One of my passions is to support women who are looking to improve their health and lifestyle in preparation to start a family. In some cases this is women who just want to get healthier and learn how to take care of themselves and nourish their mind, body and soul as they grow another human. For other ladies, the situation is more complicated and they are looking for support due to infertility. In this article I want to cover the basic questions of what is infertility, what are the causes of infertility in both males and females and what are the options for natural treatment of infertility.
What is infertility?
The majority of couples, that is around 84%, are able to fall pregnant within one year of having regular having unprotected sex. But unfortunately this is not the case for everyone. Infertility is when a couple cannot conceive, despite trying, and is thought to affect around 1 in 7 couples in the UK. There can be many causes for infertility which can be due to the woman, man or both. There are 4 main stages of conception:
- Ovulation i.e. the release of a mature egg from the ovaries
- Fertilisation of the egg by a viable sperm
- Transport of the fertilised egg to the womb
- Implantation of the fertilised egg into the womb lining
Problems with any of these processes can result in infertility and problems conceiving. Around a third of cases of infertility are attributed to female infertility, another third to male infertility and the remaining third is either due to both the male and the female or unknown causes of infertility.
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What is primary vs. secondary infertility?
Primary infertility is the inability to conceive in a woman who has not given birth previously. Secondary infertility is when a woman has already given birth to at least one child and is unable to conceive another. Often people wonder if fertility can be genetic and the answer is yes, approximately 50% of infertility cases are thought to be genetic with the remaining caused by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors.
What are the causes for infertility in females?
The menstrual cycle, which is responsible for female fertility, is regulated by a complicated symphony of chemical messengers aka hormones. An imbalance in these hormones can impact ovulation either by making ovulation irregular or stopping ovulation altogether. Other physical factors can affect the transport and implantation of a fertilised egg.
Female infertility can be due to a number of causes:
- Physical – Hereditary problems, damage or trauma can lead to infertility by affecting the functioning of a woman’s reproductive organs
- Reproductive disorders – Conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, hypothalamic amenorrhea and hypothyroid are all associated with reduced fertility in females
- Hormonal imbalance – High stress, excessive exercise, poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors can lead to imbalances in the female reproductive hormones
- Contraception – Use of certain contraceptives such as the pill or implant can lead to temporary infertility after stopping the contraception
|Ovulation||Hormonal imbalance, contraception, PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea|
|Fertilisation||Low sperm quantity or viability, timing of sex, ineffective mucus|
|Transportation||Blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis|
What are the causes for infertility in males?
The quantity and quality of sperm is absolutely necessary for the second stage of conception, fertilisation to take place. Male fertility is usually assessed by checking the sperm count, mobility and viability as well as the volume of sperm produced.
Male infertility can occur for a number of reasons:
- Physical – Damage to the testicles or structural problems can lead to reduced sperm count or affect transport of sperm
- Impotence – Stress and other lifestyle factors can affect a man’s ability to achieve or maintain an erection
- Contraception – Males who have been sterilised previously may experience reduced fertility even after reversal of the vasectomy
Risk factors for infertility in women and men
There are several factors which affect both female and male fertility:
- Age – A woman’s fertility starts to decline after the age of 35 as the number and quality of her eggs decreases
- Lifestyle – Factors such as poor nutrition, smoking, alcohol, stress can reduce fertility by affecting a woman’s ability to conceive and a man’s sperm quantity and quality
- Body weight – Both obesity (BMI >30) and underweight (BMI (<18) are both associated with lower rates of fertility
- Environmental – Excessive exposure to pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, PCBs and other toxic chemicals can affect fertility in both genders
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Can infertility be treated?
The answer to this one is, it depends! As we have seen, infertility can be caused by a wide range of factors, some of which can be changed and others which cannot. If you are struggling with infertility and you are unsure about the reason, it is a good idea to visit your GP for testing to find out the potential causes and your options for treatment. In some cases, medically assisted reproductive procedures such as IVF may be the best path to take. In other cases, it may be possible to improve your fertility using natural methods such as improving nutritional status and other positive lifestyle changes, particularly if no structural or hereditary conditions are present.
There is significant research to demonstrate the benefits of nutrition and lifestyle changes on fertility, however nothing is guaranteed. The good news is that natural approaches to improving fertility have no negative side effects and offer many other holistic health benefits. Even for couples who decide that medical intervention is the path for them, natural fertility methods are complementary and support the couples health and wellbeing throughout this process.
Natural approaches to infertility
Natural approaches to fertility are holistic and varied but here I will focus on the areas of my training which is nutrition, holistic health and menstrual cycle awareness. Other natural approaches you might want to research includes Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture. I will be sharing more on this topic in the coming weeks and months but for now here is a summary of the three main areas I focus on with my clients:
Menstrual cycle awareness
Despite what we were told in school, it is not possible to fall pregnant at any time but rather only at specific times in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Improving timing of sex to align with ovulation can improve chances of conception from 2-4% to 20%! This means getting to know your cycle and observing your natural hormonal rhythms and signs of fertility including your body temperature, mucus consistency. Not only will this improve your chance of conception but it also helps you to become more connected and in tune with your female body which will support you throughout your pregnancy, birth and life in general!
Research shows that a healthy, balanced and varied diet improves fertility in both females and males. This includes ensuring you are taking in the right amount of energy and macro-nutrients to support optimal functioning of your metabolism and reproductive system. A nutrient dense diet with plenty of fresh produce, adequate protein, complex carbohydrates and high quality fats promotes natural fertility, as does reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants. There are also specific nutrients associated with fertility and ensuring you have these nutritional bases covered via your diet or through targeted supplementation can boost your fertility naturally.
Ensuring your overall lifestyle is supportive of your fertility is another key part of natural fertility treatment. This includes managing your stress levels and incorporating rest and relaxation into your daily routines as well as maintaining a positive mindset towards your body and your fertility. Natural fertility treatment also involves ensuring that the amount and type of activity you do is appropriate to ensure optimal health without affecting hormonal balance. A healthy amount of moderate exercise improves fertility but excessive exercise can lead to problems with ovulation so you want to find that sweet spot. Finally, reviewing the products that you are using is important to avoid exposure to potentially toxic or hormone disrupting chemicals that could impact your fertility.
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Over to you…
I hope you found this post about infertility and natural fertility treatments useful. Why not share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below? Please like and share this post to support my business and follow my blog for more useful posts on nutrition, yoga and lifestyle for holistic health and fertility.
If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your natural fertility journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. If you are feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed about nutrition and lifestyle for fertility, I can help you to cut through the noise and implement simple but effective strategies which will help you to feel informed and confident that you are doing the best you can for your health and fertility!
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