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Therapy For Infertile Couples May Help Obese Parents Lose Weight (And Conceive)

If you’ve ever flown in or out of the Salt Lake airport, you know that Utah loves babies.  The state has the highest birthrate in the country, so it’s fitting that the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine was held in Salt Lake City this year. 

One of the studies highlighted at the conference was conducted by researchers at Brigham Young University in cooperation with the University of Utah.  It was a clinical trial investigating the best ways to help obese and infertile couples become pregnant.

“So the therapy in this case was called emotionally-focused couples therapy," said Dr. Richard Paulson, an OB/GYN and a reproductive scientist at Southern California University. 

Although he did not conduct the study, he’s the president-elect of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and helped explain the findings:  

"So in addition to the low-calorie and exercise program, they also had these twice weekly couples-therapy sessions, and the people, the couples that underwent this kind of intense therapy were more successful at losing weight, and also more successful at becoming pregnant.”

Come to find out, the excess body fat carried by obese people can produce higher levels of the enzyme aromatase, which is involved in changing certain androgens, like testosterone, into estrogens.  In women, this can cause irregular ovulation and abnormal hormone levels, which can lead to infertility.  The interesting aspect of this study is that the researchers observed obese couples, and men’s hormone levels were altered by obesity as well.

“The same thing basically happens," said Paulson.  "That fat tissue causes hormones to be metabolized differently, and that can lead to impairment of sperm production, and in addition to that, also sex drive and other things may be impaired in men who are obese.”

Of the 11 obese and infertile couples in this clinical trial, eight became pregnant within 11 months following the program of diet, exercise, and emotionally focused couples therapy.