The Naturopathic Approach to Infertility
By Joanne Aponte, ND • October 29, 2020
Infertility rates amongst couples is on the rise unfortunately. If you are struggling to get pregnant, you are not alone! 1 in 8 couples in America seek some treatment for infertility.
The naturopathic approach to infertility looks beyond your hormones and ovaries. We need to look at you as a whole person. Your overall health and vitality plays a significant role in your body’s ability to conceive and nurture a developing fetus. The whole process of conceiving and carrying a baby to term is quite complex and amazing! Know that there is hope and options beyond conventional fertility treatments. Optimizing your diet and nutrient status, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and identifying and addressing the underlying causes can set you up for success!
- Start with a healthy foundation
- Diet – an anti-inflammatory and Mediterranean focused diet is supportive for both men and women.
- Get Adequate Sleep – 8-9 hours a night, in the complete dark . Keep a consistent routine – in bed and out of bed at the same time each night.
- Exercise regularly, but don’t over do it! Over 7 hours per week can lead to ovulation difficulty.
- Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine
- Achieve optimal weight and BMI
- Optimize Nutrient status
- Take a quality prenatal vitamin at least 3 months prior to conception
- Identify key nutrient deficiencies
- low levels of these key nutrients have been associated with decreased pregnancy outcomes: Vit D, B12, folate, iron and zinc.
- Address stress
- We know that the stress chemical cortisol can shut down production of your sex hormones (mainly estrogen and progesterone), this can result in abnormal menstrual cycles or cessation of menses altogether. And when the body is in stress mode, the last thing it will want to do is grow a baby. When I work with my patients we discuss a plan for reducing stress, slowing down if needed and using indicated herbs or nutrients to help reduce the body’s physiological stress response.
- Identify hormone imbalances
- Thyroid – hypothyroidism (a low functioning thyroid) is known to impair conception but even slight thyroid imbalances can be problematic. These slight imbalances, called subclinical hypothyroidism are often missed by conventional medical doctors. I take a careful look at the thyroid and run a complete thyroid panel consisting of TSH, Free T3 and Free T4. If levels are not within an ideal range, we will discuss a thyroid supportive plan.
- Adrenals – the adrenals primarily make cortisol and DHEA. Imbalances in these hormones can affect thyroid function and healthy levels of the ovarian hormones (estrogen and progesterone). I often use the herb Rhodiola to support adrenals in women trying to get pregnant. A study of 40 women without menstrual cycles, Rhodiola restored menses in 25 of them and 11 became pregnant!
- The ovaries make estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. Levels of these 3 hormones need to be optimized. Adequate testosterone is needed to produce healthy eggs. If egg quality is poor, there is a decreased chance of successful fertilization and implantation in the uterus. Low progesterone can increase risk of miscarriage and lead to a shortened window in which the fertilized egg can implant into the uterus. High or low estrogen can impair ovulation (the release of an egg) and interfere with healthy hormonal cycling. You also need adequate estrogen for development of the follicles, one of which will eventually become the egg that is released at ovulation.
- Address sources of inflammation
- Inflammation in the body is like a fire alarm sounding in the body. This puts the body in stress mode (Fight or flight). When the body is in this state, it is less likely to welcome an egg into the uterus or nourish a developing fetus. Your body is too busy trying to put out a fire! In cases of unexplained infertility, we need to look for these sources of inflammation.
- Optimize digestive dysfunction and identify food intolerances
- Yes your digestive health impacts your hormones! Your digestive tract is involved in clearing and eliminating excess estrogens. If this is not happening well, it can lead to high estrogen which can impair normal menstrual cycling and healthy ovulation. Issues in the digestive tract can also be be a significant source of inflammation in the body
- Food intolerances also lead to inflammation. We want to reduce as much inflammation in the body as possible. Some Research has shown that women with infertility have higher rates of Celiac disease (gluten allergy). I often screen for celiac disease and food intolerances in women with unexplained infertility.
- Address Male Factor infertility
- Don’t forget about the sperm! 30-40% of cases of infertility are due to Male factor and issues with the health and quality of sperm.
- Promote Detoxification
- Studies show that toxins and chemicals in our environment disrupt normal hormonal rhythms. Studies show that some toxins decrease ovarian follicle counts and lead to accelerated aging of the ovaries. Chemicals and toxins can also lead to more inflammation in the body and an imbalanced immune system. Click here to read more.
- Identify the cause! In addition to the factors discussed above, the below factors can be underlying causes. Identifying these causes, does take time, investigation and team work. Typically I work with my patients’ medical doctors and gynecologists to complete the medical workup and identify these potential causes. Knowing what is contributing to the issue will help us come up with a successful plan.
- Poor egg quality and diminished ovarian reserve
- Luteal phase deficit – this is when a woman has short cycles and there is not enough time for the egg to implant in the uterus before menses occurs
- Anovulation (absence of ovulation)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Diabetes or pre-diabetes
- Underlying autoimmune disorders
- Structural abnormalities of the uterus or fallopian tubes
It is my passion to help women achieve their dream of being a mother. Having my 2 daughters has been the most wonderful and fulfilling experience of my life. I truly want to help others have this same amazing experience.
I would love to meet with you to help you on your journey!
Dr. Joanne Aponte
Gerasimova H. Effect of Rhodiola rosea extract on ovarian functional activity. Proceedings of Scientific Conference on Endocrinology and Gynecology. Sverdlovsk, Russia. 1970 Sept 15-16. Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. P. 46-48
Chasse, Jaclyn ND. Integrative Approaches to Infertility (2018, March)
Thyr, Sarah, ND. Infertility: Naturopathic Treatments and Successes. (2013, November)
California Naturopathic Doctors Association 2013 Conference.
Hudson, T. (2008). Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine: alternative therapies and integrative medicine for total health and wellness. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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.