Did you know that certain vitamin deficiencies can impact your ability to conceive? Ditto for stress, lack of sleep and over-exercising. To find out more about everyday things we might be doing to put our fertility at risk, we spoke with Bradley Trivax, M.D. who is double board certified in Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility and Obstetrics & Gynecology. Here's a look at what to keep in mind as you go about your day-to-day life.
Watch Your Weight (Both Extremes Can Be Problematic)
Body fat levels that are 10% to 15% above normal can overload the body with estrogen, throwing off the reproductive cycle. Body fat levels 10% to 15% below normal can completely shut down the reproductive process.
Know Your Medications ("Your Body is a Temple" Mentality)
Antidepressants, pain medication, sleeping aids and other drugs used to treat chronic disorders can cause temporary infertility.
Limit Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana
Smoking may increase the risk of infertility in women; and even moderate alcohol consumption (as few as five drinks a week) can impair conception. It also increases the risk of low birth weight and premature birth. Intuitively, these all can affect sperm function as well. If you think you are overdoing it, you probably are. Everything in moderation.
Easy to say, hard to do consistently. Eating a balanced diet will help to ensure that your body is healthy enough to conceive and nourish a developing baby. A balanced diet also helps to keep sperm production at optimum levels. Dark leafy green vegetables are packed with minerals, antioxidants and vitamins essential to healthy fertility. Examples are spinach, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens. Include a small handful of nuts and seeds every day because these are a good source of zinc — much needed for hormone synthesis, egg and sperm as well as embryo development. Brazil nuts contain selenium, which can increase sperm count. Oily fish contain omega-3 essential fatty acids which contribute to improved sperm quality and motility. Good sources include salmon, mackerel and herring. Stay away from tuna and swordfish since these contain mercury which have been shown to affect fertility. Again, everything in moderation.
While it is all the rage right now, it may not be just a passing fad. It's a great way to get an abundant amount of vegetables in an easy, fast and tasty form.
The biggest factor that impacts fertility is something none of us can control — age. If you are in your mid-30s, you need to be "trying" to get pregnant as opposed to letting nature take its course. If you are over 35 and concerned about your fertility, seeing a Reproductive Endocrinologist and Infertility Specialist is not extreme, it's pro-active. Get checked out since information is knowledge and take control of your fertility.
Timing is Everything
Approximately 20% of couples who seek infertility treatment are not timing intercourse correctly. Having sex every day, or every other day for the whole month is not necessary (knock yourself out if you can do it). Don't waste your time taking your basal body temperature every morning — this is only going to add more stress to the process. Do use an ovulation prediction kit and have intercourse the two to three days leading up to ovulation, including the day of ovulation.
Know Your Birth Control Options
Whether it's the pill, an injection or an IUD (intrauterine device), it's important to know the long-term effects of these options on the resumption of your menstrual cycle once you are ready to conceive.
Stress affects all of us, but it comes down to being able to handle and control one’s stress in such a way that life can continue unimpeded. Stress raises levels of hormones (cortisol) that inhibit the body’s sex hormones (GnRH, a gonadotropin-releasing hormone) and subsequently suppresses ovulation, sexual activity and sperm count. GnRH is responsible for the release of hormones (FSH and LH) by the pituitary, leading to the suppression of testosterone, estrogen and sexual behavior. This all comes together creating the perfect storm of decreased libido and a decrease in overall fertility. Stress relief comes in all shapes and sizes since what works for one person, may or may not work for another.
Get Your 8 Hours
Sleep is an important aspect of overall health. One study recommended getting seven to eight hours of sleep as the optimal amount to improve one’s fertility. The primary link between healthy sleep habits and fertility lies in the circadian rhythms affect on hormone production. The human body relies on sleep to recharge its batteries. Sleep is also responsible for certain hormone secretions. Too much or too little sleep has a negative impact on our endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production. While that sounds reasonable, this can often be impossible with busy lives, work, family and recreation. Sleep and stress are linked and since sleep helps in decreasing stress and fatigue, it is important.
Exercise, But Not Too Much
A healthy amount of exercise can help lower stress and lead to a healthier body. Ideally, we should all be exercising for at least 45 minutes, about three times a week. But it's all about balance. Exercise can profoundly affect the menstrual cycle. A normal cycle every month is one of the most important aspects needed when trying to conceive. Anything that disrupts the menstrual cycle is likely disrupting ovulation, which ultimately prevents pregnancy.
Some signs you might be exercising too hard or too much include:
- Having irregular periods or skipping periods altogether. Amenorrhea is a frequent result of too much exercise and sometimes occurs in girls or women who engage in specific sports such as gymnastics, figure skating or any extreme training regimens.
- Being extremely thin to the point of looking unhealthy. It is important to look at your exercise and diet routine to see if you might be overdoing it.
- Losing weight too quickly, or losing too much weight.
- Frequent exercise that is overly intense. This means, for example, working out on a treadmill for an hour, followed by an aerobics class, spending an hour doing weightlifting and then swimming for another hour or longer.
- Abnormal behaviors surrounding food. An eating disorder might be present if you, or someone you know, never eats in front of others or eats very little, frequently retreats to the bathroom immediately after eating, is preoccupied with food and meals or the amount of calories, carbohydrates or fats in food.
Avoid Vitamin Deficiency
The role of vitamin D on fertility is significant. These levels need to measured with the appropriate blood test in order to determine if you are at risk. Vitamin D is not absolutely necessary for reproduction, but fertility is definitely diminished when levels are low. Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body and may significantly boost fertility in both men and women. It does this by increasing levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulate menstrual cycles and improve the likelihood of successful conception.
Many foods contain significant concentrations of the herbicide glyphosate (especially in genetically-modified foods), which has been linked to infertility. Avoid chemicals as much as possible. Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, fluoride (in drinking water), MSG and others have a negative impact on fertility. Consume a healthy diet, rich in healthy fats and antioxidants, and low in sugar and grains. The treatment strategy is to reduce or eliminate grains along with sugars, especially fructose. Identify potential gluten intolerance. Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) has been linked to fertility problems in both sexes.