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Apples, Pears and Fertility – How Shape Impacts Our Ability to Conceive

by Beth Heller, MS RYT

Increasing evidence suggests that the way in which fat is distributed on a woman’s body may impact fertility.  While body fat is essential for reproduction  (a range of about 17-22% body fat is necessary for menstruation) too much body fat impairs a woman’s ability to conceive.

Body shape also predicts fertility.  Pregnancy rates, in both natural and assisted reproduction, go down with fat accumulation around the waist and trunk independent of overall body weight (1).  As opposed to the tush and thigh fat associated with the pear pattern, apple fat is more metabolically active.  It produces cytokines, chemicals that promote insulin resistance and low-level chronic inflammation.  These factors may lead to other disturbances in reproductive function.  The apple shape is also characteristic of women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a condition associated with infertility.

Click here to access your waist/hip ratio  and determine your relative health risk.

If your waist-to-hip ratio is in the less healthy range, don’t despair.  There are effective steps you can take to change your body fat profile.

  • Exercise:  All forms of exercise, but particularly resistance training, has been shown to help decrease abdominal fat.  Strength training increases lean muscle mass throughout the body and this increased lean tissue boosts metabolism in a lasting way.  Spot training (hundreds of ab crunches) has not been shown to be effective.
  • Weight loss is helpful for decreasing abdominal adiposity but this loss is greater when exercise is added.
  • Relaxation training:  Stress has been shown to promote the accumulation of abdominal fat.  Yoga, meditation and breathing practices can help to lower the circulating stress hormones that promote the formation of abdominal fat deposits.  Massage can also help you learn to relax.

Making lasting changes is more effective with support and expert advice.  Our nutrition and other holistic programs including massage, fertility yoga and acupuncture can help you meet your goals and are available in person and by phone.  Call 312-321-0004 (Chicago) or 301-610-7755 (DC Metro) for more information!

1.  Kuchenbecker et al.  The Subcutaneous Abdominal Fat and Not the Intraabdominal Fat Compartment Is Associated with Anovulation in Women with Obesity and Infertility.   J Clin Endocrinol Metab , May 2010, 95(5):2107-2112