Natural Solutions to Enhance Fertility
By Sarah Axtell, ND • December 11, 2011
Difficulty conceiving is becoming increasingly more common. According to the CDC and Prevention 2002 data, approx. 12% of women between 15 and 44 have impaired fertility. And according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving.
Infertility is defined as the following:
Women in their 20s- inability to get pregnant in 12 months with unprotected intercourse
Women in their 30s- inability to get pregnant in 6 months with unprotected intercourse
Women in their 40s- inability to get pregnant in 3 months with unprotected intercourse
Whether you meet the above requirements or you are simply wanting to maximize your fertility and the health of your child before conceiving, there is a natural and safe approach. As a naturopathic doctor, I always aim to address the cause. There are common causes of infertility and not so common causes. Common causes include endometriosis and PCOS. Less commonly addressed are functional causes. These causes of infertility or difficulty conceiving include environmental toxicity, food allergies, stress, and nutritional deficiencies.
Here are some tips to follow to enhance your overall fertility, whether you are currently trying to conceive or merely prepping your body before conception.
1. Eat a fertility-friendly diet.
- Don’t skimp on fat. A recent study found that women with scanty and irregular periods consume less saturated fat than women with healthy menstrual cycles. Also, a Harvard study found that consuming 2 or more servings of low fat or skim milk per day increases a woman’s risk of infertility by more than 85%! Eat organic eggs, nuts, seeds, wild salmon, avocado and coconut milk.
- Eat 8-9 servings of vegetables and fruit daily (with an emphasis on veggies). Green leafy vegetables, such as kale and collards, are rich in folic acid, a nutrient known to prevent birth defects.
- Eat protein with every meal. Organic grass-fed meat, fish, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds are good options.
- Avoid your food sensitivities. A naturopathic doctor can test for these and recommend an individualized diet based on these results. Food allergies or sensitivities can prevent you from conceiving by increasing the amount of inflammation in your body. Studies have found that women with multiple allergies and food sensitivities were more likely to miscarry. You can pass these food allergies on to your child so avoiding these during pregnancy is a must!
2. Eat organic when possible. Always buy organic dairy and meat. The 12 fruits and vegetables (the “dirty dozen”) to always buy organic are:
- Imported nectarines
- Imported grapes
- Sweet bell peppers
- Domestic blueberries
- Kale/collard greens
3. Balance your hormones. A relatively easy and highly effective strategy for balancing your hormones is seed cycling. This consists of rotating seeds with either your cycle (if you are getting your period) or with the lunar cycle (if you are not currently cycling). Consume 2-4 tbsps of ground flax seeds for the first half of your cycle (days 1-14) or from the new moon to the full moon. Consume 2-4 tbsps of ground sunflower seeds the second half of your cycle (days 15-30) or from the full moon to the new moon. For some women, this does the trick. But for others, it can be more complicated and that is where hormone testing and appropriate treatment comes in. Consult your naturopathic doctor for safe and effective ways to balance your hormones.
4. Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals and enhance elimination. Minimize your exposure of common, harmful chemicals, such as BPA and PCBs. PCBs are found in farmed fish. such as salmon. Always, eat wild salmon. And avoid consuming BPA by drinking and eating out of glass instead of plastic. For a more thorough look at toxic chemicals to avoid during pregnancy, visit the Environmental Working Group website. If there is any question of possible exposure, heavy metals should be assessed prior to conceiving as well. This can be assessed though a urine test.
5. Enhance elimination. In addition to minimizing exposure, elimination must be working optimally. Of course, we are going to be exposed to toxins in our everyday life, but it is essential that we eliminate these toxins effectively. Here are some ways to optimize your organs of elimination:
- Skin- Perspiration is essential for ridding your body of toxins. Work up a light sweat with daily exercise.
- GI tract- Take a probiotic supplement or eat fermented foods, like kefir, tempeh, and yogurt. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that will defend your body from the “bad” bacteria.
- Lungs- Take 100 conscious deep breaths per day. Breathe in through your nose for 6 counts and out through your mouth for 8 counts.
- Kidneys- Drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day.
6. Address nutritional deficiencies. These can be caused by both a poor diet and poor absorption. Deficiencies caused by inadequate food intake is not as common here in America as poor absorption. This goes back to food allergies or intolerances. If you consistently eat something that is causing overall inflammation, the integrity of your gut is compromised. This results in poor absorption. Also, medications, such as birth control, can cause deficiencies. Be sure to let your doctor know all of your medications you are currently taking and ones you have taken in the past so that he/she is able to best assess what you may be lacking nutritionally.
7. Take appropriate high quality supplements. While I am an advocate of obtaining nutrients from food and not solely relying on supplements, preconception and pregnancy is a different story. High quality supplements, including a bio-available prenatal vitamin, are a must! High DHA fish-oil is also a supplement I recommend before, during, and after pregnancy. This is to not only nourish the baby’s brain, but also the mama’s. Taking plentiful amounts of DHA prenatally has been found to decrease the risk of postpartum depression. It is ideal to obtain your supplements from a professional to ensure that there are no fillers or binders added to them, preventing you from absorbing them.
8. Stop tobacco, recreational drugs and alcohol use. Avoid coffee. Tobacco, drugs and alcohol are toxins that may be preventing you from conceiving. Not only should the female avoid these toxins, but the male should as well. Smoking can prevent sperm motility and decrease the quality of semen. If you are a coffee drinker, consider avoiding it before and during pregnancy. One study showed that as little as 1 cup of coffee per day increases the risk of not conceiving by 55%. If caffeine is a must, try green tea, which will still give you a little pick-me-up, and it is full of healthy antioxidants.
9. Manage stress in a healthy way. Our everyday lives are stressful enough and then to add the stress of trying to get pregnant- it all can get overwhelming! Poorly managed stress can have a significant impact on one’s ability to conceive. Be sure to take 50-100 deep conscious breaths per day. Walking and yoga are also good relaxation techniques. Having a routine is imperative. Our adrenal glands, or the organs that secrete cortisol (our stress hormone), thrive on routine. Waking and going to sleep at the same time every day, regardless if it is a Tuesday or a Saturday, is a must. And eating regular meals help to nourish our adrenal glands, which in turn enhances fertility.
The goal of these 9 recommendations is to build a healthy terrain within the mama. A healthy terrain means a healthy space for the baby to grow. After all, a healthy body is a fertile body!
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.