Obesity’s Surprising Effects On Reproductive Health

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The effects of obesity on our general health are widely known when it comes to discussions about diabetes, cardiovascular issues, hypertension, and joint problems. Less is known about the effects of obesity on women’s reproductive health, which can occur across the entire spectrum of a woman’s life. Some conditions that can be caused by obesity include:

Irregular menstrual cycle

Through menstruation, the lining of the uterus is shed and replaced by a new lining. Obese women are more likely to have irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles that may be very heavy and prolonged. Menstrual cycles are guided by hormones like estrogen, which is produced by the ovaries as well as fat cells around the body. The more fat you have on your body, the higher your estrogen levels. If your fat cells produce too much estrogen this can interrupt the normal cycling of other menstrual hormones.

Infertility

Obesity may prevent women from ovulating on a regular basis, making it difficult or impossible to become pregnant. Irregular ovulation may be caused by an overproduction of insulin, which is also linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects up to one in five women of reproductive age.

Studies show that women with PCOS can benefit from low-carbohydrate diets to lose weight and lower insulin levels. A low glycemic index diet that includes carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can also help.

Pregnancy and delivery complications

Obese women have an increased risk of developing hypertension and gestational diabetes during pregnancy. In some instances, women do not realize they are pregnant because of their irregular periods, thus delaying early prenatal care. Obese women also have a higher incidence of stillborn babies and C-sections due to abnormal labor progression, and are more likely to experience C-section surgical complications.

Cancer

Obesity is a risk factor for endometrial cancer and endometrial hyperplasia, a precancerous condition of the uterus. Studies show that women who are obese are two to four times more likely to develop endometrial cancer than women who are at a healthy body weight. It is estimated that 40% of all endometrial cancer cases in developed countries are related to obesity.

Addressing Obesity

Our calorie dense diets and sedentary lifestyles are leading to higher cases of obesity. To change this, we must become mindful of the foods we are putting into our bodies, understand our calorie requirements, and change our relationship with food.

One way to become a mindful eater is to download one of the many free calorie counting mobile apps, such as MyFitnessPal. Real-time charting of what you eat allows you to make healthier food choices. We must also understand what triggers us to eat beyond what we need for health. Food is often used as a stress reliever. Learning stress management techniques from peer groups or counseling can give us tools to develop a healthier lifestyle.

Finally, it’s important to exercise regularly. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week, which can include a brisk walk or swimming. You should also perform strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

The road from obesity to better health is long and slow, but it’s well worth the trip. If you have questions about your weight and how it is impacting your reproductive health, please call Saint Francis OB/GYN at Metroform at 302.995.7500 to schedule an appointment. Be sure to mention the article in The Women’s Journal.

 

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