'The things we chat about over a cup of Therapy tea'
Posted on: Wednesday 1st November 2017
Foundations for fertility…
by Nutritional Therapist, Charlotte Pickles
BA (Hons), Dip NT (CNM), mBANT, CNHC
So you want to have a baby? Getting pregnant must be pretty straight forward, right?
Well, after spending the best part of your sexually active years probably trying not to get pregnant, you may be surprised once you start trying for a baby that it doesn't just happen straight away; in fact, for some people it can take months and even years before they successfully conceive. For others, IVF treatment has become their only hope, and in this short blog we will explore some of the common lifestyles factors underlying infertility and key nutritional changes that can help to redress imbalances and promote optimal fertility for both the man and woman.
Firstly, there are many underlying causes of fertility, and I would always suggest seeing your GP if you have been trying for a baby, unsuccessfully, for more than a year. There are a number of tests that your GP can run which will help to determine what the problem might be. Tests for the woman might include a blood test to check levels of estrogen and progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Women may also be offered a scan to check the health of the ovaries, fallopian tubes and womb. Men may be offered a sperm analysis which will check sperm count and motility. Both partners will be asked about lifestyle factors, including whether they smoke cigarettes or marijuana, how much alcohol they drink and how much stress they are currently under. You may also be asked about the possibility of having a sexually transmitted disease and will be offered a test if appropriate.
Once you are armed with your test results, you will have a much better idea about where and what the problem might be and can then start looking into options for supporting yourselves. Some of the most common causes for a man and woman having difficulties conceiving can be addressed through diet and lifestyle alone, and these will be discussed here.
Sex hormones are produced in the ovaries and the testes. They are also produced in the adrenal glands. Guess what else is produced in the adrenal glands? That's right, your stress hormones; adrenaline and cortisol. Your body will always prioritise stress hormones over sex hormones because we are programmed to prevent conception when our bodies perceive that we are in danger or in 'flight or fight' mode, i.e. when we are stressed. The precursor for both of these hormones (pregnenolone) will in effect 'steal' progesterone (an important sex hormone for fertility) to create cortisol (stress hormone) instead. This, alongside other key metabolic changes off-set by stress can cause disruption to hormones and significantly decrease chances of conception.
It is therefore really important to address stress in your life if you have been trying to conceive. Unfortunately, not being able to get pregnant causes stress all by itself, so it's really important to consider all sources of stress and try to reduce it where you can. This includes stress caused by high intensity exercise, work stress, friends and relationships and all external and internal pressures. Try meditation, yoga, swapping heavy exercise for light walking and/or swimming, practice saying 'no' to things and really focus on nourishing your mind. Sleep is really important too so practice good 'sleep hygiene' and stop to think about work/life balance during this time of your life.
Preparing your body for conception…
In order for you to be able to conceive, your hormones need to be in balance. Unfortunately diet and lifestyle can play havoc with your hormones and lead to imbalances that can be responsible for many underlying reasons for infertility. Achieving hormone balance is crucial and the first step towards this is ensuring that hormones are being produced optimally and that waste hormones are being removed efficiently.
Waste and excess hormones are excreted by the liver so the health of the liver is vital for good hormone health. Before even starting for a baby (or if you have already been trying without success), we recommend a 'cleanse' to bring your body into optimum health before actively trying for a baby. A 'cleanse' would work to detoxify the body, bring hormones back into balance and prepare the uterus for a healthy embryo. A fertility cleanse involves the use of specific herbs and should be done under the supervision of a qualified Nutritional Therapist, however, key nutritional factors to consider both before and during pregnancy are as follows:
Choose organic wherever possible:
Choosing organic produce reduces your exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides that have been shown to lower fertility. Organic fruit and vegetables also have a higher nutrient content so are great for ramping up your levels of key vitamins and minerals during this important time.
Organic, grass-fed meat is an important source of protein and essential fatty acids required during pregnancy. Choosing organic minimises exposure to antibiotics and hormones that are routinely used in the farming industry.
If you have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis, cut down on red meat consumption and choose organic poultry or oily fish instead.
Avoid refined sugars and processed foods:
Dysregulated blood sugar levels contribute to hormonal imbalance and have been particularly associated with PCOS and endometriosis.
Avoid foods with a high glycaemic index score and processed foods that often contain high amounts of sugar and salt.
Increase wholegrains (if appropriate for you) and fibre:
Fibre is important for clearing excess hormones through the digestive tract and for balancing blood sugar levels.
Increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits to 9-a-day (7:2 vegetable:fruit ratio) and increasing beans and legumes and wholegrains in your diet can increase your levels of fibre and aid clearance. Daily juices and smoothies can really help you to achieve a higher intake of fruit and vegetables.
Essential Fatty Acids:
Omega-3 has been shown to help fertility by regulating hormones in the body, increasing cervical mucous, promoting ovulation and improving the quality of the uterus by increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs.
DHA has been shown to be of particular importance. Studies show that women with higher levels of DHA give birth to children with higher IQ, better sleep patterns and healthier birth weights. There is also a reduced rate of preterm delivery.
You can get your EFAs by consuming wild or line-caught oily fish 2-3 times/week. This would include salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring or mackerel. Avoid tuna, shark, swordfish or marlin due to the methylmercury levels in these large fish.
You can also add flaxseeds (or flaxseed oil) to your daily routine. Flaxseeds should be soaked or ground and can be added to breakfast, to salads or sprinkled onto stews, etc. Similarly, flaxseed oil can be added to dressings or taken medicinally off the spoon.
Reduce chemical exposure to xenoestrogens:
Some chemicals found in plastics, cleaning products and cosmetics have been found to have an action that mimics the effects of estrogen in the body, contributing to hormone imbalance. Certain foods, like unfermented soy, also have this estrogen-like effect. It is important to reduce exposure to these chemicals and foods (known as xenoestrogens), particularly whilst you are trying for a baby, throughout pregnancy and whilst breast feeding. Always ensure your cosmetics are paraben free and that your cleaning products and plastics are BPA, PBDE and PCB free.
Key nutrients for her…
You are probably taking a pre-conception multi vitamin if you are trying to get pregnant, but remember that food is just as important to ensure your body is getting all of the key nutrients required.
Folic acid (folate) is of particular importance during pregnancy as it helps to prevent neural tube defects as well as congenital heart defects, cleft lips, limb defects, and urinary tract anomalies in the developing fetus. Food sources of folate include dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, beans (pinto, navy, black, kidney) and lentils.
Iron is also important, as women who do not get sufficient amounts of iron may suffer anovulation (lack of ovulation) and possibly poor egg health. This can inhibit pregnancy at a rate of 60% higher than those with sufficient iron stores in their blood.
Food sources of iron include heme iron which is found in meat and fish, sardines, salmon and turkey, as well as non-heme iron which is found in beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, whole eggs and wholegrains.
Vitamin D is needed to help the body to create sex hormones; it affects ovulation and hormonal balance. Vitamin D can be found in eggs, red meat and oily fish, but our best source is synthesised in our skin by the sun. It is always a good idea to get your vitamin D levels checked before supplementing so you know just how much you should be taking.
B6, Magnesium, Vitamin C, Zinc and Selenium also play key roles in balancing hormones and supporting optimal health for a woman wishing to conceive.
Key nutrients for him…
Zinc is considered to be one of the most important minerals for male fertility. Zinc helps to boost sperm levels and to improve the form, function and quality of sperm. Food sources include oysters, beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
Selenium protects the sperm from free radicals and potential chromosomal damage. It is also necessary for the creation of sperm. Selenium can be found in liver, cod, oily fish, mushrooms, turkey and brazil nuts.
Vitamin D for men is essential for the healthy development of sperm; increasing sperm count and sperm quality – again, always check your levels.
Vitamin E improves sperm health and motility. It is a powerful antioxidant and helps to protect both the sperm and the egg from DNA damage. Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds (including almond oil and almond butter) and dark green leafy vegetables.
Co Enzyme Q10 is a really important nutrient leading up to conception and particularly if you are undergoing IVF. It improves the quality of both the egg and the sperm, increasing the chances of a successful fertilisation. Again, it is a powerful antioxidant and improves sperm motility.
So, lots of things to consider and to try to incorporate into your daily routines and nutrient intakes. As always, we highly recommend seeing a qualified and experienced Nutritional Therapist to guide you through your own concerns and to put a personalised plan in place for successful fertility and right the way through pregnancy, birth and beyond.
© 2015 Therapy Organics
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