What are some natural and medical ways one with autoimmune disease could try to improve chances of getting pregnant?
Many interventions, both natural and medically conventional, have been attempted to correct this problem of infertility, some with fairly decent success. These efforts are often individualized, and what works for one couple may not work for others. This may depend largely on the underlying pathology leading to fertility issues, which when elucidated, will likely provide better therapies. Still, whether a natural, medical or combination route is chosen, there is a decent chance that those experiencing infertility problems will be helped by one or more of the methods below.
It should be noted that some of the information presented below is of a speculative and rather unscientific nature, and should be investigated more fully before deciding to proceed. Not all of this information can be or has been verified by the author, and should be interpreted accordingly.
Your doctor will likely recommend one of several therapeutic measures to try to increase your level of fertility, or that of your partner. Many of the same things that fertility specialists use on non-autoimmune disease patients may also be attempted on those with one or more autoimmune disease, given suitable disease parameters.
Such interventions for autoimmune patients include assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), such as ovarian stimulation, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer. However, such maneuvers may carry their own risks later in pregnancy.
In addition, as with other women, hormonal manipulations (HRT with estrogen, progesterone, FSH, etc.) may be used to promote ovarian induction, essentially attempting to “jump-start” the ovulatory mechanism.
Unfortunately, this may produce flares in lupus patients, and thus must be carefully considered and monitored. A thorough investigation of infertility causes may reveal that the male is experiencing problems, which may necessitate its own therapeutic efforts. There are also efforts underway to explore more advanced and complicated methods of combating both male and female infertility.
Naturally, several methods have been attempted, with varying levels of success, in an effort to correct fertility problems. For males struggling with suspected autoimmune infertility because of antibodies to sperm, zinc sulfate supplementation may be an option, which helps minimize the side effects that would otherwise be present under traditional steroid treatments.
Several practitioners and clinics advocate a wide variety of supplements as potentially beneficial to women who are having trouble conceiving, including green tea extract, fish oils and vitamin B12, among many others. While there is definitely some science behind such advice, there is unfortunately also a lack of conclusive evidence backing such claims. Acupuncture has also been suggested for those with fertility issues, and may be tried on women with or without autoimmune conditions. This is a largely safe way to experiment with alternative therapies that may indeed help couples to conceive, though there is little conventional science behind it.
Some have also suggested treatment with IVIG (intravenous immune globulin), which introduces external antibodies that may bind temporarily the internal autoantibodies that may be contributing to infertility. This method falls somewhere between conventional and naturopathic, and while it may work, there is little hard evidence corroborating these claims.
Proponents of both allopathic and naturopathic modes of therapy generally agree that the body’s immune responses must be toned down during attempts at getting pregnant, as it is suspected that one’s own antibodies may be the cause of the problem, via attack on reproductive tissues and organs. The methods used to accomplish this end sometimes differ, but the goal is generally the same: to limit the autoantibodies ability to attack one’s own tissue and jeopardize reproductive function.
Traditionally, one of the major ways this is accomplished is through the use of anti-inflammatory agents, such as NSAIDs, steroids and cyclophosphamide. While these medications are potent regulators of the immune response, they also hold the potential for causing their own fertility and pregnancy problems when given at high doses. With natural methods, the goal is the same, though those used to achieve anti-immune effects are found in the form of vitamins, supplements and herbs, rather than pharmaceuticals.
Finally, practitioners from all sides generally agree that stress reduction – which only becomes more important in the context of autoimmune disorders – can be a critical component in giving your body the best chance to getting pregnant and delivering a healthy baby.
Questions for your doctor
- How can I prepare my body for trying to get pregnant?
- For how long should my symptoms be under control or in remission before trying to conceive?
- How will my autoimmune disease(s) impact the pregnancy itself?
- Will I still see the specialist doctors for my autoimmune diseases during my pregnancy, or will I just see my ObGyn?
About the Author
Dr. Rothbard is a professional medical writer and consultant based in New York City, specializing in medical education articles targeted at a variety of audiences, from children through clinicians. After leaving medicine, he worked as a biology and medical science educator for several years, before deciding to pursue writing full-time. He may be reached at [email protected].