It seems that more and more women are struggling with infertility. I’ve heard several explanations for this increase. Some say it’s the result of estrogen-like pesticides in the environment. Others blame the increasing trend of delaying childbirth. Regardless of the cause, I worry that far too many women feel helpless in their struggle with infertility. I was lucky to become pregnant with my first daughter after only nine months of trying off and on. Some women try for years without luck, many of them being pumped full of expensive drugs and chemicals supposedly designed to help them. Several women whom I love dearly are currently struggling with this heart-breaking problem. I’m always looking for natural solutions to health problems, so I decided to do a little internet research about infertility and see what I could come up with. Here are are some tips for boosting your fertility (and your overall health).
1. Attempt pregnancy during your peak years of fertility (age 20-27). A woman reaches her peak of fertility sometime between the ages of 24 and 27, depending on which expert you ask. Eggs released between the teens and late 20’s are the most fertile and highest quality eggs released in a woman’s lifetime. (more info, more info)
2. Avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine decrease both female and male fertility. One website indicates that alcohol and caffeine consumption (more than a cup of coffee a day) can each decrease your fertility by 50%.
3. Avoid refined carbs. High insulin levels are associated with infertility (source). Though every person’s insulin response is slightly different, in general, the more refined the carbohydrates, the stronger and faster your body’s insulin response will be. Limit your intake of refined carbs such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, white breads and pastas, etc. Choose whole grain carbohydrates and balance each meal with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to slow down the body’s insulin response. In a recent study conducted by Harvard researchers, reducing intake of sugar and refined carbs was one of eight lifestyle changes associated with a significant increase in fertility.
4. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat can lead to increased levels of estrogen, throwing off hormonal balances and disrupting a woman’s fertility. The opposite--extremely low body fat--is also not conducive to baby-making. Women who are unhealthily thin can experience amenorrhea (absence of menstrual periods). Take whatever actions necessary to bring your weight into a healthy range. For some women, this step alone is enough to help them conceive.
5. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Dr. Randine Lewis outlines the importance of balancing the body’s pH levels to promote conception. In her book, The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies, she explains, “Acidic cervical mucus may become hostile to sperm, which requires an alkaline environment to survive”(source). Most fruits and vegetables (with a few exceptions) are alkalinizing, so they will promote a pH environment more friendly to sperm. Fruits and vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants which promote overall health and help to protect the reproductive organs from stress. Antioxidants have also been shown to improve male fertility by promoting sperm health.
6. Eat meat, poultry, fish, and full-fat dairy products. Vegetarian and vegan diets tend to be low in vitamin B12 and can lead to vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 plays a key role in ovulation and the development of new tissue, so women who are deficient often struggle with infertility and repeated miscarriages (source). The best sources of vitamin B12 are fish, meats, and dairy products (supplements are also an option). When you consume dairy products, be sure you are eating full-fat versions. A study conducted by Harvard researchers revealed that women consuming high-fat dairy products had a lower risk of infertility from ovulatory disorders, and women consuming low-fat dairy products had a significantly increased risk of infertility from ovulatory disorders.
7. Spend time in the beautiful sunshine (or, in other words, increase your vitamin D levels). Vitamin D deficiency can lead to infertility. One study with female rats showed a 75% decrease in fertility among those with vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is the most common vitamin deficiency in the U.S., so you may be deficient without even realizing it. One of the best and easiest ways to increase your vitamin D levels is to simply spend time outdoors in the sunshine (without sunscreen). When sunlight hits your skin, your body produces ample amounts of vitamin D. As always, you’d want to avoid burning. In addition, you can take a vitamin D supplement.
It's my belief that most of our health struggles have logical causes and natural solutions. For many women struggling with fertility, it may be that a few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference. At the same time, it is likely that some women will be fertile no matter what they eat and drink, and some women will be infertile no matter how healthy their food and lifestyle choices are. Sometimes it's simply out of our hands. Despite those cases, I believe we can take charge of our health and make significant improvements. Even if the tips above don't lead to conception, they will lead to greater health. And that's something we can all benefit from.