Exercise And Weight Loss Could Boost Fertility For Some Women

New study results show that women – especially those who suffer from PCOS – may significantly increase their odds of getting pregnant by adopting a regimen focused on weight loss and exercise, Reuters reported.

According to researchers, women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, are more likely to experience irregular menstrual cycles, an unusual amount of hair on the face and body, weight gain and infertility, resulting from higher-than-normal testosterone and androgen levels, which are sex hormones associated with male traits.

In the study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers compared pregnancy outcomes for 150 women who were diagnosed with PCOS, discovering that those who exercised and achieved greater weight loss were more likely to become pregnant and carry the baby to term. Lead study author Dr. Richared Legro of Pennsylvania State College of Medicine in Hershey told Reuters that exercise and weight loss might actually play a larger role in helping patients get pregnant than regulating ovulation with birth control pills before trying to conceive, which is one of the current go-to treatment methods for women with PCOS.

"Based on our study, women with PCOS who are obese would derive the greatest improvement in their quality of life and reproductive parameters (body hair, androgen levels, polycystic ovaries and control of menstrual bleeding) with maintenance of their metabolic health through the combination of oral contraceptives with lifestyle modification and weight loss."
Since taking birth control pills for several months before trying to conceive may improve success rates by boosting female hormones and regulating ovulation, one third of the study participants took birth control pills for the first four months of the study, while a second group was asked to exercise and adhere to a low-calorie diet in an effort to facilitate weight loss. A third group followed both of these regimens.

Exercise And Weight Loss Could Boost Fertility For Some Women

Five of the 49 women who made up the initial birth control-only group had babies, compared to 13 babies for the 50 women who were assigned a diet and exercise plan to encourage weight loss, and 12 infants for the remainder, who received a combination of both treatment methods.

Researchers admitted the study group was too small to indicate a "statistically meaningful" difference in pregnancy outcomes between the two groups who dieted and exercised. Still, the results do show that exercise and weight loss are likely to play a much larger role for women who are trying to get pregnant than simply relying on traditional methods of regulating ovulation with birth control pills.

The implications of the study may even reach beyond just those who have PCOS, since all of the study participants were also obese, which is a leading cause of infertility among women, even without the disease. Also of note, the study group who only took contraceptives were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. This can bring on a number of different conditions that are also linked to infertility, such as high blood sugar, and can also increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Exercise And Weight Loss Could Boost Fertility For Some Women

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately one-in-10 women of childbearing age is likely to have PCOS. The condition is thought to be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, although its underlying cause remains unknown.

The new study findings appear to confirm earlier research that links metabolic changes and reproductive function, but Dr. Gordon Wright Bates, Jr., a specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told Reuters that women who come into his clinic often struggle with a weight loss prescription.

"Although the study adds considerable evidence to support lifestyle modifications and weight loss to optimize reproductive potential and the response to treatment, both of these remain elusive for many patients."
[Photos (top to bottom) by Justin Sullivan / Joe Raendle / Spencer Platt / Staff / Getty Images]