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Study Finds High Cholesterol - Infertility Link

Katlyn Joy |31, May 2014


A new study published in the The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism on May 20, 2014 found a connection between a couple's cholesterol levels and their ability to get pregnant.

The researchers from the National Institutes of Health, Emory University and the University of Buffalo, looked at 501 couples living in Michigan or Texas to discover the link between cholesterol and infertility. The couples were studied from 2005 to 2009, and included couples trying to conceive without fertility treatment. The women were between the ages of 18 and 44, while the men were over 18.

Researchers studied blood samples from the couples and tested them for cholesterol levels including HDL, LDL and triglycerides. For the study, the fecundability odds ratio, was determined for each couple. This is a mathematical formula to figure the likelihood of pregnancy occurring and the length of time it would likely take.

Enrique Schisterman, chief of the epidemiology branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was lead researcher of the study and stated, "Cholesterol is critical to the production of hormones such as estrogen in women and testosterone in men, as well as sperm. Too much or too little cholesterol can interfere with that process. We need optimal amounts. An excess sometimes creates an imbalance of too much hormones, or too little hormones. You have to have a sweet spot."

What researchers found was that women who didn't conceive during the course of the study tended to have the highest free cholesterol levels. Generally, if a woman had high free cholesterol levels, fertility was a problem, even if the man had average levels.

However, Schisterman noted that doesn't mean men are off the hook. "Both partners who want to have children should focus on living healthy lifestyles and keeping cholesterol levels down."

That doesn't mean routinely taking cholesterol medications such as Lipitor is the consensus following the study. Researchers didn't look at interventions. In fact, this is the first study to look at the connection between cholesterol and fertility. Schisterman speculates one major reason is that it is difficult to find a population large enough for a study meeting the criteria of trying to conceive with the ability to follow them long-term.

"From our data, it would appear that high cholesterol levels not only increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, but also reduce couples' chances of pregnancy," said Schisterman.

This held true even when controlling for other factors known to affect fertility, such as a high body mass index. One unexpected finding was that high free cholesterol levels were highest among Hispanic men.

Free cholesterol levels look at the balance between good cholesterol (HDL) and the bad cholesterol (LDL). Measurements that patients generally are given for cholesterol levels were not the ones used for this study, however. The blood samples were measured using a different metric for the cholesterol.

Researchers of this study also pointed out that their research added to the evidence for such findings, following studies that discovered that cholesterol levels impacted sperm quality, and increased the risk for disorders that cause fertility problems, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state there are 1.5 million married women in the US who are infertile, which is approximately 6 percent. The researchers warned that as obesity levels continue to rise in the US, the infertility rate will likewise increase.

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