Infertility is currently viewed as a reproductive disease according to WHO, affecting more couples than ever. 1 out of 6 couples today experience difficulty in getting pregnant. In the past, it was believed that the woman was the only cause of infertility but in the recent times, more and more men are accepting that the cause could also arise from them. The natural approach to treating infertility solves the root causes of infertility, by addressing all body systems, rather than just focusing solely on the reproductive system.
Many couples that can’t become pregnant suffer from a combination of sub-clinical conditions. These conditions can’t cause infertility on their own but in combination, they can substantially reduce a couple’s probability of conceiving. For example; gluten intolerance alone cannot cause infertility; however, the resulting inflammation in the gut can minimize your nutrient absorption and lead to deficiencies in nutrients you need for optimal sperm, egg and hormone production and a healthy pregnancy. Exposure to heavy metals, radiation, and toxic chemicals in some foods, drugs and other products can damage DNA. Recent nutrigenomic (a study of the effects of nutrients on gene expression) research suggests that what we eat can influence our gene structure and expression.
Minimize your exposure to Toxic chemicals
Exposure to environmental toxins (in the form of industrial chemicals) both in utero and in the neonatal period may dramatically affect adult fertility. Most chemicals used in everyday life do not go through the same checks as medicines do. Consequently, poisonous chemicals end up circulating in our environment, food supply, air, and water.
The strongest evidence of heavy metals and environmental pollution adversely interfering with healthy reproductive function in women has been found in lead. Other compounds that can alter hormone function and result in adverse reproductive health effects include:
- Ovotoxicants: can disrupt or even stop ovulation.
- Endocrine disruptors: can interfere with hormone function and cause endometriosis and PCOS (polycystic ovarian disease).
- Phthalates: in plastic food containers cling wrap, IV bags, medical supplies, vinyl flooring and packaging at high levels have been associated with miscarriage and testicular toxicity. At low levels, they disrupt hormonal balance.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) chemicals: used in rubber tires, plastics, and pesticides.
- PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon): released from cigarettes, car fumes and road tar
Sperm seems to be more sensitive to heavy metals and industrial pollutants than eggs. Many sperm abnormalities have been linked to these toxins. The majority of these chemicals can be found in the atmosphere, on the ground in cities and in the waterways. They have also been termed “reprotoxicants” for their negative effects on sperm development and maturation. Studies confirm male sperm counts are declining, and environmental factors, such as pesticides, exogenous estrogens (Xenoestrogens), and heavy metals may negatively impact spermatogenesis (formation of sperm).
The top 6 environmental toxins to avoid:
- Pesticides: found on non-organic fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and unfiltered tap water
- Formaldehyde: found in air fresheners, deodorants, floor polish, upholstery cleaners
- Bisphenols: found in plastic containers and can leach into food and water.
- Organic solvents: petroleum based liquids found in household products, electronics, car repair, health care, photography, agriculture, printing, construction, and cosmetics. Dry-cleaning chemicals, paint fumes and much Occasional exposure to one or the other toxic chemical is not of concern. What is of concern is an accumulation of these chemicals over a long period.
- Don’t drink unfiltered tap water. Our waterways are constantly being polluted by industrial waste and byproducts, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, herbicides
and commercial cleaning products. There are many companies polluting the water regardless of the country you live in. Either there is no environmental law at all, or there are loopholes in the law for the chemicals getting into the water.
- Heavy metals are the most common of the reprotoxins reaching our water supply through industrial waste, jet fuel exhaust residue and a variety of other sources.
- Pharmaceutical drugs are commonly found in tap water. Because the drugs do not metabolize fully, small quantities are excreted via feces and urine and flushed away. Toilet water is often treated and filtered before being discharged into lakes and rivers thereby re-entering the water supply. The trouble is, many drugs are not filtered out via the regular filtration process. Minute quantities of chemotherapy drugs, contraceptive pills, antidepressants, anxiolytics, anabolic steroids, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) drugs, heart drugs etc. have been found in tap water.
The American college of Obstetrics and Gynecology as well as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine gave a committee opinion to women who want to have children to avoid eating large fish and stock fish as they contain toxic heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic that may cause miscarriage. Recently, we have found that some of our patients with repeated IVF failures have Antimony another heavy metal showing in the bioenergetic testing of environmental toxins. Many of these patients drive cars with their bare feet. The brake pads of cars contain Antimony, that apart from having antifertility actions is also carcinogenic. It is therefore adviced to wear shoes while driving.
Aim to eat an optimal fertility diet
In the first trimester of pregnancy your growing embryo will increase 20 million times. In the first 8 weeks your baby’s organs, hands, fingers, legs, feet, head, eyes, nose, ears etc. are being developed. To ensure optimal growth during this phase, you want to make sure there are plenty of building blocks in the form of the right nutrients in the right combinations.
What does a fertility diet contain?
An optimal fertility diet is about what to avoid as much as it is about what to eat. A fertility diet should be as fresh as possible and organic. Key elements are: good quality protein sources (especially plant proteins) and good fats.
What should you eat?
Organic meat in small quantities, game, small deep-sea fish like sardines and red snapper, organic legumes home cooked (not canned).
Whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruit in season (please note that vegetables are better when slightly stemmed not raw, while fruits are only good in small amounts, all these products are better in the organic form where possible. It is important to emphasise that fruits must be in very small amounts as large consumption of fruits especially sweet may be responsible for serious consequences including Poly cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Some people based on their metabolic profile are better avoiding sweet fruits like watermelon, apple and grapes completely.
Increase your consumption of good fats and avoid dangerous fats. Good fats include monounsaturated fats in olive oil, polyunsaturated fats in oily fish and nuts and mid chain fatty acids found in coconut oil.
For cooking use clarified butter (ghee) or coconut butter (without flavor) as they do not become unstable when heated.
For non-heated oil requirements (salads etc) use cold pressed olive oil, flaxseed oil and nut oils.
Avoid dangerous fats
Did you know consuming trans fats hidden in foods such as; doughnuts, biscuits, lollies, candy, chocolate, chips, pies, fries, and thousands of other unhealthy foods may increase your risk of infertility by as much as 70 percent? Scientists from the Harvard University School of Public Health advise women wanting to get pregnant to avoid all trans-fat.
The sole purpose of adding trans-fat to food is to extend its shelf life. Trans fats are mostly listed as’ hydrogenated fat’ or ‘hardened vegetable fat’ or simply ‘vegetable fat.’
Minimize animal-derived estrogens
Dairy products account on average for 60-70 percent of estrogens consumed. Humans consume milk from cows in the second half of pregnancy when cow’s estrogen levels are high. We usually associate dairy and drinking milk with calcium, and never think about what else we may be consuming along with the calcium (and dairy, by the way, is not the best source of calcium). Here is a list of hormones that have been found in cows’ milk:
Prolactin, Somatostatin, Melatonin, Oxytocin, Growth hormone, Luteinizing releasing hormone, Thyroid stimulating hormone, Estrogens, Progesterone, Insulin, Corticosteroids and much more.
Do you think an excess consumption of all these hormones could disrupt your own hormonal balance? You bet! Consumption of milk has been linked to certain cases of male infertility. Excess estrogen and pesticide exposure have been linked to PCOS and Endometriosis. Studies have found higher concentrations of pesticides in cheese than in non-organically grown fruit and vegetables. The first line of naturopathic treatment I recommend for PCOS and Endometriosis is to minimize intake of animal products. Animal products have a high content of hormones, pesticides, and herbicides, which are known endocrine disruptors. They wreak havoc to your hormones and this can lead to anovulation and ultimately infertility.
Avoid the two most common allergens
The link between food intolerances and anti-sperm antibodies is now well established. Studies have found that women with multiple allergies and food intolerances were more likely to miscarry. An overactive immune system is more likely to attack its own body cells. From an immunological point of view, an embryo and sperm cell are foreign bodies. But Mother Nature was clever; she programmed our immune systems to distinguish between an everyday invader and a sperm cell or embryo. A normal and healthy immune response to an embryo or sperm cell is orchestrated by Th2 cytokines. They suppress your killer cells (that’s what they are called) to leave the embryo unharmed. Because of this protection, many pregnant women are poor wound healers and can come down really badly with a cold or flu. Your natural protection has been suppressed so that your baby can develop properly.
An abnormal immune response to the implantation of the fertilized egg is orchestrated by Th1 cytokines. Rather than suppressing your killer cells they stimulate their activity. This can lead to defects and the loss of the fetus. The two most widely spread food intolerances are gluten and dairy. I recommend all my patients have an IgG immunoglobulin test done to check if you are dairy and gluten intolerant. But since most people have some level of allergy to gluten and/or dairy, it’s advisable to avoid gluten and dairy altogether during the preconception and pregnancy period.
Have an STD (sexually transmitted disease) check
Most people believe both they and their partner are STD free. However there are some STD’s which can be asymptomatic, meaning that you may not be aware you have them, as there are no obvious symptoms. One such STD is a Chlamydia infection. In men, a Chlamydia infection can lead to sperm abnormalities including sperm antibodies. In women, it can lead to scarring, blocked tubes and miscarriage.
A study found 60% of asymptomatic male partners of infected females attending a fertility clinic were found to be infected with Chlamydia. Most STD’s are easy to treat, so it pays for both partners to have an STD check. There is no point in only one partner going for a test as the other partner can re-infect them again.
Allow yourself 60 days before trying to conceive
There is a common misconception that egg and sperm quality cannot be improved. In fact it is possible to improve the quality of your egg and sperm however, it takes 60 days. This is because it takes approximately 60 days for eggs from both ovaries to mature and sperm to develop. During the generation and maturation of gamete cells ,sperm and ovum, that form an embryo everything that you and your partner ingest, inhale or are exposed to will influence the health of your eggs and sperm for better or worse, and the ultimate quality of the genetic building blocks you pass onto your child.
This is why it’s crucial to follow a good preconception plan for a minimum of 4 months before conception. A baby is a 50-50 product of his or her parents — therefore optimizing the quality of eggs and sperm is of paramount importance. Sperm disorders contribute to 40% of infertility cases. Woman who suffer from recurrent miscarriages often have partners with low sperm counts and visually abnormal sperm. Therefore both partners should detox, follow a fertility diet, take preconception supplements and avoid reproductive toxins discussed in this article for minimum of 2 months before conception.
Avoid coffee, smoking and alcohol
You may not want to hear this, but drinking coffee decreases fertility. A large study from Connecticut found that as little as 1 cup of coffee per day increases the risk of not conceiving by 55 percent. And if you have 2-3 cups per day that risk rises to 100 percent and continues to increase with an additional cup up to 176 percent. And did you know that women who drank coffee before and during pregnancy had twice the risk of miscarriage?
Alcohol is harmful to women’s eggs and men’s sperm and as little as one glass can reduce fertility by 50 percent! This can further lead to damage of the developing embryo and may result in miscarriage. And although it’s been known for a long time that drinking while pregnant is a no-no, drinking before pregnancy has been largely ignored. This doesn’t stop with coffee and alcohol. Smoking and recreational drugs can also reduce your odds of conception. A study tested the effects of cigarette smoking on semen quality in men and found that sperm motility (ability to propel forward) decreased in light smokers while heavy smoking produced abnormal sperm shape. Scientists have discovered that quitting smoking may increase sperm count in men who quit smoking for 5-15 months 50 percent to 800 percent respectively.
Take a good quality preconception and pregnancy supplement. Regardless of whether you are eating organic produce and a healthy diet, you are unlikely to be getting all the nutrients your body needs for optimal fertility from your diet. This is why supplementation is important.
Getting pregnant and growing a new human being with your own reserves, requires a surplus of nutrients and energy. In your body’s accounting terms, pregnancy is a luxury, a splurge of energy and nutrients. Some of the key nutrients for fertility are:
Zinc, Selenium, Magnesium, Calcium, Vitamin B12, B6, Folic acid, Vitamin C, and Omega-3 fats.
IVF Does Not Address the Root Cause of Infertility
Conventional IVF and other assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments don’t address root causes of infertility. These root causes include: nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure, stress, food intolerances, allergies and immune deficiencies. These subtle but critical factors interact synergistically to impact the quality of your eggs and sperm, affecting your ability to conceive and the health of your embryo.
Counting the Financial Cost of IVF
Recent media reports of grandparents funding their children’s IVF treatments in the hope of a grandchild illustrate the financial strain these treatments can pose to couples. While celebrities and wealthy couples can afford it, many struggle with treatments costing more than a million naira in Nigeria or up to $15, 000 in Europe and USA.
IVF as the Final Option after Preconception Care
The rate of success of IVF is (on average) 25 percent per single attempt. Studies show that by following a natural preconception program prior to attempting IVF, the success rate is increased to 47.1 percent per single attempt. I always advise couples to undertake a preconception program as a first step while attempting IVF. A good number of patients who had failed IVF attempts were able to go through a successful IVF after a good medical cleansing, regeneration and detoxification program. In recognition of the above, WHO, in making guidelines for IVF has recommended the need for couples wanting to conceive to undergo life style modifications to rid the body of toxins, exercise and if they are overweight to lose at least 5% of their body weight before attempting assistedconception. This may include the use of health spas and other available means.