Making Sense of Immunological Infertility

When a couple is having trouble getting pregnant, it can be endlessly frustrating trying to decipher the cause. This frustration mounts once blood panels and tests come back “normal” and health professionals are unable to give a clear answer as to why the couple isn’t able to conceive. Recently, a new contributor to infertility id being identified more and more, providing many couples a possible long-awaited explanation: immunological infertility.

In the case of autoimmune disorders, the body's immune system “overreacts” and attacks normal, healthy tissue. Immunological infertility is similar: it refers to the disorder of a body attacking reproductive tissues. For reasons still not fully understood, the immune system perceives one or more elements of the reproductive system as harmful, attacking tissues and compromising the chance of a healthy pregnancy. The response may be targeted at sperm, eggs, uterine wall, or fetal cells. Likely causes are epigenetic, related to environmental causes, exposure to plastics, poor food quality, stress, pesticides, toxic cleaning agents, etc.

There are two main types of immunological infertility. The first, known as autoimmune infertility, occurs when the immune system attacks cells of its own body. In this case, a male’s immune system may attack his own sperm cells or a woman’s immune system may attack her partner’s sperm or the cells of her own uterine lining. Regardless of the specific tissues being damaged, the individual’s body is attacking itself.

In the case of alloimmune infertility, one partner’s immune system perceives the other partner’s cells as harmful and responds by attacking them. Because the male’s DNA enter the woman (in the form of sperm), it is the female immune system reacting to male cells. They may attack sperm cells or fetal cells (because fetal cells are a combination of both male and female tissues).

Both categories of immunological infertility may result in difficulty conceiving, recurrent miscarriage, or failure to carry a pregnancy to term. Now that immunological causes are  being recognized, tested for, and studied, research has shown that as much as 40% of unexplained infertility and 80% of unexplained miscarriages may be caused by immunological infertility.

Autoimmune diseases are still incredibly mysterious to researchers and health practitioners. However, even without knowing the exact cause of an autoimmune response, there are several holistic treatments that can alleviate symptoms. In the case of immunological infertility, this means guiding bodies back to balance to increase the chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Our immune system is the result of a coordinated effort between numerous different cells in the body. Healthy functioning depends on all of the necessary cells being present in the proper ratios in order for the whole system to work together. When one or more types of cells are no longer balanced, the entire system is compromised.

A major contributor to this balance is a healthy endocrine system, the powerhouse that produces and regulates our hormones. If our endocrine system is unbalanced, it can result in a slew of health issues, distressing everything from metabolism to—you guessed it—fertility. For anyone hoping to get pregnant, it is essential both the endocrine system and immune system are as balanced as possible.

Fortunately, holistic healthcare practices like Denver Holistic Medicine work to bring entire body systems into alignment. Because immunological infertility can be caused by the immune system of a man, a woman, or a combination of both, it is essential that both partners undergo evaluation and testing. Dr. Sturm does an extensive health history and performs a thorough medical intake (which might include running blood or saliva panels) to get a clear picture of her patients’ health.

Treatment is entirely dependent on the patient, but is intended to modulate the immune system, bringing the body and hormones into equilibrium. From a holistic perspective, this many include consultation on diet and lifestyle, prescription of supplements and herbs, fertility acupuncture, Bio-Identical Hormone Replacement Therapy, and other treatments that fall into either the Western or traditional medicine categories.

If immunological infertility is found to be caused by the woman—either because she has autoimmune infertility and attacks her own cells or because she has alloimmune infertility and attacks the cells of the father—treatment is necessary before as well as during the pregnancy. Treatment prior to pregnancy is intended to facilitate conception, and treatment during pregnancy is intended to decrease the chance of misscariage and increase the chances of carrying a healthy baby to term.

If you and your partner are having trouble conceiving, contact Denver Holistic Medicine. We’re eager to get you on the path to wellness, and hopefully on the path to parenthood.

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