MTHFR and Fertility: A Link To PCOS
PCOS–long name Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, affects around 10 percent of the female population between the ages of 15 and 44…the childbearing years. A hormonal condition that can affect menstruation, appearance (skin health, hair patterns resembling those of males), and probably most well known, fertility. PCOS is typically diagnosed when women are trying to get pregnant and have difficulty. But, it can show up any time after puberty.
In younger women, PCOS can show up as irregular periods (spaced out or unusually long periods), excess facial or body hair, severe acne, or sometimes even hair loss that resembles male pattern baldness.
PCOS pretty much hits females in all the places it really hurts.
So, who gets PCOS?
It doesn’t seem to discriminate much. There is equal risk of PCOS across races and ethnicities; however, the risk may be elevated if you are markedly overweight or if you have a mother, sister, or aunt with the condition.
Okay, so if we don’t know much about who’s at higher risk for it, do we at least know what causes it?
Not exactly. What doctors do know is this:
- women with PCOS have higher levels of the so called “male” hormone – androgen, which seems to explain the hair issues
- excess insulin might be responsible for the increase androgen production, causing difficulty with ovulation
- research has shown that women with PCOS have a type of low-grade inflammation (white blood cells’ production of substances to fight infection) that stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which can lead to heart and blood vessel problems
And this all affects fertility how?
If you have PCOS, the hormonal imbalance interferes with your eggs. The eggs naturally grow in structures called “follicles,” which are found in your ovaries. When the egg matures, the follicle cracks open to release the egg from the ovary making it available to be fertilized; it’s the process referred to as “ovulation.” If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant. It’s tough, but it’s really common. In fact, among female infertility causes, lack of ovulation is to blame 40 percent of the time.
This graph from Shady Grove Fertility explains the PCOS numbers a bit more. Among the 40% of ovulatory disorders that cause infertility, 85% of them are diagnosed as PCOS.