What are Immunological Fertility Issues?
First, we must understand that the immune system is a complex network in the body. The immune system refers to all parts of the body that work to defend it against harmful enemies. In people with immunological fertility problems their body identifies part of reproductive function as an enemy and sends Natural Killer (NK) cells to attack. A healthy immune response would only identify an enemy correctly and attack only foreign invaders such as a virus, parasite, bacteria, etc. In fact, immunological fertility issues are so complex that there is really no way for us to cover the entire topic, so I will provide basic information in order to help you learn natural options to help reduce negative immunological response, as well as determine whether you fall under risk factors for testing. This article will provide information on immunological recurrent miscarriage and anti-sperm antibodies, the two most prevalent immune-related fertility problems.
Who is in Need of Immunological Fertility Testing?
People with the following indications may want to consider getting testing by a Reproductive Immunologist. A Reproductive Immunologist differs from a Reproductive Endocrinologist, which most couples are referred to when fertility issues are not determined by an OBGYN, or other doctor. Reproductive Immunologists have the training and skills to determine if there is in fact an immunological response gone awry that is causing difficulty in getting pregnant or carrying to full term.
- 2 or more miscarriages after the age of 35
- 2 IVF failures after the age of 35
- 3 miscarriages before the age of 35
- 1 failed IVF before the age of 35
- Poor egg production from a stimulated cycle (6 eggs or less)
- Blighted ovum
- Pre-existing immune problems (Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, MS)
- Unexplained Infertility diagnosis
- Previous pregnancies showing retarded fetal growth
- 1 healthy pregnancy with all subsequent pregnancies ending in miscarriage
- Endometriosis, especially stage 1 & 2
- Cold and flu-like symptoms, sore throat noted regularly after ovulation, IUI, or IVF transfer
- Family history of immune disorders, either side of the family
Immunological Causes of Recurrent Miscarriage
2% of women of reproductive age experience habitual miscarriage.
Problems with Embryo Signaling
Once conception has taken place, the developing embryo must signal the mother’s immune cells to recognize it as “self” rather than a foreign invader. The embryo does this by secreting HLA G antigen to signal the mother’s immune cells to allow it to grow and stay. In this case, HLA G antigen improperly functions and the mother’s immune cells attack the embryo, eventually resulting in miscarriage. This is considered an HLA G gene mutation. There is testing to determine if this is happening.
Problems with the Mother’s Immune Response to the Embryo
This is when the mother’s immune cells do not respond to the healthy signal of HLA G antigen release. Again, the mother’s immune cells attack the embryo. When an embryo is attacked it is not destroyed, but causes inactivation of the DNA in the embryo so that these cells stop dividing and replicating. The embryo fails to grow and dies. There are a series of blood tests that can be performed to determine which immune cells are malfunctioning.
Thrombophilia: Blood Clotting Issue
This happens after the mother’s body recognizes the baby as part of herself and the embryo has implanted. The vessels in the placenta take blood and nutrients to the fetus. In the case of a blood clotting issue-related immunological miscarriage, those vessels clot off, literally starving the embryo of oxygen, blood, and vital nutrients. Blood testing can determine if this is a factor.
In some people semen can cause an immune response in men or women. Antibodies are triggered during the immune response that “attack” sperm. High numbers of sperm antibodies can make it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg, and/or fertilize the egg. Antisperm antibodies may damage sperm that survive, which may increase the chance of miscarriage.
How Does This Happen in Men?
A man’s body may create antisperm antibodies when the sperm come into contact with his immune system’s “killer” cells. These cells are typically a good thing – they protect the body from foreign invaders, in order to keep us healthy. In the case of antisperm antibodies, they identify the semen and the sperm within as the “enemy”. How are antisperm antibodies alerted for attack? When the testicles are injured, after surgery (biopsy, vasectomy), or if the prostate gland has an infection. The testicles protect the sperm from immune cells, when they are damaged they may no longer be able to do that.
Over 70% of all men who get a vasectomy will develop antisperm antibodies. This is something important to consider if there is a chance of vasectomy reversal (vasovasostomy) in the future. Research shows that men who have had a vasectomy reversal are also more likely to experience infertility due to obstructive scar tissue build up. This creates a situation of “double trouble” when trying to conceive. The longer a man waits to get a vasectomy reversal, the longer his sperm will be exposed to antisperm antibody activity which may lower sperm quality.
How Does This Happen in Women?
This is very rare but, in some women their bodies have an allergic reaction to her partner’s sperm. This stimulates the immune system to create antisperm antibodies that attack her partner’s sperm. This may also cause her vaginal tissues to react to the semen, which may result in rash, sores, or painful sexual intercourse. Doctors are not sure why this happens.
Hope for Immune Related Fertility Issues Using Systemic Enzymes
Immunological Recurrent Miscarriage
In the case of recurrent miscarriage due to immunological response, Systemic Enzyme Therapy has proven effective in treating pregnant mothers and their babies. Research has shown that systemic enzymes may effectively help reduce immunological response in a pregnant mother’s body so that she can carry her pregnancy full term. Human trials performed from 1994-1999 have proven systemic enzymes, when used throughout pregnancy stabilizes the mother’s immune system, allowing for a healthy full-term pregnancy with no adverse effects to the mother or child.
Systemic Enzyme Therapy is a relatively inexpensive therapy compared to medications administered by Reproductive Immunologists. Each bottle of Fertilica Choice EnzymeTM lasts for a month when taken at a regular dosage. Average cost for use a year is $480.00 compared to a minimum average of $12,00.00 a year for immune suppression therapy administered by a doctor.
If you are interested in Systemic Enzyme Therapy for immunological-induced recurrent miscarriage, please talk to your doctor. It may be best to begin Systemic Enzyme Therapy while you are trying to conceive, and then continue on through pregnancy as directed by your physician.
Antisperm Antibodies in Both Men and Women
Systemic enzyme blends work to stabilize and promote proper function of the immune system. This may greatly help the person who has developed antisperm antibodies to help suppress an attack on sperm, while also working to prevent long term damage to the health of the sperm.
In the case of vasectomy reversal, Systemic Enzyme Therapy using Fertilica Choice EnzymesTM may help to reduce scar tissue or adhesion damage from both the vasectomy and vasectomy reversal procedures.
In women, use of systemic enzymes in relation to antisperm antibodies may also help to reduce pain and inflammation caused from an allergic reaction to the semen.
Supportive Fertility Herbs for Immunological Fertility Problems
Below are herbs that benefit a healthy immune and stress response within the body, while aiding in proper function of the reproductive system. These here are Adaptogens. Adaptogen is one of the many definitions for the therapeutic action a plant has. This term is well known by herbalists, naturopathic doctors and other alternative medicine practitioners. This term may not be as well known by medical doctors; so don’t be worried if your doctor does not know what adaptogen means. Adaptogens increase resistance to mind-body stress and enhance overall vitality and health through non-specific adrenal (known as stress glands) support. Plants recognized as adaptogens help to normalize the bodies functions even during disease states, are non-toxic, nutritive, and have been deemed safe for long term use. If a plant is an adaptogen it may also have other action classifications such as anti-viral, immunostimulant or tonic. In general, a medicinal herb has many classifications as plants often have many actions.
Shatavari may be very helpful with women who have stress-related or immune-mediated fertility issues. Autoimmune fertility issues may be helped by proper immunological function supported by Shatavari. This plant has been shown to protect the body from stressors, proving very helpful for women with stress induced fertility issues. Shatavari has been shown safe for use by men and women to support healthy fertility.
Dong Quai stimulates a healthy immune response. The root of this plant has been shown to have immunomodulatory effects, which encourage proper immune system function, reduce scar tissue formation, and decrease inflammation.
There has been a correlation between immune response and endometriosis in some women. Some research points to women with endometriosis having a type of autoimmune response that is out of balance. Dong Quai stimulates phagocytosis. The stimulation of phagocyte activity aids in the breakdown of foreign tissue, while also aiding a healthy immune response, in order to help prevent the spread of endometrial tissue formation outside of the uterine lining.
A study using Tribulus terrestris showed a 61% increase in conception in couples with sperm antibodies causing their infertility. Tribulus is safe for both men and women to use. This herbal supplement may decrease the effects of sperm antibodies.
A full immune response to attack a part of the body that is unwanted puts our body in a heightened state of stress. When this happens repeatedly (recurrent miscarriage), or long-term (antisperm antibody), the overall immune function may be lowered. It is important to consider ways to support your overall body’s functions nutritionally. Maca is superior in nutrition compared to most other foods on the planet; this is why it is deemed a superfood. Maca nourishes the endocrine system, aiding both the pituitary, adrenal, and thyroid glands. All of these are involved in maintaining hormonal balance, but also are the first to respond to stressors. Supporting the endocrine system helps to maintain proper immunity and stress response as well.
A healthy, well-nourished body is more likely to respond better to trauma, surgery, daily stress, environmental toxin overload, etc. We must support our bodies not only nutritionally, but with daily exercise as well. If we do not, our bodies will not be able to heal as quickly. Doctors are not 100% sure why immune-related fertility issues happen, but they do know that there are not that many effective options in treating them. Let us first consider natural options in supporting proper function of the body, so that if our bodies face problems in functioning as they should, the rest of the body is ready to handle the stress.
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