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Improving Overall Health Can Decrease Your Chance of Miscarriage
A study presented at the 2012 American Heart Association annual meeting found a connection between multiple miscarriages and cardiovascular problems, particularly atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Of the one million Danish women recruited for the study, those who had had one miscarriage were found to have an 11% greater risk of heart attack, 13% increased risk of stroke, and 15% increased risk of renovascular hypertension. Each subsequent miscarriage increased risk of heart attack by 9%, stroke by 13%, and renovascular hypertension by 19%.
However, this is not the first time we are seeing links between miscarriage and other health complications.
In a similar study in 2010, doctors found that women who suffered more than 3 miscarriages were nine times as likely to have a heart attack.
The theory behind this is that overall physical health promotes fertility. If other health conditions are not managed, they can affect fertility.
Kevin Lederer, M.D., a fertility doctor at Fertility Centers of Illinois, believes that taking a look at the bigger picture helps to pinpoint the probable cause of miscarriage. “When a woman presents with multiple miscarriages, the first thing we do is rule out a hormone problem. Thyroid conditions and elevated prolactin levels can cause recurrent miscarriage if untreated. Then we check for anatomic problems with the uterus like fibroids, polyps, or scar tissue. The most serious cause of miscarriage is a translocation, or rearrangement of chromosomes, which is the case for 5% of couples experiencing recurrent loss. Instead of the typical 25% chance of miscarriage with any given pregnancy, their risk is higher at 50-60% chance of loss.”
He continues, “With the American Heart Association study, it is also possible that the miscarriages were caused by an autoimmune problem. Inflammation in the blood vessels is potentially a risk for heart disease. They could also have an autoimmune blood clotting disorder.” Both inflammation of blood vessels and clotting disorders limit blood flow to the placenta and prevent the fetus from growing properly.
There is, however, a fertility condition that puts women at higher risk for heart disease. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that can result in elevated insulin levels. Women with PCOS are prone to later development of diabetes. This hormonal imbalance can create an unstable environment for the embryo to implant and grow, thus women with PCOS are also at greater risk of miscarriage.
For patients looking to improve both their fertility and cardiovascular health, which incidentally go hand in hand, Dr. Lederer advises increasing cardiovascular activity through exercise and making healthy food choices. He says, “Limit your carbs, maintain your BMI, and exercise 30 to 40 minutes 3 days per week”. Particularly for women with PCOS, carbohydrate limitation is important. Loading up on unhealthy carbs that convert to sugar will only fuel the hormone roller coaster and actually increase risk for developing breast cancer. He suggests eating portions no bigger than the palm of your hand. “For lunch, eat 1 to 2 palms of meat and carbohydrates for the entire meal. For dinner, eat 2 to 3 palms. If you are eating salad, you can have more than that.” Don’t forget to include lots of fruits and vegetables. Americans in particular have the misconception that a meal should consist of meat and potatoes, and a vegetable on the side. Over the years, our portions have gotten way out of hand, but we can make small changes to regain control. Instead of overloading on potatoes or pasta, try getting your daily carb intake from produce.
Perhaps the most important tip is to increase daily intake of water. Dr. Lederer recommends ice water because your body must work harder to raise the temperature of the water up to body temperature. As a result, you burn calories.
With the winter weather upon us, He acknowledges that exercise can often be a challenge. “Try walking with a pedometer and walking 10,000 steps per day. This gives you an idea of your activity level. Even housework helps to increase your steps and burn calories”, Lederer says.
If you consume a healthy diet and exercise, your body is well equipped to sustain pregnancy and decreases risk of serious cardiovascular diseases. It is best to avoid highly processed foods and those high in fat, sugar, and sodium. In turn, you will boost your fertility and chances of having a healthy pregnancy.