Is Your Immune System Stopping you From Getting Pregnant?
Infertility can be defined as when a couple have been trying for more than 12 months and have not been able to conceive. This can be caused by a number of factors, among which could include suffering from an autoimmune disorder. Studies show that at least 10 to 20% of women who are unable to conceive are affected by some degree of immune disorder. These disorders may present themselves in the form of Endometriosis, Thyroid Disorders, or Celiac Disease. (1)
What is Autoimmune Malfunction?
An individual is said to be suffering from an autoimmune Disorder when their immune system starts attacking their own body cells. These autoimmune disorders may be caused by a number of factors which include genetic factors, infections, and certain environmental conditions and exposures. Moreover, these disorders may also exhibit symptoms concentrated around a specific organ, or they may involve multiple body systems. Some commonly encountered autoimmune conditions include Systemic Lupus Erthmetosis, Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, Multiple sclerosis, Scleroderma, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Thyroiditis. Emerging research has also shown the involvement of autoimmune orders in certain conditions like Schizophrenia, IBS, and Infertility. (2)
The Association Between Autoimmune Malfunction and Female Fertility
Infertility caused by the immune system is associated with the involvement of a number of reproductive immune antibodies. These antibodies include the anti-sperm antibody, anti cardiolipin antibody, anti endometrial antibody, anti egg cell antibody, anti chorionic gonotropin antibody, and anti permeability belt antibody. For example, the anti sperm antibody is usually produced in response to sperm, which is perceived as an antigen stimulant. The production of the anti sperm antibody has the potential to affect the movement of the sperm and its ability to reach the cervical region, which in turn leads to infertility. (3)
Endometriosis and Autoimmunity
Individuals with autoimmune disorders are frequently reported to be affected by endometriosis, miscarriages, and failed IVF treatments. Studies have shown the individual affected with endometriosis to have significantly higher rate of production of anti endometrial antibodies compared to healthy individuals. This increased number of antibodies leads to a greater chance of them reacting with the endometrium. This reaction leads to activation of the immune system, which leads to significant endometrial and oviduct damage, negatively impacting the implantation of the embryo. (4)
The Role of Natural Killer Cells in Fertility
Natural Killer Cells play a significant role in the female fertility cycle, and irregularities in the number or function of these cells can impact one’s ability to conceive greatly. Their significance can be estimated by the fact that they make up at least 70% of the leukocytes found in the endometrium during embryo implantation and secretory phases (5). The Natural Killer cells are able to affect the implantation of the trophoblast due to their influence on the remodeling of the spiral artery – which is involved in the implantation process. (6)
The association between Natural Killer Cells and female fertility was further proven by studies that concluded by proving an increased risk of infertility in individuals which a higher number of these cells. (7) The dysregulation of these cells is also found to exist in individuals with Endometriosis, which were found to have abnormalities in the maturation of these cells and reduction in endometrial stem cell factors. The positive association between Natural Killer Cells abnormalities and Endometriosis and an increased number of these cells in infertile females have proven these cells to play a major role in female fertility. (8)
Ways to Alter One’s Immune System to Support Fertility
Theories introduced by Traditional Chinese Medicine suggest that infertility in females is usually caused by disruptions in the blood circulation, vital balance, and inhibition of Qi energy. An effective way to improve this is Acupuncture Therapy which involves the insertion of tiny sterile needles into specific acupuncture points of the body. This is hypothesized to not only regulate the body functions but also improve one’s fertility and increase their chances of conceiving.
Studies have found Acupuncture treatment to help balance the hormones in the body, facilitate better blood and energy flow, cause stimulation of the nervous system, help strengthen one’s immunity and facilitate the removal of stasis and phlegm. Its ability to regulate blood flow allows an increased blood supply to the endometrium and improvement in the function of the follicles and ovaries. Acupuncture is now proven to be an effective therapeutic form for improving one’s fertility by balancing out the hormones and improving the function of sperm and ovaries. (9)
Stress is another factor that is often associated with infertility. Even though it was previously believed to be a topic of debate where some experts did not believe it to have any impact on one’s fertility, numerous studies have since proven the contrary. Studies have shown women with fertility problems to be diagnosed with increased levels of anxiety, stress, and depression, proving the association between the two. Hence Stress reduction by means of meditation, mindfulness practices, and yoga is an effective way to create a positive space for oneself and improve the chances of getting pregnant. (10)
Certain lifestyle factors, including diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and the intake of caffeine, may also have a direct impact on the reproductive system, and alterations in these factors can affect one’s fertility. Consuming an unbalanced diet on a daily basis has the potential to alter the bodyweight exponentially, which in turn leads to alterations in ovarian functions. Studies have shown overweight females with a high BMI to be associated with greater chances of adverse outcomes to their pregnancies like miscarriage, preterm labour, and gestation diabetes. This highlights the importance of the correct diet in females of childbearing age and how essential it is that the diet contains the right levels of proteins, vitamins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. (11)
Referring to an Expert
Individuals with fertility problems who are unsure of what they should do and are in need of a consultation can also refer to experienced and qualified Chinese medicine specialists who can provide free consultations via in-person visit, voice call, video call, or text.
- Khizroeva J, Nalli C, Bitsadze V, Lojacono A, Zatti S, Andreoli L, Tincani A, Shoenfeld Y, Makatsariya A. Infertility in women with systemic autoimmune diseases. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2019 Dec;33(6):101369. doi: 10.1016/j.beem.2019.101369. Epub 2019 Dec 2. PMID: 31837981.
- Smith DA, Germolec DR. Introduction to immunology and autoimmunity. Environ Health Perspect. 1999;107 Suppl 5(Suppl 5):661-665. doi:10.1289/ehp.99107s5661
- Jiang C, Wang Z, Yuan S, Jiang Y, Ye Y. Chinese herbal medicine for immune infertility: A protocol for systematic review and meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2021;100(5):e24248. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000024248
- Roy SK, Greenwald GS. An enzymatic method for dissociation of intact follicles from the hamster ovary: histological and quantitative aspects. Biol Reprod. 1985 Feb;32(1):203-15. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod32.1.203. PMID: 2982433.
- Bulmer JN, Morrison L, Longfellow M, Ritson A, Pace D. Granulated lymphocytes in human endometrium: histochemical and immunohistochemical studies. Hum Reprod. 1991 Jul;6(6):791-8. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.humrep.a137430. PMID: 1757516.
- Robson A, Harris LK, Innes BA, Lash GE, Aljunaidy MM, Aplin JD, Baker PN, Robson SC, Bulmer JN. Uterine natural killer cells initiate spiral artery remodeling in human pregnancy. FASEB J. 2012 Dec;26(12):4876-85. doi: 10.1096/fj.12-210310. Epub 2012 Aug 23. PMID: 22919072.
- Giuliani E, Parkin KL, Lessey BA, Young SL, Fazleabas AT. Characterization of uterine NK cells in women with infertility or recurrent pregnancy loss and associated Endometriosis. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2014 Sep;72(3):262-9. doi: 10.1111/aji.12259. Epub 2014 May 8. PMID: 24807109; PMCID: PMC4126872.
- Thiruchelvam U, Wingfield M, O’Farrelly C. Increased uNK Progenitor Cells in Women With Endometriosis and Infertility are Associated With Low Levels of Endometrial Stem Cell Factor. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2016 Apr;75(4):493-502. doi: 10.1111/aji.12486. Epub 2016 Jan 20. PMID: 26791471.
- Zhu J, Arsovska B, Kozovska K. Acupuncture Treatment for Fertility. Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018;6(9):1685-1687. Published 2018 Sep 19. doi:10.3889/oamjms.2018.379
- Rooney KL, Domar AD. The relationship between stress and infertility. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2018;20(1):41-47. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2018.20.1/klrooney
- Silvestris E, Lovero D, Palmirotta R. Nutrition and Female Fertility: An Interdependent Correlation. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2019;10:346. Published 2019 Jun 7. doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00346
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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We can’t guarantee the treatment result, as the symptoms of conditions are unpredictable and vary greatly from person to person. The treatment length and recovery time also varies for individual. Please visit our clinics website: GinSen where a specialists will discuss your care and provide a consultation, and the treatment will be designed to meet your individual needs.