Approximately one in six couples are infertile, defined as the inability to conceive a child after one year of unprotected intercourse. A woman under 35 is considered infertile if she fails to become pregnant after 12 months of regular unprotected sex; for those over 35, the threshold is six months instead of 12.
Infertility can be caused by structural abnormalities, hormonal imbalances and nutritional deficiencies, among many other reasons. While there are medical options for fertility treatment, ranging from drugs that boost ovulation to advanced methods such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), they can be expensive and are not without side effects. Fortunately, there are viable, safe, and effective natural options for men and women that have long-lasting, health-promoting effects and prove little to no risk future health risk.
Good nutrition is essential for optimal body function, hormonal balance, sperm and egg production and the process of reproduction. Hormonal balance for fertility and for stress management can be achieved by eating a balance of healthy fats (olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and canola oil), lean protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates (oats, beans, sweet potatoes, green vegetables, berries) with each meal and snack. Processed foods, caffeine, trans fatty acids, excess saturated fats and larger fish that are high in mercury should be avoided.
A Spanish study found that men who had a much higher intake of processed meat and high-fat dairy experienced reduced sperm counts. But it wasn’t just what the men with normal sperm counts didn’t eat that made their sperm better. It’s also what they did eat, which was more fruits, vegetables and skim milk. The researchers suggested that the antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may help protect sperm from damage.
In women, obesity is a known risk factor for ovulation problems, but it also contributes to infertility in women who ovulate normally, according to a study published in Human Reproduction. Researchers found that a woman with a BMI of 35 was found to be 26 percent less likely to achieve a spontaneous pregnancy than women who were normal weight, and a woman with a BMI of 40 or more was 43 percent less likely to get pregnant. Achieving a healthy weight may not only reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease, it could also increase your chances of conceiving.
A perfect — fertility boosting — lunch and dinner plate should have one-third salad with olive oil dressing; one-third grilled, steamed, baked or stir fried vegetables; and one-third lean protein (or a serving about the size and width of your palm). Enjoy a low-glycemic, starchy carb only once a day with dinner. For a full meal plan and recipes please revisit The Supercharged Hormone Diet.
Our liver, kidneys and intestines are the body’s natural cleaning team. They all work together to package toxic compounds for removal. Over time, the function of these organs, especially the liver, can be compromised by illness, poor nutrition, stress, pollution or toxic lifestyle habits (e.g., drugs, alcohol or tobacco). When the clean-up process is not working as it should, toxic by-products cannot be properly neutralized. As a result, toxic compounds from the liver are reabsorbed and stored in the fatty tissues of the body rather than excreted.
As you would expect, this toxic build-up leads to a dramatic increase in long-term health risks — and it doesn’t leave us feeling our best in the short term, either. Complaints such as headaches, weight gain, acne, PMS, infertility and poor memory often arise when our detox organs are in need of some support. In fact, toxins such as glues, volatile organic solvents or silicones, physical agents, chemical dusts and pesticides may have an impact on fertility. Tobacco smokers are 60 percent more likely to be infertile than non-smokers. Smoking reduces the chances of IVF producing a live birth by 34 percent and increases the risk of an IVF pregnancy miscarrying by 30 percent.
To jumpstart your fertility, try removing all environmental toxins hanging out in your bathroom, kitchen or medicine cupboard. These include:
- Products containing artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, etc.) or high-fructose corn syrup.
- Vegetable oil, shortening, margarine, cottonseed oil; anything containing partially hydrogenated oils; products containing trans fats.
- Processed and packaged foods that contain lots of preservatives, loads of sodium and few nutrients, e.g., prepared pasta side dishes.
- Cosmetic and skincare products containing methyl parabens, propyl parabens, formaldehyde, imidazolidinyl urea, methylisothiazolinone, propylene glycol, paraffin, isopropyl alcohol and sodium lauryl sulphate.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
With its focus on harmonizing energy flow and achieving a balance of yin and yang energies, TCM has been used for thousands of years to assist with male and female fertility. Interestingly, TCM philosophies claim that the vitality of the mother and the father at conception forms the foundation of the baby’s wellness for life. Acupuncture treatments stimulate the flow of “Qi” (energy), while Chinese herbs work to strengthen and nourish vital body fluids and the function of internal organs. TCM can be particularly useful for endometriosis, menstrual irregularities and pain and to improve sperm production and motility.
Acupuncture is also beneficial with IVF treatments. A German study indicated that adding acupuncture to the treatment protocol of IVF patients greatly enhanced their chance of becoming pregnant. In the study, doctors chose acupuncture points that relax the uterus according to the principles of TCM. Because acupuncture influences the autonomic nervous system, researchers gathered that treatment should optimize endometrial receptivity.
Herbs may regulate the menstrual cycle, increase ovulation and improve hormonal balance vital for fertility. Remember that PMS, a sign of hormonal imbalance, should be addressed early to avoid potential complications with conception or afterwards in menopause. Men can also use herbal medicines to improve hormone profiles. It is always best to consult a naturopathic doctor that specializes in fertility before beginning a supplement plan, and to see which herbs are best for your particular situation. As well, as soon as you suspect you are pregnant you should stop herbal treatments, as some are not recommended during pregnancy.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and her newest release, The Supercharged Hormone Diet, now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.