Diabetes: Why it matters for my reproductive health

Key takeaways:

  • Approximately 1 in 10 Americans, or 37 million people, have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and this diagnosis is becoming more common in our culture. 
  • Diabetes not only can lead to downstream health problems, but when it comes to successful pregnancy, it can impact the hormones that are involved in healthy egg, sperm, and embryo development. 
  • Lifestyle factors play a big role in helping to control blood sugar levels which is important to preventing and managing diabetes 

Give me the basics on Diabetes 

Diabetes is a well-known disease that healthcare providers have been treating for decades. Essentially, diabetes is diagnosed when a patient is unable to control sugar levels in the blood. When you eat a meal, that meal is broken down into proteins, fats, and sugar. The protein and the fat go to their respective places in the body for use. The sugar is also shuttled to where it needs to be, and this is done as the body releases a hormone called insulin.

There are 2 kinds of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.  

Type 1 diabetes: The body loses the ability to make insulin, usually because the cells that produce the insulin are destroyed by a faulty immune system, infection, or other reasons. Genetics and family history also plays a role in developing type 1 diabetes. 

Type 2 diabetes: The body becomes insensitive to the insulin itself. So basically, your body is making insulin still but it’s not responding to it appropriately. Because of this, the body is unable to produce enough to really regulate the sugar levels in your system.

If you have a diagnosis of diabetes, it’s important that you are regularly checking in with your provider(s) to make sure that your diabetes is well managed prior to building your family

I don’t have diabetes, but am I at risk for it?

Nowadays there is no shortage of high calorie foods available in the US and around much of the world, which is causing us problems when it comes to our health. Basically too much high calorie food causes excess storage of sugar in the form of fat, resulting in weight gain and downstream medical problems. It also causes our bodies to become resistant to producing insulin, so that our blood sugar levels are not regulated in a healthy way. Not to mention, if the body is creating more fatty tissue from these high calorie foods, that added fat tissue secretes more hormones that can actually make you more insulin resistant in the first place, adding fuel to the fire! Indeed, insulin resistance, if left untreated, eventually leads to enough resistance to overwhelm the body’s ability to make enough insulin, which results in Type 2 diabetes.  

So while you may not have a diagnosis of diabetes, lifestyle factors such as the types of food you eat and how you use energy (e.g. exercise) impact how your body regulates blood sugar and your risk for developing diabetes down the road. 

How do diabetes or insulin resistance tie into my fertility?

When it comes to fertility, it’s important to understand that the ovary and the uterus both have insulin receptors on them as well. This matters because if there is any extra insulin circulating in the blood because the body can’t control the blood sugar levels, this insulin can bind to these receptors and alter the ovarian and uterine function in adverse ways. To put it simply, too much circulating insulin can trick eggs into thinking they have already been released from the ovary before they are even ready, and therefore they die off too soon. In the uterus, it can alter estrogen and progesterone levels which are key hormones that help an embryo (a fertilized egg) implant into the uterus at the right time, which is how successful pregnancy starts. So how your body controls sugar levels really can impact your chance of successful pregnancy

Furthermore, research has shown that diabetes can lead to irregular cycles, delayed onset of getting your period, and early menopause. All of these are factors that can impact someone’s ability to get pregnant, so having a good regimen to manage your diabetes is important as you plan ahead. 

Because sperm cells are impacted by how the body breaks down sugar, diabetes and unmanaged blood sugar control can have a negative impact on male fertility. Specifically, research has shown that diabetes can impact sperm motility and can damage the makeup of sperm DNA. With a decline in sperm motility, there is a smaller chance that the sperm will fertilize an egg which is a key first step to achieving pregnancy. When sperm DNA is negatively impacted by diabetes and poor blood sugar control, this can impact the quality of embryos and the chances of successful implantation of an embryo into the uterus, which is important for successful pregnancy. 

How could I shift my lifestyle to better control my diabetes or avoid diabetes altogether? 

When it comes to lifestyle, diet and exercise are key components that can help a great deal with blood sugar control. When considering your exercise regimen, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends moderate exercise of at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. 

With regards to what you’re eating, there has been a great deal of research pointing to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet since it is low in processed foods, refined sugars, and trans-fatty acids such as fried foods. Maintaining a diet such as the Mediterranean diet which is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, omega-3 fatty acids such as seafood, and plant based proteins is important when it comes to blood sugar control in the body and overall reproductive health. 

How can Frame help me when it comes to my diabetes? 

At Frame, we focus on helping you to proactively uncover and address those risk factors that may make it more challenging to build your family when the time comes. Because diabetes is known to impact fertility, we are here to help you take the right steps to manage your diabetes, while also preparing you to further discuss this with your provider(s). Our Frame Coaches can help you better understand dietary practices, exercise regimens, and other lifestyle factors that can improve your overall health. This also goes for individuals and couples who may not have a diagnosis of diabetes but are at risk for developing this down the road! We are here to empower each person with knowledge and tools so that you are your healthiest self now and when the time comes for you to build your family, whatever that may look like. 

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