Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Improving Fertility

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.


Fig said...

So, (possibly rude) question for you. Just curious: have you had to gain a little weight prior to conception attempts? Not that I think you're unhealthily skinny at all, because I know you aren't, but you are quite thin and I've heard lots of stories of slender women who had a hard time conceiving and were advised to put on 5 or 10 pounds.

Lani said...

No offense taken. I actually haven't had to gain any weight. I think my initial difficulty getting pregnant was the result of my body normalizing after I took the pill.

I was advised AFTER I got pregnant to eat more and try to gain more weight. Ultimately it turned out that gaining weight during my pregnancy was CAKE. I gained plenty of it.

I was also advised to stop losing weight AFTER my pregnancies so I could keep up my milk supply. I couldn't stop the weight loss... it just happened. But I always had plenty of milk.

I think everyone's "healthy" weight is unique. My body likes being right where I am (in terms of weight) and likes to stay there regardless of what I eat (unless, of course, I'm pregnant... in which case my body knows EXACTLY what to do). Sometimes I think I'd actually like to gain a few pounds, but even drinking whole milk, eating lots of cheese/cream/butter/beef doesn't do the trick. But that's another story...

Fig said...

Cool, thanks!

Since you bring up the pill, I have a question about that: are you planning to ever do some research and write anything on contraceptives (particularly oral ones)?

I was on the pill for 3 years - I lost a lot of hair in that time period, and also experienced serious mood swings, which toward the end were looking (and feeling) a lot like depression. My hub felt impressed that I should quit taking the pills, so I did, and have experienced such an enormous improvement in quality of life since then . . .

Anyway, the point of all that rambling is that I am NOT a fan of oral contraceptives. Without them, I get a little more acne and of course, have to be more careful with family planning stuff, but I'm so much happier and feel so much healthier.

So my next question (and again, stop me if I'm way too much up in your business, or email me if you don't want to spill your guts on the www) is what are your experiences with and thoughts on contraceptives? I'd love to hear!

Lani said...

I just got an email from a friend about the pill. I'll forward it to you. And I will also be working on an email response to your questions...

Craig and Heidi said...

I was very into your conversation, then you switched to e-mail. i would also be interested in learning more about oral contraseptives. I was on the pill for the first six months of my marriage, I was fat, unhealthy, and unhappy.

When Craig and I went down to Louissiana for three months after huricane catrina, I wasn't able to re-fill my perscription so I went off and haven't been back on since.

Part of me thinks that the pill is to blame for some of the infertility and miss-carriage problems many women are expiriencing today.

Fig said...

Hey Heidi! As Lani will probably tell you, we concluded (via email) that oral contraceptives are basically lame.

I'm with you 1000% in thinking that they are a contributing factor in miscarriage/infertility problems; in fact I told Lani that all of my friends who struggle to conceive were on the pill for at least a year.

Speaking for myself, I totally support a massive women's movement AWAY from oral contraceptives.

Azúcar said...

I hate oral contraceptives, HATE THEM.

There's no question that the reason it took us 3 years to conceive is that I was on the Depo Provera shot, which is even worse than oral contraceptives (if that's possible.)