There are a number of reasons that may be contributing to the difficulties experienced by a couple who cannot become pregnant. Whatever the cause, infertility is a lonely, frustrating, and heart-wrenching journey for any couple going through it. Over 6 million people in the United States alone struggle with conceiving a child. An additional 4 million couples have sought infertility services when trying to conceive. Simply put, one in six American couples is facing impaired fertility. Everyone deserves the chance to experience having their own child.
What is Infertility?
To begin, we need to define exactly what constitutes a woman as being infertile. Infertility means no conception after one year of intercourse in a woman less than 35 years of age while not using any form of contraception. In women 35-40 years old, infertility is defined as after 6 months of trying to conceive, and over 40, after 3 months of trying. These numbers can be daunting for many women who hope to one day become pregnant, or are currently trying without success.
Nutrition and Diet
Whether you are currently trying to get pregnant, or plan on having children in the future, there are steps you can take now to work towards a more fertile state. The first step is simple. Improve your diet. Dietary changes are essential to not only conceiving a child, but also to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Women have an increased chance of becoming pregnant without complications when they make the following changes.
1. Increase your daily intake of fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Some of the best fresh fruits for fertility include grapes, berries, bananas, plums, figs, and apricots. Vegetables associated with fertility include yams, sweet potatoes, asparagus, zucchini, and eggplant.
2. Decrease the intake of animal protein, especially in the forms of processed, non-organic, and hormonally loaded meats. Deli meats should be avoided as much as possible. They are loaded with chemicals like nitrites. The less chemicals you ingest the more likely you are to become pregnant and the less chemical exposure to your developing child.
3. Include the right kind of fats. Our body’s fat cells are responsible for the production of estrogen. This is why being underweight can actually affect your menstrual cycles and hinder your chances for becoming pregnant. At the same time, having too much body fat will also decrease your chances. We need to maintain a healthy weight, and produce the right amount of estrogen. To do this, we must increase our intake of monosaturated omega 3 rich foods, and DECREASE our intake of trans fats, which are loaded with omega 6. Healthy monosaturated fats include avocado, walnut, salmon, and olive oil. High fat dairy has also been shown to help promote fertility and would include organic whole milk (in small amounts), pasture raised eggs, and plain yogurt.
4. Avoid high glycemic carbohydrates in the forms of processed sugar, breads, and pastas. Instead work to replace these nutritionally deficient foods with the consumption of good complex carbs such as quinoa, nuts, seeds and oatmeal. These foods are loaded with fiber, keep us fuller longer, and boost our metabolism.
5. Increase our intake of iron rich foods. Anemia has been clearly associated with infertility throughout the years. Iron rich foods include Black Strap molasses, spinach, broccoli, kale, green beans, kidney beans, and lentils.
1. Get off the couch and start exercising. Obesity has been undoubtedly correlated in many studies with not only making it harder to become pregnant, but with a slew of other problems during pregnancy. Complications include gestational diabetes, fetal anomalies, C-section, and so forth. Exercise will help regulate estrogen production, boost metabolism, and burn fat.
2. Ditch the caffeine! Caffeine is more of a habit for a lot of people and studies show it actually diminishes the chance for a woman to become pregnant. If you cannot give up the caffeine, at least get rid of the sugar and creamer in your coffee, OR, switch to a healthier caffeinated beverage such as matcha tea. Matcha tea is a green tea with the whole leaves infused. This tea is an antioxidant powerhouse keeping us healthier, helping us to burn fat, and working to improve our energy.
3. Reduce risk factors that disrupt our hypothalamus from working properly. The hypothalamus is the main control center of our brain, regulating homeostasis. Factors that may affect the hypothalamus include: stress, excessive exercise, eating disorders, tobacco, and extremes of weight. It is vital to reduce stress on our body while trying to conceive a child. This includes physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual stressors. Excessive exercise could be considered a physical stressor, while depression or anxiety can be placed in the emotional/mental category. Our stress hormone, cortisol, has actually been shown to have an inhibitory effect on the reproductive system.
Women struggling with infertility almost always experience a significant level of stress. Having a spiritual foundation to fall back on can help a woman to release some of this tension in her body. Other forms of stress reduction may include therapy, acupuncture, meditation, and yoga. Detoxifications programs are also highly effective for the body to repair, purify, and regenerate. Even simple tasks such as taking a bath before bed, or reading a book, can help decrease the toll stress demands. Little changes add up.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Supplementation
The final step to increase fertility is supplementation. Unfortunately, much of the food we eat today is nutritionally deficient and synthetically made or genetically modified. We do not get all the essential vitamins and minerals from diet alone anymore. Supplementation is needed and cannot be overlooked. Women trying to conceive should be on a prenatal multivitamin. Carrying a child is taxing on the body and requires a mother’s nutrients so the child can undergo a healthy development. A prenatal multiple vitamin/mineral supplement gives the body those extra nutrients to provide for both the child and the mother.
Other nutritional deficiencies and medical conditions have been shown to have a negative impact on fertility and pregnancy. Comprehensive blood work should be done to check for these anomalies. Nutritional deficiencies related to infertility include vitamin D, B12, magnesium, and selenium. Hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, FSH/LH, and prolactin, must be examined because a discrepancy will impact a woman’s ovulation cycle. Medical conditions associated with infertility include thyroid disorders, adrenal dysfunction, celiac disease, and disorders at the pelvic level including PCOS and endometriosis. If a woman is struggling with becoming pregnant, all of these conditions must be properly worked up and addressed. Whatever the problem may be, there are many different supplements and herbs that can work to improve uterine blood flow, restore hormonal levels, and increase fertility.
A naturopathic physician who specializes in women’s health and fertility is a great resource to begin making changes to support your chances of becoming pregnant. Naturopaths work to increase this chance by prevention where possible, and further, by getting to the root cause, and then supporting the healing power of the body using a multitude of therapies. We work at the deepest level and make sure to treat the whole person, physical, mental, and emotional. One of my goals is to help anyone struggling with infertility experience the joy of having a child of their own.
Dr. Shannon Homkovics received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Arizona. As a naturopathic physician, she is a holistic general practitioner who treats the whole family with a focus on women’s health care. Her tools include diet and nutrition, nutritional supplements, botanical medicine, acupuncture, counseling, hydrotherapy, homeopathy and lifestyle changes. Please call (203) 239-3400 to schedule your visit in either our North Haven or West Hartford location. http://www.thelifecenterofct.com