Obesity and female infertility: potential mediators of obesity's impact

Fertil Steril. 2017 Apr;107(4):840-847. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2017.01.017. Epub 2017 Mar 11.


The worldwide upward trend in obesity has been dramatic, now affecting more than 20% of American women of reproductive age. Obesity is associated with many adverse maternal and fetal effects prenatally, but it also exerts a negative influence on female fertility. Obese women are more likely to have ovulatory dysfunction due to dysregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome who are also obese demonstrate a more severe metabolic and reproductive phenotype. Obese women have reduced fecundity even when eumenorrheic and demonstrate poorer outcomes with the use of in vitro fertilization. Obesity appears to affect the oocyte and the preimplantation embryo, with disrupted meiotic spindle formation and mitochondrial dynamics. Excess free fatty acids may have a toxic effect in reproductive tissues, leading to cellular damage and a chronic low-grade inflammatory state. Altered levels of adipokines, such as leptin, in the obese state can affect steroidogenesis and directly affect the developing embryo. The endometrium is also susceptible, with evidence of impaired stromal decidualization in obese women. This may explain subfecundity due to impaired receptivity, and may lead to placental abnormalities as manifested by higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, and preeclampsia in the obese population. Many interventions have been explored to mitigate the effect of obesity on infertility, including weight loss, physical activity, dietary factors, and bariatric surgery. These data are largely mixed, with few high quality studies to guide us. As we improve our understanding of the pathophysiology of obesity in human reproduction we hope to identify novel treatment strategies.

Keywords: Obesity; infertility; lipotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adipose Tissue / physiopathology*
  • Adiposity
  • Bariatric Surgery
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Healthy Lifestyle
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / metabolism
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Infertility, Female / etiology*
  • Infertility, Female / metabolism
  • Infertility, Female / physiopathology
  • Infertility, Female / prevention & control
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Ovary / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Weight Loss