In the year that we have been seeking out help from our fertility clinic, not once has any one ever asked what our diet consists of, recommended changes (dietary related), recommended vitamins (let alone herbs), general lifestyle changes, or even made any other suggestion to help boost our fertility. Not one single thing. Other than to be sure I was taking prenatal vitamins, which is pretty much a given at this point and you don’t need a medical degree to figure that one out.
I even told them I drink 2-3 cups of caffeine daily (this was the point of our first ever appointment at the clinic) and our nurse didn’t even say, try to limit your caffeine intake to one cup a day.
I have always been slightly more inclined to take the natural path, than the modern medicine path. The last few years though, I have really dove head first into the natural, holistic world. I am on a pursuit to wellness, a journey that has taught me to take my own health and fertility into my own hands. I used to think that my infertility struggles was something I was born with but after doing my own research I have come to genuinely believe there is much more to it than that. Even a simple google search on low ovarian reserve or diminished ovarian reserve will tell you that causes of this particular infertility diagnosis is: smoking, genetic abnormalities, aggressive treatments (radiation for cancer etc.), ovarian surgeries, maternal aging, or idiopathic reason. What do most of these have in common? Aggressive, chemical-induced similarities.
I started doing my own research to figure out what was causing my infertility (I call it my pursuit to truth) and the results of what I found were disturbing. If I don’t smoke and haven’t had any exposure to the causes above, I fall under the idiopathic reason. I know that in this life some things are far beyond our control but I couldn’t help but think is there something that I am doing or exposing myself to that is causing this?
So here are some things that I have found that are affecting fertility odds and also some more natural inclined tips to start introducing into your lifestyle. Whether or not you have low ovarian reserve, or some other form of female related infertility (endometriosis, PCOS), male related infertility, or have no fertility problems at all, your egg quality and sperm quality are so essential to your well being. You may think that you aren’t the problem so you don’t need to change or implement anything, but the truth is that anything you can do to improve yourself, is a step in the right direction.
Everything you do is going to be so essential and beneficial for your overall well being, fertility related or general health related.
In fact, almost everything I mention below can be used for both men and females. I am not a Doctor or trained in any of these, these are just the things I have done to improve my fertility. Before starting any of these, I encourage you to talk to your doctor to make sure these are right for you (and don’t interact with other medications you are on or impact any health problems you may currently have) and do your own research.
Chemical Exposure and Your Fertility:
BPA (Bisphenol A) – applicable for men and women:
I know, I know. We hear everywhere how “allegedly” bad BPA is for us. But it really is. BPA is a endocrine (your reproductive system) disruptor, and even the smallest traces of BPA in our body can cause disturbances in our hormones (estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones mostly). Countless studies have shown that increases in BPA can harm developing eggs, compromise IVF success rates, affect sperm count and quality, cause genetic abnormalities, and miscarriage. BPA (a synthetic form of estrogen) is known to mimic estrogen and can attach itself onto pre-existing estrogen receptors in your body, and due to the similarities in structure, your body will actually produce less natural estrogen.
Some ways to limit BPA exposure: avoid canned foods or buy cans that say BPA free, avoid storing your food in plastic or buying plastic wrapped veggies, avoid touching receipts, wash your hands (and food) after they have come into contact with BPA, and stop drinking bottled water. Read Rebecca Fett’s novel, It Starts with the Egg, she goes into more detail about gaining control over your fertility and lists all the studies and research she found.
Other Toxins – applicable for men and women:
I won’t go into too much detail about these because the impacts of these toxins are so wide and have similar outcomes to BPA exposure. But some other toxins (that are endocrine disruptors as well!) to avoid include:
- Phathlates (used in soft plastics, cleaning products, kids toys, mattresses
- Fragrances – used in perfumes, nail polish, lotions, creams, laundry detergents etc)
- Dioxin (found in meat and dairy)
- Fire retardants (found in clothes, mattresses)
- Lead, mercury, and pesticides (buy organic food when possible)
Be conscious with what you are bringing into your house, your body, or putting on your skin. In fact, fragrances and scents are so dangerous that all fertility clinics are scent free. Scents release volatile organic compounds, and if exposed, can effect the growth of embryos.
Some great resources to use include: the Environmental Working Group guide to healthy living (www.ewg.org) or an app called Think Dirty, that rates household products, make up, cleaners, on how clean or toxic they are and tells you the risks associated with those toxins.
Avoid phathlates and other chemicals: ditch your household cleaners, soaps, detergents. Make your own, they are simple, clean and cheap to make. Feel free to message me, I have many DIY cleaners, glass/ multipurpose cleaners, hand soaps, body wash, dish soaps, and laundry detergent recipes etc that I can share to help reduce your chemical exposure.
Supplements and Vitamins to Boost Your Fertility:
Prenatal Multi-Vitamins: Ideally start taking 3 months prior to trying, but if you didn’t, no worries, start as soon as you can. Look for a prenatal that has folate (preferably not folic acid as it is the synthetic version – if not, also be sure to take a folate supplement in addition to the prenatal). Folate is known for helping reduce risks of neural tube defects but lately it has also been connected to egg development. Find a brand that has at least: 2 mg of B6, 6 mcg of B12, 100 mg of Iodine, & mg of Zinc, and 50 mg of Selenium (Genestra Pregna Vite or Garden of Life are both good brands).
Vitamin B12 (for men and women): another vitamin crucial in egg development, since it is usually acquired by consuming animal sources (which I don’t consume), I make sure to take my pre-natal and also cook with nutritional yeast – which is fortified with B12 (and has Folate!). You can use more vitamins, I just find it easier to use nutritional yeast.
Coenzyme Q10 (COQ10) (for men and women): this is the holy grail of fertility vitamins, in my honest opinion. CoQ10 is a small molecule found in almost every cell of your body, its considered essential in energy production for the body and mitochondria (bet you haven’t heard that word since high school science class). It is essential in preserving egg quality and fertility, and has the potential to prevent or even reserve so egg quality damage related to aging (crucial for all, especially us low ovarian reserve women!). Think of it this way – if your ovaries don’t have energy, they cant produce high quantity and quality eggs. Men with lower CoQ10 levels typically have lower sperm count and quality. Look for a supplement that has ubiquinol over ubiquinone, as it is more easily absorbed by the body.
Antioxidants/ Vitamin E and Vitamin C (for men and women): as we age and expose our body to more oxidative damage and consequently increase free radicals (which cause cell damage), this causes more problems for egg quality and sperm production (negatively impacts count numbers, motility and morphology). You can substitute with vitamins but I prefer to just eat a diet rich in antioxidants: blueberries, pomegranates, citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, and nuts etc.
Maca Root (for men and women): a plant that is known as a natural energy source, it has been linked too helping with infertility, balances hormones, improving sperm count. I use Organika brands, organic Maca root. My two favourite ways to consume it include adding 1 tablespoon to my morning coffee or it goes great in hot chocolate (3 cups organic cane sugar, 2 cups of cocoa, and 1 tablespoon of sea salt – as a healthier base of a hot chocolate or modify as you prefer).
Iron: Something I have come to realize is that every women should take an iron supplement, since we menstruate. Essentially, if you have low iron, your red blood cell count decreases, red blood cells are responsible for oxygen distribution in the body, less oxygen equals deficiency that may cause a less habitable uterus, weakens egg development, and in pregnancy, impair fetus growth. Eat a iron rich diet or if you are like me, supplement with an iron supplement. I use Floradix, a liquid iron and vitamin formula that was recommended by my acupuncturist.
I am going to keep this as simple as can be. So often, we are told to save our money wisely so that we have a good retirement saving. But what about eating for retirement? Food is so essential to our lives, how we live, how our immune fights off illnesses, how our organs function etc. Before modern medicine, food was our medicine. I know that some of these things are impossible to avoid but life is about moderation. It’s okay to treat ourselves. Is McDonald’s every once in a while going to set you back? Absolutely not. But it can if you eat it daily.
Eat organic, whole foods: less pesticides means less chemicals impacting your endocrine system. Avoid plastic wrapped veggies when possible and always wash your fruit and veggies before eating them.
Limit Caffeine: very little evidence is available on this topic, but there is a link between coffee consumption verse early pregnancy and a decrease in the number of good quality embryos. When in doubt, consume safe levels of caffeine and try to limit it to one – two cups a day.
Make things from Scratch or buy fresh when possible/ Limit Processed Foods: When you have the choice, stop buying store processed foods. Foods with a longer shelf life have more chemicals added to preserve it. Look at the shelf life. If its something that would go moldy naturally in a week (if it was fresh) but it has a shelf life of a year, check out the ingredients. Probably not good.
Look at the Ingredients: look at the ingredients of what you are buying to know what you are putting into your body. Have you ever noticed what of the 10 ingredients is missing in Aunt Jemima’s syrup? Maple syrup. Yep, maple syrup is the one ingredient needed for maple syrup yet its not even in Aunt Jemima’s syrup. I am not saying ditch the syrup, just make sure when you buy syrup, its actually syrup.
Eat your Healthy Fats: despite what people think in this “fats are bad” health craze that is so prominent today, the right fats are so healthy for you. Eat your avocados, your nuts. Avoid the trans fats.
Avoid Soy Products: Soy contains phytoestrogens which works similarly to how BPA affects the body. Soy is one of the biggest GMO crops, and is actually linked to breast cancer, early onset puberty, thyroid problems, and infertility for both genders. Fermented soy (tempeh etc) is fine but try to limit soy in soy milk, tofu etc.
Limit Alcohol/ Smoking: Smoking and alcohol consumption have an impact on sperm quality, egg quality, and fetus development.
Holistic Treatments for Fertility:
Acupunture: my last AFC (antral follicle count) ultrasound, I had my highest egg count naturally to date (I mean to date that has been recorded). I said to Robbie see my healthy eating and acupunture is actually paying off. My ultrasound tech literally looked at me like I was either a) stupid or b) crazy and said, “you know that’s a hoax right and it doesn’t work.” Well if it’s a hoax, why the sudden improvement? Not to be dramatic, but acupuncture has SAVED my life. I will write a whole post dedicated to it at some point because its actually that amazing. But essentially it balances your endocrine (hormones) system, improves egg quality, can improve sperm motility, reduces stress, etc and then list literally goes on forever.
When looking into acupuncture, make sure your acupuncturist specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Most acupuncturists at your Doctors don’t specialize to that degree of severity. TCM Acupuncture focuses on your entire body and every point corresponds to a different part of your body.
For more readings on the natural/ holistic side of gaining back control of your body and your fertility, check out these accredited novels:
- It Starts with an Egg – Rebecca Fett
- Feed your Fertility – Your Guide to Cultivating a Healthy Pregnancy with Chinese Medicine, Real Food and Holistic Living – Emily Bartlett and Laura Erlich
- Making Babies – A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximizing Fertility – Sami David and Jill Blakeway
Remember with everything, progress is perfection. Anything you do, no matter how small, makes a difference. It’s not about changing your life over night. I know that these things (especially eating organic is more expensive too) are hard to attain but at least try to implement some changes at least 3 months before you start any fertility treatments or before trying. Small changes make a difference. For example, if you eat an apple a day, try to buy organic apples instead and then don’t worry to much if you can’t afford all of your produce to be organic.
Basically you are born with all your eggs at birth and your eggs are (for a lack of better wording) suspended in space in your ovaries, and then start to slowly develop for 3 months prior to ovulation. For example, the eggs you are ovulating this month, started to develop 3 months ago. Sperm is very similar, and any changes you make, takes 3 months for there to be any improvement in sperm count or motility.
Our bodies are complex. Our body without proper nutrients and nourishment is like a car with no gas. You wont have the energy source to keep your body in motion.
They say we have two homes – this earth and your body. Treat your body like the temple it is, and you will reap the benefits you sow.