|OVERWEIGHT | Carrying too much weight is not just
unhealthy - it can cause infertility|
Like many women, Tracy Fell would
like to shed a few pounds. But unlike most women, it’s not just a
question of vanity, it’s a question of fertility.
Tracy has been diagnosed as having polycystic ovary syndrome,
or PCOS, a condition strongly linked to carrying excess weight.
Too much fat in the abdominal cavity can lead to insulin
resistance, which causes a whole set of problems, most obviously diabetes
in later life. But it can also cause women to become infertile.
Tracy's weight probably prevented her from becoming naturally
pregnant when she and her husband were trying for their second child.
mask monitors breathing and can calculate the amount of calories used
Loosing weight can be difficult enough, but the genetics
are also stacked against her. Tracy's mum and other family members are
also overweight, but there is hope in sight.
At Derriford Hospital patients are given advice on how
to manage their weight. Thankfully, PCOS is treatable - and reversible.
Terry Wilkins and his team have been investigating this
problem as part of the Earlybird research project into diabetes.
As part of the study, they measured the waists of women
who already had children - and those of women who were infertile. They
found waist measurement was crucial.
|Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome|
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a health condition
linked with hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance
Symptoms can range from:
irregular or non-existent periods
excess body and facial hair
increased tendency to faint
Between 5% and 7% of women are thought to have
The disease was first recognised in 1935
"All the mothers had a waist measurement below 110cms,
whereas 10 per cent of the women attending a fertility clinic had a waist
that was more than 110cms," says Terry.
"In a way it tells us what we already know - that
weight is linked to infertility - but now we can put a value on that and
say that above 110cms, you are very unlikely to conceive."
Of course not every overweight woman is infertile.
"Genetics has got a part to play in this," continues Terry.
"If you inherit and apple shape you are more likely to have this problem
as well as all the others for example, heart disease."
But of course the other big factor is lifestyle.
"Nutritionalists tell us that the real change of the
past 25 years has not been in the amount of food we eat but with the amount
of exercise we take," explains Terry. "We need to go back to
having a more healthy lifestyle."
The problem starts in childhood, video games, lack of
PE at school and bad diets. That's why Terry and his team are studying
300 so far healthy children, to try and see how early the seeds of obesity
and diabetes are sown.
|The problem is
not how heavy an individual is, it is where the weight is carried|
For parents, filling in the study's questionnaire, it
can be a shock. "I never realised how much my daughter ate and how little
exercise she did till I joined this study," reveals one parent. "You almost
feel tempted to lie because it’s so awful."
Childhood weight gain
"We believe the seeds are sown in childhood," says Terry.
"Its society's problem. The government has got to do something about this
because the problem is getting worse and its going to cost the NHS a fortune."
But some patients find it difficult to lose weight and
have to be helped by drugs which control their diabetes and start them
Treatment from a fertility clinic to control Tracy's insulin
resistance allowed her to fall pregnant with her second child, Rowan.
But this does nothing to cure the underlying problem.
and his team are studying the eating habits and activity of 300 children|
"There are medications which can reduce insulin resistance
chemically without a reduction in weight. Now that's not a good thing
because being pregnant and overweight is a danger to the pregnancy itself,"
"But a large proportion of these women find that
they are just not able to lose the weight despite the one thing they want
more than anything in life is a pregnancy and a child," continues Terry.
"The prediction has to be that the problem can only
get worse if women in increasing numbers get fatter. That means longer
queues at the fertility clinic and the fertility clinics won't be able
to handle it."
"I've tried diet after diet after diet," says Tracy.
"I've tried the book-based diet, Slimfast, WeightWatchers, Slimming World.
I've done everything its possible to do - but even though it may have
caused my problems with conceiving, the one thing it boils down to is
lack of willpower."