Echinacea purpurea. Tasse de thé à l'échinacée sur une table en bois.

When you consider having a baby the first thing that springs to mind for many people is the reproductive system. You might think of your hormones, sperm and egg quality and contemplate a few of your lifestyle habits. But the something that might never cross your mind is the immune system.

Immune system and pregnancy

Your immune system is the ‘guardian angel’. Its function is to protect the inner sanctum in the outside invaders such as germs, viruses, parasites and worms. And, to destroy cancerous cells, deformed cells, fix cell walls, heal wounds, cuts, fractures, sprains, infections and on and on it goes….you can not live without it literally.

You’ve likely heard of the ‘fallen angel’, a once great angel gone bad? Well this also can happen to your immune system. As opposed to fighting real threats and risks, it may turn on harmless substances such as food, pollen, bees, animals, your own body tissue and semen.

Hygiene Hypothesis

The immune system is like a little child. When it is young it needs to’learn the ropes’, should differentiate between what it should and should not attack. Bad upbringing will cause a delinquent immune system.

If you were breastfed you got your mother’s antibodies which protected you while your immune system was growing. If your parents allow you to crawl on the ground, place your fingers in your mouth and play out in the dirt, then your immune system learnt quite quickly what pathogens are and you probably developed a strong immunity. If on the other hand, you’re not breastfed, raised on cow’s milk formula (large protein molecules are too large to absorb, potentially resulting in inflammation and dairy intolerance or allergy), and your parents were fanatical about maintaining what you came in contact with sterilized – than there’s a risk your immune system has a delinquent or atopic predisposition (do not blame your parents, they did the best they knew). Allow me to explain.

Your immune system makes several kinds of antibodies. Among those are Th1 cytokines and Th2 cytokines. You’ve got more Th2 antibodies when your immune system operates normally and much more Th1 antibodies whenever you’re prone to allergies and auto immune disorders. The term for this is atopic predisposition.

Pregnancy is an immunological event

From immunological point of view an embryo and sperm cell are foreign bodies. But Mother Nature was smart; she programmed our immune system to differentiate between a regular invader and embryo or sperm.

A normal immune response to an embryo or sperm cell is orchestrated by Th2 cytokines. They suppress your killer cells (that is what they’re called) to leave the embryo unharmed. Because of this protection many pregnant women are poor wound healers and can come down quite badly with a cold or influenza. Your normal protection was suppressed so that your baby can grow correctly.

An abnormal immune response to the implantation of the fertilized egg is orchestrated by Th1 cytokines. As opposed to suppressing your killer cells that they stimulate their activity. This may cause defects and the loss of the fetus.

There’s an additional player in this game – progesterone. Progesterone binds to a receptor in T cells and makes them prefer Th2 cytokines over Th1. If you have progesterone deficiency than this Th2 bias is minimized.

Antibodies affecting your ability to conceive

Antisperm antibodies and thyroid hormones are available in women and men. Women can have extra antibodies to FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), LH (lutenizing hormone) receptors and antiovarian Compounds that are implicated in premature ovarian failure or insufficiency. Women with PCOS and endometriosis are more likely to have Anti-FSH antibodies while it’s not unusual for women with ovarian insufficiency to have an autoimmune disease.

Risk Factors

Up to 10 percent of girls and 19 percent of men with infertility have antisperm antibodies. Antisperm antibodies are linked to Chlamydia and other reproductive tract infections, testicular injury, varicoceles, cryptorchidism and smoking.

Effects of antisperm antibodies

Poor sperm development, diminished transport of semen in the male reproductive system, agglutination (clumping) of the ejaculated semen, inability to undergo cervical mucus at the female reproductive system, growth of sperm immunity in the female resulting in a miscarriage.

Sperm allergy

Although rare, is more prevalent among younger women with other allergies. Reactions to sperm are very similar to coming into contact with a chemical one is allergic to – itching, redness, burning, swelling or even anaphylaxis in extreme circumstances.

Retrain Your Immune System

Naturopathic treatment relies heavily on what we call immune system modulation or retraining the immune system. This can be achieved by:

    • Avoiding substances one is sensitive or allergic to. This requires tests. However avoiding substances most individuals are intolerant to, such as gluten and dairy, can help.
    • Echinacée is a fantastic herb for regulating immune response and Tribulus has been proven to reduce antisperm antibodies.
    • Increased intake of antioxidants to assist your immune function.

Genitourinary tests will reveal if there is an infection present which can oftentimes be curable, particularly among men. Studies have shown that couples think their spouse to be STD free that oftentimes isn’t the case.

Conclusion

As you can see it’s imperative to get ready for pregnancy under advice of your naturopath or doctor that specializes in preconception care. IVF and other assisted reproductive technology won’t be able to overstep your immune system without appropriate tests, diagnosis and therapy.