Here’s How to Enhance Your Fertility
Fertility is something that we often take for granted. In fact, many of us spend a lot of money and effort in preventing pregnancy until the timing is right for baby-making. However, even when the timing is right, our bodies don’t always cooperate. Timing is important because so many different elements need to be considered. Timing is a key component, both in terms of your chronological age and the timing of conception.
Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in infertility. One study found infertility rates increased from 5.4 percent in 1984 to 15.7 percent in 2011. This is a substantial increase in such a short amount of time. Because infertility is increasing so quickly, it’s a good idea to be proactive about improving your fertility. Even if you never intend to have children, fertility is indicative of a healthy hormone balance. Hormone balance affects much more than just whether you can make babies. Hormones influence your mood, energy level, sense of well-being, cognitive function, weight, libido and even your immune function.
An Integrative Approach To Fertility
What makes infertility particularly frustrating is that it’s often hard to determine the exact cause as to why a couple is having difficulty conceiving. Infertility problems are often multi-factorial. Many different elements of a couple’s health need to be considered to understand the potential causes of infertility. Only by taking a detailed history, doing extensive investigation and customizing treatment can we fully optimize your ability to conceive. That’s why our integrative approach, that takes into account your lifestyle, genetics, stress levels, diet, hormone balance, vitamin and mineral status and overall health is best.
What is the Definition of Infertility?
In general, a couple is considered infertile if they’ve been trying for a year to conceive without success.
Factors That Affect Your Fertility:
What’s contributing to the increase in infertility? Medical scientists can’t pinpoint one specific cause, but many lifestyle factors can play a role.
Some factors that affect fertility include:
Many hormones work in tandem to create optimal conditions for conception, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol (estrogen), luteinizing hormone (LH), DHEAs, testosterone and progesterone. Perhaps not surprisingly, even a tiny variation in your hormone balance can affect your fertility.
That’s why the first step to any fertility treatment is often thoroughly testing hormone levels. Knowing how your hormones are working together gives your healthcare practitioner an excellent starting point.
If you have a relative who had difficulty conceiving, you may also be at risk for fertility issues. Some fertility problems seem to run in families, such as endometriosis and PCOS. Recent research has found genetic components to some chromosomal problems. Certain genetic defects, like MTHFR mutations, increase the risk of fertility problems or recurrent miscarriage.
Your Vital Stats
Age & Fertility
It’s often frustrating for women to realize that age is one of the biggest factors that can contribute to infertility. After all, for many women, it can feel like a narrow window between being financially and emotionally ready to have a baby and being young enough to conceive.
Of course, we all see many examples of women well into their 40s having babies. And it’s definitely possible. However after the age of 40, the odds of getting pregnant decrease at a faster rate. Simply put, the conditions to conceive and carry a baby are more ideal when you are younger. As we grow older our risk for factors that negatively impact fertility increase.
Still, it’s important not to overstate the decline women experience in their 30s. Consider these stats:
- Percentage of 27-to-34-year-old women who conceive after a year of having sex at least twice a week = 86 percent
- Percentage of 35-to-39-year-old women who conceive after a year of having sex at least twice a week = 82 percent.
So through our 30s, the odds of conception don’t decline very dramatically. However, fertility rates do drop faster after 40, so about 30 percent of women between 40 and 44 will experience infertility.
Weight & Fertility
In addition, your weight impacts your fertility. That’s because excess weight influences your hormone levels. Fat cells secrete estrogen. Fat cells are also pro-inflammatory. Inflammation damages eggs and can lead to conditions like PCOS that cause irregular ovulation. The good news is that studies have found that losing even a small percentage of your body weight makes a difference.
Paradoxically, women who are underweight (with a BMI of less than 18.5) experience similar problems. That’s because not having enough body fat also impacts your hormone production. When you are underweight, your body perceives that resources are scarce. As a result, your body will shift into resource conservation mode. That means that your body will prioritize body systems that are vital and shut down those that are not. Your heart, lungs and liver are vital, your reproductive organs (ovaries, testes) are not.
However, it’s not just the number of your BMI. Body composition (the amount of body fat and lean muscle) and activity levels also play a role.
Of course, it takes two people to conceive. Scientific studies have found a clear link between male obesity and low sperm levels. In fact, men whose BMI places them in the obese category (30 or higher) have 60 percent less seminal fluid than men of normal weight. That’s a pretty significant difference. Underweight men also have lower amounts of seminal fluid, so it’s all about having the right balance — as with many aspects of your fertility.
Can stress affect your infertility? The answer often is yes. For some couples, this is an added source of frustration. After all, dealing with infertility is stressful in itself. However, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Your body knows that when you’re stressed, you need to conserve energy. In our busy modern lives, stress is often chronic. It’s day in and day out at work, and then very little time to socialize, have fun, relax and have downtime. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands produce more of the “stress hormones” adrenaline and cortisol. Stress also increases a hormone called prolactin. All of these suppress ovulation, not to mention causing low libido (which is definitely counterproductive for conception!)
Another hormonal issue that can affect ovulation is having low levels of thyroid hormone, a condition called hypothyroidism. Also hyperthyroidism, or high levels of thyroid hormone, can affect ovulation. You’re probably starting to understand why achieving the right hormone balance is so important! Your thyroid hormone plays a big role in letting your ovaries know when to ovulate or regulating the speed with which your testes are working. So when your thyroid hormone levels are out of whack, ovulation and sperm production can be too.
Signs of hypothyroidism include difficulty losing weight, easy weight gain, slow metabolism, hair loss, feeling tired or sluggish and feeling chilly all the time. Signs of hyperthyroidism include heart palpitations, weight loss, anxiety, difficulty sleeping or insomnia.
Exposure to certain chemicals – in your foods, packaging, your clothing, cleaning products, beauty care and elsewhere – impacts fertility levels for both men and women. You don’t have to work with toxic substances to experience the effects. Even a fairly healthy standard American diet introduces pesticides that negatively impact our reproductive systems. Removing the toxins from your system requires our naturopathic doctors‘ professional guidance but it’s well worth it for improving your overall health and fertility.
How You Can Take Charge Of Your Fertility
As we can see from the list above, treating infertility is complex. Is there anything you can do on your own to improve your fertility? The most important thing is to act now if you have concerns. Don’t forget: Conception requires careful timing, so you do want to address any issues right away. It also takes some time to create optimal fertility. Here are some steps that help with fertility issues.
1. Visit a Naturopathic Doctor that is infertility-trained.
Proper testing to see what’s really going on with your whole body gives us a better picture. Treating infertility involves addressing your overall health, not just your reproductive system. While your hormones play a key role so do many other factors. We will work together to help prepare your body for conception. We’ll eliminate the stress of wondering if there is more you could do and relieve your feelings of overwhelm about where to start!
2. Manage your stress levels.
We understand that this is easier said than done, especially when you’re worried about fertility. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle if you start to get stressed about being stressed! Meditation is a good way to consciously address your emotional concerns. Fertility-centred psychotherapy is also a good idea to help you take the edge off. Adding in as many stress-busting activities as possible also helps. Exercise, massage therapy, yoga, reading a book, taking a long walk outside, or having a warm bath all help to lower cortisol levels.
3. Improve your diet.
One recent study found that women who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables with high pesticide levels were less likely to conceive. So choose organic produce when possible, or opt for produce that doesn’t typically have as many pesticide residues. Think of produce with a thick skin that protects the fruit like avocados or oranges. An excellent resource for finding the produce with the least pesticide residues is the Clean Fifteen list, published by the Environmental Working Group. They also publish a list of which produce to either avoid or only eat if it is organic called The Dirty Dozen.
In addition, certain foods have been associated with higher fertility levels. Your Naturopathic Doctor will help you to determine the best diet for your needs. In general, you want to ensure you’re getting adequate levels of folate, Omega 3’s, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D.
4. Limit toxic exposure.
Both males and females should think about the chemicals they’re exposed to every day when they’re trying to conceive. In addition to possible herbicides and pesticides on produce, frequent exposure to x-rays, radiation, cigarette smoke, alcohol, toxins in the home and self-care products that you use every day all impact infertility. In addition, workplace hazards like exposure to lead and cadmium damage eggs and sperm and upset the hormonal balance required for peak fertility.
If you’re concerned about your fertility, give us a call at 416-481-0222. Together we can dive deeper and see where your issues are, and create a clear treatment program. Fertility is a common issue, just know that you are not alone and that we successfully treat many men and women with fertility issues at our clinic, even people who have been unsuccessful at fertility clinics.
Authored by Dr Pamela Frank, Bsc(Hons), ND