject. The following are some of the significant findings of these studies:

*Due to higher stress levels or physically demanding jobs, women are more likely to be infertile; women who have to lift or handle large goods at work are particularly vulnerable.

*Working women often overwork themselves and put their bodies under unnecessary physical and mental stress.

*Women’s hormones change due to excessive stress. This causes a decrease in estrogen levels, which are necessary for reproduction.

*In women subjected to physical stress at work, the number of antral follicles and eggs decreases.

*Women who work at night are more likely to be infertile and have lower egg counts. The night shifts are very against the body’s natural processes. Changes in sleep patterns also cause hormonal abnormalities in women who work rotational shifts and lead to Polycystic Ovarian disorders.

* Working mothers have the added stress of trying to balance family and work, which can lead to secondary infertility (not being able to conceive a second time).

* A crammed lifestyle can cause more harm than good. Electromagnetic waves (EMW) have been reported to partially cause adverse effects on women’s fertility and ability to reproduce. Some studies suggest that prolonged use of a laptop, cell phone, tablet, microwave and such touch devices can delay egg production simply because it keeps you static and not agile, which is necessary for hormones to be on an even keel.

Against infertility

Infertility is only one of the many issues that can negatively affect working women. Here are some ways they can alleviate the problem.

* Take regular breaks to deal with stress.

* Avoid snacks if you work late at night.

* Concentrate on a nutritious and well-balanced diet.

* Develop healthy habits such as yoga and exercise.

* Maintain a healthy lifestyle

* Aim for work schedules that fall within office hours so you don’t take on an extra burden.

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Medical advances to the rescue

Over the past decade, the number of infertile couples and fertility treatment providers in India has increased significantly.

With breakthroughs in medical technology, infertile couples can now have biological children with the help of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and so on. In vitro fertilization (IVF) has been successful in about 90 percent of cases and it is estimated that, worldwide, more than eight million babies have been born through this procedure. But before consulting a specialist, try some lifestyle changes.

Dr Rutuja R Athawale is a specialist in infertility

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