Boost your fertility naturally
15:15 (GMT+2), Wed, 24 October 2007
Okay, so you and your partner planned to have a couple of kids. You had no idea when, but when the time was right, you expected it to happen – only it hasn’t. Well, there’s no need to worry if you’ve only been trying for a few months. In fact, a couple is only medically defined infertile after at least 12 months since stopping contraception and having regular, unprotected intercourse without getting pregnant. This is the same reason why many worried couples are usually sent home by their doctors and told to keep trying. Did you know, however, that this period is reduced to six months if a couple is over the age of 35? Or that saunas, steam baths (ie heat) and sperm donÕt get along? By being aware of the lifestyle factors that influence fertility, you can make the necessary changes that will set you on the right path to conception.
Here, your aim should be to get rid of all the toxins caused by bad food choices. Ideally you need to eat a balanced diet that consists of fruit, vegetables, protein, good fats and carbohydrates. A balanced diet will provide you with far more vitamins and nutrients (a good supplement will provide you with the vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in your diet). Always take a look at what you’re about to eat; if it’s junk food, ditch it for something healthy like an apple. Also, opt for organic foods; they don’t have the chemicals, insecticides, pesticides and antibiotics used in other farmed veggies and meat. Furthermore, organic meat and milk does not contain the high levels of the hormone oestrogen normally found in farmed herds. Most importantly, to get rid of the ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species) in your body, you’ll need to take some anti-oxidants. ROS are found in substances such as smoke and polluted air, and are toxic to both sperm and egg.
A weighty issue
Believe it or not, your weight has a direct effect on your hormones. A woman only needs about 20% body fat for ovulation. So if you’re overweight, the hormone oestrogen will be produced in much larger quantities, causing a hormonal imbalance in the body which can limit your chances of conception. "Obesity compromises ovulation," says Dr Miriam Stoppard in her book Conception, Pregnancy & Birth (DK, 2000). "In one study, 12 out of 13 women who lost 6kg and more began to ovulate." This becomes a different story if you’re underweight, because women who are extremely underweight experience problems with not only ovulation, but with their menstrual cycle as a whole. Ovulation can stop completely when you’re underweight, and conception cannot happen without ovulation. Although there’s still room for argument, some studies have even shown a connection between obesity in men and infertility. If you’re finding it difficult to conceive, consider losing or gaining some weight through a balanced diet and exercise programme. It’s important that you do it the healthy way, as diets – such as those which eliminate entire food groups like fats or carbs – deny you essential nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy.
The world around us
Ever felt like the air is crisper and fresher in the countryside than in the city? That’s because city air is polluted by car exhausts and industrial fumes and waste. Besides the air, there are many other things in our environment that may be introducing toxins into our bodies. If you work with any kind of chemicals or toxic metals, you must take the necessary safety precautions and protect yourself. Avoid exposure to gas, petrol and diesel fumes, pesticides, insect killers, lead-based paints, cleaning chemicals and the use of aluminium cookware. Avoid long hours at the computer as it emits electromagnetic waves that could harm your fertility. Other common things that emit these electromagnetic waves include microwave ovens and cellular phones. Recent research has found that chemicals found in plastic food containers and bottles have oestrogen-like effects, but in low doses. So try and limit your use of these – just to be on the safe side.
Your medicine chest
Some medicines and over-the-counter drugs can affect fertility in both men and women. These include analgesics, antihistamines, antidepressants, diuretics, antibiotics, steroids, and more – many of which are so common that they can be found in widely used cough mixtures and painkillers. Some medication can also interfere with the environment of the uterus, making it difficult for sperm to survive. Ask your doctor about possible alternatives that won’t affect your fertility.
The stress factor
When falling pregnant doesn’t happen soon enough, most couples worry that something may be wrong. In fact, the possibility of not being able to conceive a baby at all seems to become all-consuming. Suddenly you have this new obsession, so you try even harder to make it happen. But stressing about it will only make it more difficult to conceive, as your body’s response to stress can interfere with your sex hormones. Stress can also harm your immune system and make it impossible for you to achieve optimum health, which is vital for a healthy conception. Deciding to just let things be can be difficult to do, so to make it easier you may want to spend some time doing the things you enjoy. Instead of splitting your evenings between having intercourse and searching the Internet for more remedies and information, go out to the movies, take up a yoga class or get a deep tissue massage every now and then. Get involved in anything that takes your mind off falling pregnant for a while and you may be pleasantly surprised!
Exercise in moderation
Not only does regular exercise keep your heart and lungs healthy, it also keeps any excess weight off, builds strong muscles and improves blood circulation. That said, however, if you’re trying to conceive, excessive exercise can put too much strain on your body and affect hormone production (this affects women as much as it does men). Also, after a session at the gym, a steam bath may seem well deserved. But heat and sperm don’t really get along. So your partner should be careful about exposing his testes to excessive heat sources (this includes saunas and hot tubs).
You and your partner may want to be screened for underlying problems that can prevent you from falling pregnant. For instance, endometriosis (a condition where the endometrial tissue of the uterus grows outside the uterine cavity) is a cause of infertility in women and it’s better to know that you have it so that it can be treated early. Sexually transmitted diseases can also cause infertility and many of them, such as chlamydia, have no symptoms and can remain in the bloodstream for years.
NEED A HELPING HAND?
Many fertility clinics offer stress management, diet and lifestyle programmes as a first step towards infertility treatment. At a reasonable cost, you’ll receive a closely regulated programme giving you specifics on what to eat, how much exercise you need, how much weight you need to lose or gain, which supplements to take, and so on. Other programmes incorporate natural remedies such as acupuncture and homoeopathy. Many couples have had much success with the fertility programmes offered at Dr Colin La Grange’s Institute for Equilibrium in Durban. For more information, visit www.lagrangeinstitute.com.
THE DANGERS OF SMOKING, CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
Smoking: We all know it – smoking is not only bad for you, it kills. And maybe the prospect of becoming a parent should be enough incentive for both you and your partner to quit. It’s not easy, but it is best. Smoke, including secondary smoke, can affect the levels of vitamin C in the body, which is bad news for sperm quality. And if cigarette smoking can interfere with fertility procedures such as IVF, imagine what it can do to an attempt for natural conception! There is also evidence that smokers can become menopausal two years earlier and that smoke’s deleterious effect on the ovaries reduces ovarian reserve. This especially affects IVF procedures, as fewer eggs are available for fertilisation and the response to stimulation becomes very poor.
Caffeine: A stressful lifestyle is mostly associated with smoking and the high consumption of caffeine. Previous Australian studies found that caffeine can independently affect fertility. Further studies showed that caffeine has no effect on fertility if you consume less than 300mg (about two cups) a day. But women who consume more can take longer to conceive. Because it is addictive, start by reducing the number of cups of coffee you normally consume a day. And also look out for hidden caffeine found in energy drinks, chocolate, cola, ice cream and some over-the-counter medicines (particularly cold, headache and allergy medicines). Doctors and midwives advise against caffeine during pregnancy as it may increase chances of miscarriage. Plus, it has no nutritional value.
Alcohol: In women, alcohol affects the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, causing changes to normal menstrual cycles and ovulation. This is much worse in males, as excessive alcohol consumption can suppress sperm production and even go on to the extremes of causing impotence and sterility. "Any couple who is struggling to conceive should consider cutting down – way down – or stopping the booze completely," advises Toni Weschler in her book Taking Charge of Your Fertility (Random House, 2003).
THE PILL AND PREGNANCY
According to the BBC Health website, www.bbc.com/health/, a recent study showed that taking the Pill for a long period of time might actually improve a woman\'s subsequent fertility and not reduce it. Previous studies had suggested that taking the Pill could reduce fertility. But researchers at Bristol and Brunel Universities found that women who take the Pill for more than five years, have a greater chance of becoming pregnant within six months of stopping it than women who have never used it. The study involved 8 000 women and although it showed that most of the women who had been taking the Pill for a long time conceived much quicker after stopping it, the researchers cannot yet pinpoint the reason for this, so further research has to been done.
Special thanks to Dr Goolam H Mohamed of the Sandton Fertility Centre in Johannesburg.infertility