The effect of underweight on female and male reproduction

Metabolism. 2020 Jun:107:154229. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2020.154229. Epub 2020 Apr 11.


Chronic energy deficiency can impair the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis and lead to hypothalamic anovulation in underweight women. This review presents the syndromes related to underweight status that are associated with infertility, summarizes the underlying mechanisms, and reviews the available treatment options. Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa (AN), constitute the most common cause of infertility in underweight women, who, in addition, experience miscarriages, and sexual dysfunction. The relative energy deficiency in sports (RED-S; former terminology: athlete's triad) involves menstrual dysfunction due to low energy availability, which results in anovulation. Moreover, lipodystrophies, malnutrition, starvation, systematic illnesses (malignancies, endocrinopathies, infectious diseases, advanced chronic diseases, neurologic illnesses), and the utilization of drugs can cause excessive weight loss. They may result in fertility problems due to the loss of adipose tissue and the subsequent hormonal disturbances. Each of these conditions requires multidisciplinary management. Nutritional counseling should target the restoration of energy balance by increasing intake and reducing output. Medical treatment, recommended only for patients who did not respond to standard treatment, may include antipsychotics, antidepressants, or leptin administration. Finally, psychiatric treatment is considered an integral part of the standard treatment.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Eating disorders; Female infertility; Male infertility; Relative energy deficiency syndrome; Syndromes of underweight; Underweight.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Female / epidemiology
  • Infertility, Female / etiology*
  • Infertility, Male / epidemiology
  • Infertility, Male / etiology*
  • Male
  • Reproduction*
  • Thinness / complications*
  • Thinness / epidemiology
  • Thinness / physiopathology