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Recurrent miscarriage: Genes and Inflammation

Recurrent pregnancy loss, or recurrent miscarriage, is defined in research as three or more consecutive pregnancy losses before 20 weeks. It is a heartbreaking reality for up to 3% of couples trying to conceive.

There are many reasons for miscarriages. Genetic studies emphasize the importance of inflammation, clotting factors, hormonal regulation, immune response, and detoxification genes. Non-maternal reasons would include chromosomal abnormalities or deleterious mutations incompatible with life in the fetus.

This article focuses on the role of inflammation and how it impacts pregnancy. We will dive into several different inflammatory cytokines and look at the genetic variants that increase or decrease the risk of recurrent miscarriage. You will find targeted lifestyle and dietary solutions at the end of the article. Proinflammatory cytokines, though, are only one aspect of recurrent miscarriage. Think of this as one tool in your toolbox when TTC.

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Balancing inflammatory cytokines in pregnancy

Pregnancy is a delicate balancing act for the immune system. A foreign body with foreign DNA has to grow and thrive inside you – without triggering the innate immune response against foreign DNA. This is called ‘maternal tolerance’ to fetal tissue.[ref]

At the same time, the mother’s immune system still needs to maintain a level of immune response that can fight off potential infections for both herself and the baby.[ref]

Timing is also essential in the immune response. Early in pregnancy, pro-inflammatory cytokines are needed to stimulate the production of more blood vessels in the uterus. As pregnancy proceeds, though, there is less of the pro-inflammatory response and more of the anti-inflammatory response.[ref]

There is a balancing act within the T cells of the immune system. T helper cells are the part of the immune system that can quickly help ramp up an inflammatory response. There are three main types of T helper cells known as T-helper 1 (Th 1), T-helper 2 (Th 1), and T-helper 17 (Th 17).

Th1, Th2, and Th17 cells all have a role in how the body responds to pathogens as well as to proteins that need to be tolerated in the body. A balance between Th 1 and Th 2 is necessary for the embryo to implant successfully and maintain pregnancy.[ref]

Th 2 produces both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines. Important here is that Th 2 produces IL-10, which is the body’s main way of tamping down the inflammatory response. IL-10 protects the interface between the fetus and the mother by reducing the inflammatory cytokines produced by Th 1.[ref]

The ‘players’ that we will discuss here include:

  • Interleukin 17 (IL-17)
  • Interleukin 1 beta (IL-1B)
  • TNF-alpha
  • Interleukin 10 (IL-10)

Pregnancy Inflammatory Cytokine Genotype Report:

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Before taking any supplements or making lifestyle changes, please talk with your doctor or fertility specialist. Pregnancy is not the time to experiment with new drugs or supplements without knowing the effects on the baby.

Anti-inflammatory diet:
Including polyphenols, such as the flavonoids found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cocoa, in your diet can have an anti-inflammatory effect.[ref]

Equally as important as including fresh fruits and vegetables is cutting out foods that can increase inflammation. Ultra-processed foods, such as packaged snack foods, pizza, candy, pastries, etc., are linked to many negative health outcomes. Ultra-processed foods now make up about 50% of calories in high-income countries. A diet high in ultra-processed foods has links to an increase in risk for irritable bowel syndrome, type-2 diabetes, depression, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.[ref]

Moderate exercise:
If you need a good reason to get out for a long walk (in the sunshine for the vitamin D), exercise is linked to increasing IL-10 and subsequently reducing IL-1B.[ref] Additionally, exercise has been shown to reduce TNF-alpha.[ref]

Role of the gut microbiome:
Researchers investigate the role of the gut microbiome in miscarriage patients. The study showed that IL-17, TNF-alpha, IL-2, and interferon-gamma were increased in the women who had miscarriages. Additionally, there was a shifted microbiome towards microbes associated with higher Th 17 and Th 1 levels. Learn more about why the genetic variants you inherited from mom and dad influence the bacteria within you and how dietary changes can make a difference.

For women with gut issues, you may want to consider taking probiotics. Talk with your doctor for recommendations. A meta-analysis of 27 randomized trials of probiotics in pregnancy showed that they neither increased nor decreased the risk of preterm birth.[ref]

Other ways of modulating the gut microbiome include cutting out processed foods and fast food and replacing them with whole foods, including fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.

Supplements for improving fertility odds:

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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.