Fertility. It’s something we often take for granted when we’re planning our lives. In fact, many women spend a lot of money and effort in preventing pregnancy until the timing is right for conception. However, even when the timing is right, our bodies don’t always cooperate. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in infertility. One study found infertility rates increased from 5.4 percent in 1984 to 15.7 percent in 2011, a substantial increase in a short period of time.
What makes infertility particularly frustrating is that it’s often hard to determine a cause when a couple has difficulty conceiving. Causes of infertility are often multifactorial, and many elements of a couple's health need to be considered to understand the potential cause(s) in order to best optimize their ability to conceive. That’s why an integrative approach, taking into account lifestyle, genetics, stress levels, and overall health is best if you’re experiencing fertility issues.
Timing is important because so many different elements need to be considered - and timing is a key component, both in terms of your chronological age and the timing of conception. In general, a couple is considered infertile if they’ve been trying for a year to conceive without success. However, it’s often a good idea to start taking some proactive steps to improve your fertility as soon as you have decided you want to conceive.
What’s contributing to the increase in infertility? Medical scientists can’t pinpoint one specific cause, but many lifestyle factors can play a role. Some things that can influence fertility include:
Many hormones work in tandem to create the optimum conditions for conception, including follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), estradiol, luteinizing hormone (LH), and progesterone. Perhaps not surprisingly, even a tiny variation in your hormone balance can affect your fertility.
That’s why the first step to any fertility treatment is often testing hormone levels. Knowing how your hormones are working together gives your healthcare practitioner an excellent starting point.
If you have a relative who had difficulty conceiving, you may also be at risk for fertility issues. Recent research has found genetic components to some chromosomal problems.
It’s often frustrating for women to realize that age is one of the biggest factors that can contribute to infertility. After all, for many women, it can feel like a narrow window between being financially and emotionally ready to have a baby and being the right age to conceive.
Of course, we all see many examples of women well into their 40s (and beyond) having babies. And it’s definitely possible. However after 35, the odds of getting pregnant decrease at a faster rate. Simply put, we are born with a set number of eggs in our ovaries. As we grow older our risk for other factors that impact fertility increase.
Still, it’s important not to overstate the decline women experience in their 30s. Consider these stats:
So through our 30s, the odds of conception doesn’t decline very dramatically. However, fertility rates do drop faster after 40, so about 30 percent of women between 40 and 44 will experience infertility.
In addition, your weight can impact your fertility. That’s because excess weight can affect your hormone levels and lead to irregular ovulation. The good news is that studies have found that losing just small amount of weight can make a difference.
Somewhat paradoxically, women who are underweight (with a BMI of less than 18.5) can experience similar problems because not having enough body fat can also impact your hormone production. However, it’s not just the number of your BMI. Body composition (the amount of body fat and lean muscle) and activity levels also play a role.
Of course, it takes two people to conceive. Interestingly, scientific studies have found a clear link between male obesity and low sperm levels. In fact, men whose BMI places them in the obese category have 60 percent less seminal fluid than men of normal weight. That’s a pretty significant difference. Underweight men also have lower amounts of seminal fluid, so it’s all about having the right balance — as with many aspects of your fertility.
Can stress affect your infertility? The answer often is yes. For some women, this is an added source of frustration. After all, dealing with infertility is stressful in itself. However, from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense. Your body might realize that when you’re stressed, you need to conserve energy. In our busy modern life, this process can continue. When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands produce more of the “stress hormones” adrenaline and cortisol as well as elevates prolactin. Both of which can suppress ovulation, not to mention weaken your libido (which is definitely necessary for conception!)
Another hormonal issue that can affect ovulation is having low levels of thyroid hormone, a condition called hypothyroidism. Also paradoxically, hyperthyroidism, or high levels of thyroid hormone, can affect ovulation. (You’re probably starting to understand why achieving the right hormone balance is so important!) Thyroid hormone plays a big role in letting your ovaries know when to ovulate, so when your thyroid hormone levels are out of whack, ovulation can be too.
Exposure to certain chemicals - in your foods, your clothing, your cleaning products, beauty care and elsewhere - has been shown to impact fertility levels for both men and women. And you don’t have to work with toxic substances to experience the effects. Even a fairly healthy standard Western diet can introduce pesticides that have negative impacts on our reproductive systems. Removing the toxins from your system requires professional guidance but well worth it for improving your overall picture of health.
As we can see from the list above, treating infertility can be complex. Is there anything you can do on your own to improve your fertility? The most important thing is to act now if you have concerns. Don’t forget: Conception requires careful timing, so you do want to address any issues right away. Here are some steps that can help with fertility issues.
Proper testing to see what’s really going on with your whole body will give us a better picture. Treating infertility requires addressing your overall health, not just your reproductive system. While your hormones play a key role so do many other factors. We can work together to help prepare your body for conception and eliminate the stress of wondering if there is more you should be doing and how to start!
We understand that this is easier said than done, especially when you’re worrying about fertility. (It’s always a bit of a vicious cycle if you start to get stressed about having to relax!) Meditation is a good way to consciously address your emotional concerns.
One recent study found that women who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables with high pesticide levels were less likely to conceive. So choose organic produce when possible, or opt for produce that doesn’t typically have as much pesticide exposure (think thick skin that protects the fruit like avocados or oranges).
In addition, certain foods have been associated with higher fertility levels. Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine the best diet for your needs. In general, you want to ensure you’re getting adequate levels of folate, Omegas, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin D.
Both males and females should think about the chemicals they’re exposed every day when they’re trying to conceive. In addition to possible pesticides on produce, frequent exposure to x-rays, radiation, cigarette smoke, alcohol but also toxins in the home and in products you use on your body everyday can all impact infertility. In addition, workplace hazards like exposure to lead and cadmium can all upset the hormonal balance required for peak fertility.
If you’re concerned about your fertility, give us a call. Together we can dive deeper and see where your issues are, have a clear treatment program. Fertility is a common issue, just know that you are not alone and that we successfully treat many men and women with fertility issues at the clinic.