A couple is considered infertile if they fail to get pregnant within one year of having frequent, unprotected sex. According to WHO estimates, one in every six people of reproductive age worldwide experiences infertility in their lifetime.

Researchers have identified several risk factors such as age, diabetes, stress, alcohol abuse, and eating disorders that could increase the chances of infertility in men and women.

It is estimated that around one in 10 women between the ages of 15 and 44 have difficulties in conceiving. In addition to the common risk factors, female infertility can be caused due to abnormal menstruation, issues with the fallopian tube, polycystic ovary syndrome, and certain diseases like thyroid, celiac disease, and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Male infertility can be caused due to health issues like low sperm count, injury to testicles, enlarged veins in the scrotum, undescended testicles, and testicular cancer.

In the United States, 10% to 15% of couples have infertility. Couples who face difficulty in conceiving are often advised to opt for a healthier lifestyle in addition to getting treatments for their fertility issues.

A new study, published in BMC Medicine, gives more evidence of how an active lifestyle, which includes achieving a healthy weight and quitting smoke, could improve chances of fertility.

The study evaluated the impact of several lifestyle behaviors such as the use of caffeine and alcohol, smoking, and body mass index (BMI) on fertility. The researchers also used data from a pregnancy cohort, the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort Study.

The factors such as infertility therapy usage, miscarriage, and the time for conception were used to assess fertility, and the reproductive outcomes were measured based on the age at first delivery and the number of children.

The researchers found that people with elevated BMI values were at an increased risk of developing fertility issues as they needed infertility therapy, had chances of miscarriage, and had increased time to conception.

The findings also suggested that the participants who were smokers also had increased time to conception.

"For accurate fertility guidance, it is extremely important to establish causality. Our results can contribute to the evidence base upon which these decisions are made. Associations between higher BMI and smoking on increased time to conception were replicated using MR( Mendelian randomization), aligning with previous conclusions that the evidence is most robust for these traits," the researchers wrote.

Although infertility in most cases cannot be prevented, here are some strategies that can help couples improve their chances of getting pregnant:

  • Quit smoking- Researchers have found that tobacco affects ovulation and can cause irregularities in the menstrual cycle. Smoking can also be harmful to the health of a fetus.
  • Avoid too much alcohol - Binge drinking negatively impacts the reproductive health of women, as it can increase the likelihood of irregular ovulation. Long-term heavy drinking can reduce testosterone and sperm production in men.
  • Exercise moderately- Regular moderate exercise can help women maintain a regular menstrual cycle and improve sperm quality in men.
  • Maintain a healthy weight- Obese and underweight women can have issues with the menstrual cycle and ovulation. A body mass index (BMI) of 20–24 is considered ideal for women to get pregnant. A higher BMI in men can increase the risk of reducing sperm count.
  • Stick to a healthy diet- A wholesome diet with fresh fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fat can improve ovulatory infertility in women. Including fruits, green leafy vegetables, and legumes can help men improve sperm count in men.
Age is the most important factor that affects fertility and the chance of having a healthy child. Photo courtesy of Pixabay