Your immune system is an incredibly complex army that protects us from everyday onslaughts of bacteria, viruses and general dirt and grime all day long. However, we know that sometimes it can get a bit out of control. With so many different soldiers, some with their own agenda, there can be revolutions and in-fighting. This can cause chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions in some people.
What has this got to do with your fertility?
The immune system should recognise anything non-self as ‘not safe’. Technically it doesn’t know what a bacteria or a virus is, but it knows it’s not good news. An implanting embryo in the uterus is also non-self. It is only 50% maternal DNA, the remainder comes from the father or paternal DNA. It’s a brand new combination of both parents so it is not ‘self’ where our immune system is concerned. As with many amazing things the body can do, we have adapted to this.
The uterine-foetal environment is able to supress the local immune system so that we tolerate the developing embryo and allow it to peacefully co-exist for nine months. What actually happens is we tip the balance over to one side of our immune system – which in simple terms is the side of the house that usually looks after allergies. This is called our Th2 side- and is one of the reasons why certain allergies such as hay fever often only show up for the first time in pregnancy. The attacking arm of our immune system – the Th1 side – should stand down and sit tight. Again, this is a reason why some people experience a remission of their symptoms of autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis in pregnancy.
But what if things go wrong? We know from other immune-related conditions, that the army doesn’t always do as it’s told and within the uterine environment is no different. An army geared for attack can prevent healthy conception and implantation or increase your risk for early miscarriage.
Could this be a cause of ‘unexplained infertility’?
Have have been struggling to conceive or having recurrent miscarriage with no known cause? It might be time to take a look at your immune system. Approximately 30% of couples have difficulty conceiving. These couples end up with a diagnosis of ‘unexplained infertility’ after the usual rounds of tests and examinations. We would prefer to call this ‘undiagnosed’. If you haven’t looked at your immune system as a potential culprit here, then the ‘unexplained’ may just yet to be uncovered.
How would I know if this affects me?
There might be some clues, like a personal or family history of chronic inflammatory conditions or autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease or coeliac disease to name but a few. Alternatively, it might be something apparently unconnected, like chronic eczema, psoriasis, asthma or skin rashes. Or, and here is the interesting part, you may have no indications at all. In our experience, we have helped women get pregnant when the only thing that pointed to their immune system was simply that it was something to be ruled out after many failed IVFs or miscarriages.
How do I find out more?
We work with Dr Lyuda Shkrobot of the Sims IVF clinic who is an expert in this field. The Sims IVF have some of the most progressive testing services. These include immune blood tests and uterine biopsies to help you find out what exactly your immune army is up to. Following your results, we can support you with nutrition and medicinal mushrooms. This can help modulate your immune system and support a healthy pregnancy. When we re-test, we will usually see the immune system back in balance This is a good time for you to try to conceive now that your environment is right.
Dr Lyuda says ‘I have worked with a large number of patients who have tried unsuccessfully for years. Once we balance their immune system, their chances of conceiving and staying pregnant increases significantly.’
If you would like to find out about our tests or how we may be able to help, call us on 01 4020777.