Many couples begin their course towards parenthood with enthusiasm and high expectations but for more than ten percent of those couples, the blissful voyage to parenthood is obstructed by the diagnosis no one wants to hear—“infertility.”
Infertility is diagnosed after one year of trying to conceive (or six months for women over 35) and can stem from a number of reasons including hormone imbalances, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, tumor or cyst growth, thyroid gland problems, eating disorders, alcohol or drug use, excess weight, and high stress.
Reproduction for the modern woman looks quite different than it did for our fore-mothers of the early 20th century who were most commonly having children in their early twenties. Today, women make up half of the workforce and have seen dramatic progress in the areas of education, economics, and leadership. These successes are obviously huge wins for women but can often delay pregnancy, making it more difficult to conceive. Although many women achieve successful pregnancies into their thirties and forties, both the number of eggs and overall egg quality decline with age, which can present a speed bump on the road to pregnancy. This fact contributes to the $5.8 billion fertility industry which includes interventions like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intrauterine Insemination, and a host of various fertility drugs.
Women who are trying to conceive should work with a fertility specialist to address any underlying medical conditions. It is also important to focus on the areas of nutrition, stress management, and a healthy lifestyle for optimal fertility health.
Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats will supply you with vitamins and minerals necessary for proper reproductive function. Here are some of the major players in reproductive health:
Vitamin D is needed to help the body create sex hormones which in turn affects ovulation and hormonal balance. Sources include eggs, fatty fish, dairy, and cod liver oil. You can also get vitamin D from sitting out in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes per day.
Vitamin B6 may be used as a hormone regulator and has also been shown to help with luteal phase defect. Sources include tuna, bananas, turkey, liver, salmon, cod, spinach, bell peppers, turnip greens, collard greens, garlic, cauliflower, mustard greens, celery, cabbage, asparagus, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, and chard.
Vitamin B12 may decrease the chances of miscarriage. Some studies have found that a deficiency of B12 may increase the chances of irregular ovulation. Sources include clams, oysters, muscles, liver, fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, cheese, and eggs.
Folic Acid helps prevent neural tube defects as well as congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies in developing fetuses. Deficiency in folic acid may increase the risk of going into preterm delivery, infant low birth weight and fetal growth retardation. Food sources include liver, lentils, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, asparagus, spinach, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, and collard greens.
Iron is also important and a deficiency can cause lack of ovulation and poor egg quality. Food sources include lentils, spinach, tofu, sesame seeds, kidney beans, pumpkin seeds, venison, garbanzo beans, navy beans, molasses, and beef.
Selenium is an antioxidant that helps to protect the egg from free radicals and chromosomal damage which is known to be a cause of miscarriages and birth defects. Food sources: liver, snapper, cod, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, crimini mushrooms, and turkey.
Zinc works with more than 300 different enzymes in the body to keep things working well. Without it, your cells can not divide properly; your estrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance and your reproductive system may not be fully functioning. Low levels of zinc have been directly linked to miscarriage in the early stages of a pregnancy, according to The Centers for Disease Control’s Assisted Reproductive Technology Report. Sources include oysters, beef, lamb, venison, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, turkey, green peas, and shrimp.
Essential Fatty Acids have been shown to help fertility by helping to regulate hormones in the body, increasing cervical mucus, promoting ovulation and overall improve the quality of the uterus by increasing the blood flow to the reproductive organs. Sources include flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, halibut, shrimp, snapper, scallops, and chia seeds.
Stress Reduction and Quality of Life
Navigating the emotional and physical journey of fertility can be a roller coaster ride for many couples. Stress can lead to hormonal disturbances which can disrupt normal ovulation cycles. This is why some women may stop having a menstrual cycle during particularly stressful times in their lives. How is your body supposed to get pregnant when it is in fight or flight mode?
Some stress reducing activities can include spending more time in nature and with friends, journaling, cooking, music, art and talk therapy. Exercise is another way to reduce stress and boost fertility. Ideally you want to have 45 minutes of exercise, three times a week with a mix of cardio, stretching, and strengthening such as yoga, Pilates, swimming, dancing, and hiking. Other forms of relaxation include massage, acupuncture, and meditation. Wherever you are on your path to fertility, it is important to keep basic nutrition and stress reduction techniques in mind to create an internal landscape that is best suited for conception and a healthy pregnancy.
Natasha Kubis is a licensed acupuncturist and certified yoga teacher. For more information, visit essential-well.com