According to the CDC, one in eight couples have difficulty becoming pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. Difficulty conceiving can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anger, frustration, and despair. Couples may ask themselves, “Why is this happening to us?” They might even believe that one of them is just completely infertile without cause; this is almost never the case.
Underlying Causes of Infertility and Hormonal imbalance
From a disease standpoint, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is one of the leading causes of infertility. Yet, PCOS still occurs for a reason. Vitamin and mineral deficiency, poor immune function and gastrointestinal infection, improper nutrition and food sensitivities, mental/emotional trauma and stress, chronic inflammation and toxic overload are all important components to consider when evaluating the reason for hormonal conditions like PCOS or infertility. Deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids, the active form of B vitamins, magnesium, and protein can all greatly affect hormone status. The health of one’s gastrointestinal system is paramount to overall wellness and should be addressed before conceiving. Stress and adrenal fatigue are almost always present with hormonal imbalance and fertility troubles. This is quite important to consider, as stress shunts the hormone pathway away from hormones needed to sustain a pregnancy and instead towards cortisol.
Toxicity also plays a significant role. Chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides disrupt the natural biochemical processes in our bodies. Our bodies can detox toxins in small amounts, but if the toxic burden is high, the liver is especially affected. Liver quality then affects hormone metabolism. Heavy metals, chemicals, and pesticides can all be linked to birth defects and from an intelligent body’s perspective, it would not be wise to pass these toxins onto a baby.
1. Testing is one of the best ways to gain information on the root cause. Important tests your ND or holistic practitioner may consider involve hormone levels including adrenals, vitamin and minerals, stool testing, as well as basic blood work. One of the most effective steps I recommend is getting tested for food IgG sensitivities. Food sensitivities can wreck havoc on one’s GI system, causing systemic inflammation and adding to the toxic load the liver has to metabolize. The more inflammation and toxins your body is fighting off, the more the body shunts hormone production towards cortisol and away from progesterone/estrogen. Additionally, ask your practitioner to test for MTHFR, a genetic mutation related to B vitamins and the ability to detox. MTHFR can have a profound affect upon fertility, as women with MTHFR should not be taking folic acid. Instead, they should supplement with methylfolate (active B9) as well as an active form of B12.
2. Nutrition is pivotal to creating healthy hormones. A healthy hormone diet is whole foods based, full of organic vegetables and includes a variety in color. Fish should be wild caught and meat should be pastured raised. Since the liver is central to hormones, consider cutting down on alcohol and caffeine intake. Other basic guidelines include eating organic when possible and increasing vegetable intake to at least 50% of every meal. Cut out inflammatory foods like sugar, white flour, packaged foods, fast foods, and gluten. Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables, which contain indole-3-carbinol, which helps the liver to breakdown estrogen.
3. Detoxification might be necessary depending on the case. For couples attempting to get pregnant, a drastic detox is an incorrect initial step. Since our bodies are intelligent, we have built in detoxification processes and supporting these organs of elimination is the best way to begin. Please do not implement a detox on your own and especially if you are actively trying to get pregnant or if you are pregnant. Often times the most simple health strategies are the most effective: drink lots of clean water to ensure you are flushing the toxins out, eat organic whole foods (whole foods means not packaged), exercise (sweat it out), manage that stress and get lots of sleep.
4. Supplementation to consider includes: liver support such as milk thistle, a food based prenatal multivitamin with added active forms of B9 and B12, a quality probiotic, magnesium, vitamin d3, and fish oil.
Often overlooked by the conventional medical community is the fact that our bodies are intelligent. Symptoms and disease are produced for a reason by our physiology, frequently as an adaptive strategy to deal with an underlying root cause. In other words, if a couple is not conceiving or if hormonal imbalance is occurring, it is often because an organ system is out of balance. The imbalance can be stemming from one partner or both. As one begins to realize that infertility and hormonal dysregulation do not exist in a vacuum without reason, treatment can shift to addressing the underlying causes. This will in turn impact physiology, which can then bring hormone balance and fertility.
Dr. Cait Barbiero is a Naturopathic doctor at: ProNatural Physicians in Berlin, CT. The powerful answers and solutions Naturopathic medicine provides changed her life and inspired her to obtain her medical degree from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. Dr. Cait prides herself on finding the root cause of disease and implementing an individualized and holistic approach to patient care.