The Relationship Between The Immune System And Fertility

The Relationship Between The Immune System And Fertility

We have seen women being advised on having children at least in their early 30’s. Though we see women get pregnant in their late 30’s and even 40’s, our biological clock starts ticking by the time we hit the mark 30. Infertility is something that many couples go through when they decide to have children of their own.

About 8-12% of couples experience fertility problems worldwide (1). Of which, 45-50% of cases are known to stem from male fertility problems. So, it’s safe to say that the reason for infertility is evenly distributed between men and women. Infertility is defined when a couple cannot conceive after having unprotected regular intercourse for over a year.

A man can become infertile due to low sperm count, low sperm mobility or because of abnormal sperms. It can be due to genetic or hormonal factors or some other medical condition. Female infertility can be due to several causes ranging from lifestyle choices to eating disorders, mental stress or some medical condition.

Timing Your Intercourse

Timing Your Intercourse

If you’re a couple who is trying to conceive, you might have timed your intercourse in such a way that it falls on the optimal ovulation window.

But according to new research, having intercourse at any point of time during a month (not just when you’re ovulating) sparks certain changes in the immune system of a woman that increases their chances of getting pregnant. This conclusion was based on two studies – Fertility and Sterility and Physiology and Behavior – journals that were guided by the researcher from Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, Tierney Lorenz (2).

Lorenz says that couples who are trying to get pregnant are generally recommended to have frequent intercourse to increase their chances of conceiving. And this includes the non-ovulating period as well. But the reason behind this was never really understood. Data from the Immunity and Sexual Health Study was used to further understand this topic.

Woman’s Body: A Tricky Conundrum

Woman's Body

The team explains in one of the papers how the helper T cells showed greater changes in women who are sexually active. Helper T cells are cells that manage the immune response by activating cells to demolish the invading microbes that enter the body (3).

In another paper, the team collected evidence which shows the difference in the level of antibodies in two different groups of women. Immunoglobulins are the antibodies which play a vital role in demolishing foreign invaders that enter the body.

A woman’s body protects itself by destroying foreign invaders. If the same defense mechanism is applied against sperm or a fetus, then women won’t be able to get pregnant. The change in immunity shows that it may be a response to this issue.

The research says that there are many types of helper T cells and antibodies. The type 1 helper T cells help in defending the body against foreign threats. And there are type 2 helper T cells that assist the human body in accepting pregnancy changes that would be otherwise interpreted as a threat. And this includes sperm and embryo.

The result from the research shows that sexually active women who weren’t pregnant had greater levels of type 2 helper T cells during the time of their menstrual cycle when the lining of the uterus thickens anticipating pregnancy. The type 1 helper T cells were higher in the same group of women when the follicles of the ovary were maturing, i.e. the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.

These sexually active women had similar changes in the levels of immunoglobins as well. Whereas in the group consisting of sexually abstinent females, there were no changes in the immune system.

Lorenz states that this is the first study which shows that the immune system of sexually active women prepares in advance to the mere chances of conception.

Hopefully, this study would be able to open up new corridors in the field of fertility treatment. It could also help in treating patients with autoimmune disorders. Have you had any luck in conceiving because of regular intercourse? What is your take on this new research? Feel free to share your views in the comment section below.

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