By: Renee A. Simon, M.S. Clinical Nutritionist
Are there natural approaches that may boost your chances of fertility? For many couples the answer is an resounding yes.
My interest in this topic began with my own infertility several years ago. My husband and I tried to conceive without success. We went to several fertility specialists who were convinced the problem was my severe endometriosis. After trying various medications that caused severe side effects and undergoing one laparotomy and three laparoscopies, we decided to give up and pursue adoption. We adopted a new born girl from Texas within six months, and were so happy that we forgot about our fertility issues. That is, until, my next routine gynecological check-up.
I had recently moved from New Jersey to Westchester, New York, and was seeing a new gynecologist. A vaginal ultrasound was part of my check-ups so the new doctor could see the extent of my endometriosis. When he told me there was none, I was shocked. How could this be? Only one year before, a specialist wanted me to go on lupron and have one more laparotomy.
The only change that I could possibly think of was my recent focus on nutrition. I was studying nutrition and had followed a strict diet and supplement regiment for the previous year to solve another problem; what I experienced was overall better health in every aspect of my body, including my hormonal balance and fertility.
To verify my hunch, I began to study the effects of diet and supplements on hormones and fertility. I also consulted a friend who is a holistic health practitioner, specializing in infertility and other female problems. She confirmed that over the last twenty years she has helped many couples conceive with dietary changes and the addition of nutritional supplements where needed. In my own practice, I had helped many women with PMS, migraines and other hormonal issues and now felt encouraged that I could offer hope to many of the couples who suffered through years of infertility.
To better explain how natural approaches may help, let’s take a look at a case of endometriosis. In endometriosis some of the cells that normally line the inside of the uterus attach to the ovaries, cervix, bowel and bladder. Like many other cells, they are particularly sensitive to estrogen, which stimulates tissue growth. So to prevent and manage endometriosis, it is important to lower a woman’s estrogen levels.
Natural approaches include dietary changes and supplements. The key nutrients in the estrogen breakdown process are the B-complex vitamins. Vitamin E helps counter the estrogen; EPA, a fish oil, decreases inflammation and painful periods associated with endometriosis. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids helps build a healthy immune system and build strong, healthy blood cells.
In addition, soy foods or soy protein powder should be consumed on a daily basis. Soy acts as a phytoestrogen, which can prevent a woman’s own estrogen from attaching to cells outside of the uterus. Soy products may also decrease the risk of breast cancer, reduce hot flashes, and lower cholesterol. Foods that may increase inflammation and decrease the body’s overall immunity are anything processed: sugar, alcohol, dairy products, caffeine, wheat, corn, and peanuts.
In addition to diet there are many other factors that effect fertility that might be overlooked by traditional doctors. Some of the most important factors that may go undiagnosed are thyroid problems that don’t show up in the blood, low serum ferritin (iron stores vs. circulating iron), mineral imbalances, toxic metal overload, bowel problems which can cause malabsorption of nutrients and imbalances in hormone levels that go undetected in a single blood sample.
At our office, we now use hair analysis for detecting mineral imbalances and toxic metal overload, stool tests for finding bowel pathogens that might affect overall nutritional status, and saliva tests for following levels of the female hormones progesterone, testosterone and estradiol over 28 days using 11 saliva samples.
We find the tests to be convenient, non-invasive, stress free, and more accurate then single blood samples for detecting certain problems. The saliva tests reveal critical information about hormones. Unlike blood samples, salivary samples represent the free(unbound), bioavailable fraction of the hormone. It would be impossible to test the daily fluctuations in hormone levels through blood throughout the 28 day cycle, but with saliva it is easy and convenient.
Patients with prolonged, unexplained infertility can experience a high frequency of luteal phase defects, including pre-ovulatory progesterone peaks, interruption of progesterone secretion during the luteal phase, and high progesterone levels at the beginning of menstruation.
Because the endocrine system relies on good nutrition for proper function, maldigestion and malabsorption of nutrients can interfere with normal hormonal function and greatly effect a women’s reproductive health. If a patient exhibits any indication of digestive problems, a comprehensive digestive stool analysis and related tests of gastrointestinal function are useful for identifying other factors that may be contributing to hormonal imbalances.
Lastly, the hair analysis is important for assessing mineral status. A small difference in a mineral ratio can mean a big difference in health. We have found the hair analysis particularly useful in finding and treating undiagnosed thyroid problems, zinc deficiencies and copper imbalances — all which can have a major impact on hormones and fertility. A client can have normal or borderline levels of thyroid hormone in her blood and still have a weak thyroid gland. A hair analysis — particularly the calcium to potassium ratio, can give an accurate measure of the function of the thyroid. A zinc deficiency can show up in the hair analysis which can have an effect on male and female fertility. High copper levels can accumulate as a result of zinc deficiency which can cause elevated estrogen levels, hypothyroidism, iron storage disease and ovarian dysfunction.
During the last few years I have helped many couples achieve pregnancy. Many have combined my suggested natural approaches with their traditional medical treatments with great success. The following are some examples.
One couple had normal every day issues, such as frequent fatigue, muscles aches, and colds every winter. The wive also had a lot of work related stress and was subject to frequent migraine headaches. After making dietary changes and adding key fertility nutritional supplements, they reported feeling much better within one month. During the second month the migraines were dramatically reduced, and eventually went away. Within one year, they achieved pregnancy combined with in vitro fertilization.
Another couple complained of a male factor fertility problem. These are the easiest to work with provided there are no blockages or surgery required. Within several weeks the wife called, excited, stating that her husband’s sperm count had quadrupled. They achieved pregnancy shortly thereafter.
The wife of a third couple came to see me, admitting that she had a terrible diet and needed to make some major changes. After doing a nutritional analysis it was evident that she was not getting the vitamins and minerals that her body needed to function on a daily basis, much less support a pregnancy. She also had some problems with endometriosis and a high stress life style. Within a couple of months of dietary changes and adding certain nutritional supplements where needed they became pregnant. Prior to seeing me, they had tried in vitro fertilization twice. The third time, it worked and they are the proud parents of beautiful, healthy triplets.
Finally, I had worked with one woman for several months before and during her fertility treatments. She said that the nutritional supplements helped her with her energy and coping during this difficult time. She achieved pregnancy, but within several months began bleeding. She was bed-ridden with a high-risk pregnancy for the remaining long months until delivery. She stayed on a special nutrition program throughout her pregnancy and was carefully monitored by her doctor. She delivered a healthy baby girl and has since had two others.
Are there natural approaches that may boost your chances of fertility? While there are never any guarantees that making changes to your diet or adding supplements will result in pregnancy, most people feel substantially better, and report more energy with an overall feeling of well being. One teacher, who has followed a recommended nutrition program and has not yet gotten pregnant said, “For the first year I could remember, I was not sick during the school year, and didn’t come home exhausted to take a nap.”
This alone could make a key life style difference for many who are undergoing a very stressful period in their lives.
Renee A. Simon, M. S., CNS is a Clinical Nutritionist with private practices in New York and Connecticut. She does in person meetings and phone consultations throughout the country. For more information, or to set up an appointment, you can contact her at (914) 763-9107.