The immuno-infertility link
Of all the factors that can impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant, immunity may not be a topic that first comes to mind. Some research suggests that immunological imbalances might be to blame for difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. A recent study that reviewed previously published papers pointed to the fact that a consistent thread for women with unexplained fertility was a lack of a stable maternal immune tolerance to the fetus. In short, antibodies and other vital substances failed to recognize the embryo or fetus as safe and did not protect the baby from an immune system response.
Does the theory hold for men?
Some men can also experience unexplained fertility. Another study looked into the role of immunity in males and conception success rates. Like women, men have anti-sperm antibodies (ASA) that, when present in high amounts, can cause egg fertilization not to occur. However, the study did find that men who underwent intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where a single sperm is directly injected into an egg, were able to conceive. The caveat is that these embryos may not grow well enough to be transferred to a woman’s uterus. Although additional studies are needed, preliminary research suggests the immune system also influences male fertility.
Can supplementation help?
Although each person is unique, fertility specialists typically do not recommend specific supplements for individuals with unexplained infertility that are thought to be linked to an immunological response. Likewise, not enough research from the scientific community has been conducted to fully vet homeopathic treatments. Some evidence suggests that certain natural options may improve the body’s immune response, ensuring embryos are protected rather than viewed as a threat. Before starting any of the following supplements, speak with a fertility specialist.
Wild asparagus or shatavari is an herb that may help. The plant is native to India and is a frequent option for Ayurvedic healing. The herb is frequently recommended as a fertility supplement for women and has historically been used as an aphrodisiac. Along with promoting a healthy reproductive system in women, shatavari also regulates estrogen and aids in producing luteinizing hormone (LH), which is critical for triggering ovulation. Although limited, research suggests the plant can also support the immune system.
Another natural remedy central to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is dong quai. Formally known as Angelica sinensis, the flowery herb is often prescribed as a blood tonic and is especially beneficial for managing scarring and blockages often associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts. Similar to shatavari, clinical studies focusing on dong quai as a beneficial supplement for infertility are limited. However, preliminary research is promising.
Check with a healthcare provided
Before attempting supplementation to correct immuno-infertility, consider speaking with a fertility specialist. While preliminary evidence is promising for shatavari, dong quai and other homeopathic remedies, not enough studies have been conducted to determine the long-term benefits or risks associated with the herbal treatments.