Planning to Conceive? Research Links Cholesterol with Infertility

Couples trying to conceive should be aware that a common health condition–one you may be completely unaware of having–could negatively affect your fertility. Researchers at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) found that couples in which either partner had high cholesterol took longer to conceive than couples where both partners had normal cholesterol levels.

How Common Is High Cholesterol in the US?

Over the past decade, public awareness of cholesterol risks has gotten better. The focus on preventative care has led to more people becoming aware of their cholesterol levels and working to decrease them. Still, the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)  states that close to 70 million people in the US have high LDL cholesterol. Perhaps because the problem has no symptoms in early stages, two-thirds of those affected have not taken steps to control the condition–or have been unsuccessful in lowering their LDL. That adds up to a lot of people with hardened or partially blocked arteries. These circulatory problems leave individuals at risk for stroke and heart disease — with impaired fertility now added to the list of high cholesterol health threats.

How the LIFE Study was Conducted

Researchers studied 401 Texas and Michigan couples hoping to become parents, as part of a project called LIFE (Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment). This study looked specifically at “Lipid Concentrations and Couple Fecundity.” Individuals ranged in age from 18 to 40 and used no birth control during the 1-year study period. Each person’s cholesterol level was measured at the beginning of their participation. Couples were tracked daily until conception—and tracking continued monthly throughout the pregnancy for those who conceived. The result? Nearly 90 percent of the women became pregnant and 13 percent did not.

First to become pregnant in the study group were the couples where both partners had normal cholesterol levels. Couples where the man only had high cholesterol took longer. (The LIFE study suggested that high cholesterol might affect the amount and quality of sperm produced.) Couples where the woman had high cholesterol and the man did not, took even longer. Couples where both partners had high cholesterol took the longest to conceive. 

Planning to Conceive? Check and Control Your Blood Cholesterol Levels

Fortunately, high cholesterol is a condition you have some control over. Although there may be genetic factors that predispose an individual to higher blood lipid levels, many other causes are related to lifestyle choices. Unhealthy habits that contribute to the problem of high blood cholesterol are controllable. Don’t delay a potential pregnancy, and let your health suffer, due to consistently high cholesterol. If you’re planning to start a family, concentrate on the basics for overall health: maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, and eating fresh, healthful foods.

Whether you’re a man or woman, make sure to get your blood cholesterol checked at your annual physical exam or as often as your doctor advises. Prospective mothers and fathers should get specific direction for controlling cholesterol levels from your doctor. If you’re having trouble conceiving, both partners should check with their physician or fertility specialist – and make sure he or she knows if you’re dealing with high cholesterol.


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