Is Reproductive Health an Indicator of Overall Health?

It’s pretty well known that overall health complications, such as infection or chronic illness, can have a negative impact on your fertility. But does it work the other way around?

Can problems with your fertility cause your body to have long-term health issues?

In both men and women, data has revealed an association between infertility and cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are four biological explanations for this association currently being considered: genetic factors, hormonal factors, in utero factors, and lifestyle factors. While studies on this subject are still being conducted, these categories are key to understanding how fertility status may affect overall health.

New studies have shown that Copy Number Variations, phenomena in which sections of the genome are repeated and the number of repeats in the genome varies between individuals in the human population, are higher in infertile men compared to fertile-controlled men. In terms of lifestyle factors, the prevalence of obesity in men and women of reproductive age has also risen; metabolic status and energy balance is important in normal fertility,  and those who suffer from anorexia, obesity, or excessive exercise, have an increase prevalence of infertility.

Outside of the United States, early pregnancy and childbearing negatively affect the overall health of young women and their children. In poor countries, adolescent mothers are twice as likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth related causes as older mothers. Moreover, children of young mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and at low birth weights, as well as more likely to be stillborn or die within the first four weeks of birth

The danger with this topic is that there simply isn’t enough information available: reproductive medicine physicians only treat patients for a short period of time before they transition to others (such as an OB/GYN) for future care. Therefore, it has been difficult to collect long-term data and statistics about the correlations between fertility issues early in life and other health issues later in life.

Going forward, it is important for patients to understand the need for consistent care after the fertility process. Detecting health conditions early can prevent birth defects in children, as well as decrease rates of infertility of those with health complications, especially STIs.

As usual, men and women who regularly see a doctor are more likely to have health conditions diagnosed and detected early. Doing this will most likely result in lower levels of infertility, and a healthier population overall.

 

References

Cedars, Marcelle I. “The Sixth Vital Sign: What Reproduction Tells Us about Overall Health.” Human Reproduction Open, vol. 2017, no. 2, 12 July 2017, pp. 1–8.

“Reproductive and Sexual Health.” Reproductive and Sexual Health | Healthy People 2020, 14 Aug. 2019.

Greene, Margaret. “Issue 16: Poor Health, Poor Women: How Reproductive Health Affects Poverty.” Environmental Change & Security Program, Wilson Center, 2 Feb. 2012.