By Renee A. Simon, MS, CNS
Many women today are waiting longer to conceive their first and second children. This is usually due to either establishing a career first or marrying late or just waiting because they are not ready. It is sometimes a surprise when a year or two goes by and there is no natural conception.
I have helped many couples in this age group over the years to maximize their fertility chances while in many cases working closely with their medical specialist. If a couples’ chances go down due to a combination of normal aging and environmental factors, then I feel it is my job to help boost the odds by making recommendations to get the body in the best possible physical shape it can to conceive and support a pregnancy. Because stress plays such an important role in our overall health status, then it is crucial to include mind/body recommendations to relax the mind, body and spirit while improving the diet and nutrient status. I usually recommend relaxation techniques to my patients such as exercise, yoga, journal writing, meditation, or visualizations to complement the physical component of the program.
The most important dietary guidelines for everyone who is trying to lead a healthier life style is to follow as natural a diet as possible full of whole grains, fresh organic fruits and vegetables and quality low fat protein such as poultry with out the skin, fish (not swordfish and tuna due to high mercury content and other toxins), nuts, eggs, seeds, legumes and beans, and low-fat hormone free dairy products. Processed and fried foods and hydrogenated oils should be minimally used as well as caffeine, refined flour and sugar and alcohol. If this sounds difficult, remember to begin gradually, and it is OK to have some of these foods occasionally as long as the bulk of the diet is healthy.
It is also very important to drink at least six to eight class of water a day. This is important to keep the body hydrated, which will provide more energy, smoother skin and help to clear the toxins out of the system.
In terms of food supplements, many people need help because it is hard to eat healthy, balanced meals full of nutrients all of the time. One of the most important supplements for fertility enhancement is a good natural multi-vitamin/mineral complex to use as the base. Many prescription pre-natal vitamins are synthetic and do not absorb as well as natural vitamins. In addition, many of them have more iron and folic acid, but lack the minerals necessary for absorption of iron and calcium.
In addition to the multi-vitamin, I usually recommend a B-complex vitamin instead of just taking folic acid because B12 is one of the nutrients that can help protect against miscarriage and the whole B family works synergistically to provide more energy and help control stress. Vitamin E is also an important supplement because it keeps glands that make the hormones healthy and acts as a powerful antioxidant to protect the body against toxins. In addition, vitamin C is important for a healthy immune system, and zinc, which keeps the liver functioning properly, is important for healthy hormone production.
There are three particular medical problems related to women over 35, and especially over 40, that I frequently work with in my practice. They are high FSH, which is usually associated with egg quality problems, luteal phase defect and a greater than normal risk for miscarriage.
I will start with high FSH because many infertility clinics use this as a benchmark to determine if a couple should even try fertility treatments on their own or go straight to donor egg. I have consistently seen over the years FSH levels drop to coincide with a women’s improved nutritional status and overall better health and well-being. That the FSH level drops is just one indicator that everything is working better. One of the tests that I often recommend when taking on a new patient is a hair analysis for mineral and toxic metal status. Many times the results suggest low adrenal and thyroid function, overall lack of minerals, some which are very important for hormone function, and high copper (often due to years of birth control bills or IUD), aluminum, or mercury. When these problems are addressed nutritionally, there is often improvement in overall health and many times a drop in the FSH. Healthier diet and exercise programs as well as practicing stress management techniques are particularly important here.
The second problem, luteul phase defect, usually means altered hormonal secretions leading to a shortened second half of the menstrual cycle or possibly no ovulation or low progesterone. I often recommend a salivary female hormone profile be done in addition to the blood work traditionally done by the doctor. The saliva test uses 11 samples over 28 days to track the entire menstrual cycle. If luteul phase defect appears to be the problem, the herb Vitex may be helpful. Vitex helps the body naturally produce more progesterone . Some natural progesterone cream given on day 12 until menstruation can also be helpful if indicated. There are other herbs that have mild estrogenetic properties that may help if there is low estrogen.
Lastly, is the devastating possibility of miscarriage, which tends to be more prevalent in certain couples. From a nutritional perspective there has been some clinical data on lack of B12 being a possible cause of miscarriage as well as not enough vitamin C and E to help with free radical damage that might increase the odds of miscarriage. According to an article in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine, one woman suffered 7 miscarriages before doctors discovered that she was deficient in vitamin B12. The woman went on to have 3 children after the problem was corrected. Women who follow a vegan diet are more prone to B12 deficiency.
According to an article in New Scientist, a hereditary lack of an enzyme called G6PD may cause millions of miscarriages a year. But consuming antioxidant nutrients may offset the harmful effects of this genetic problem. By taking the basic nutrients that were mentioned earlier, the chances of miscarriage can be lessened.
In closing, I hope that this article has given you some insight and knowledge about some of the things that are in your power to control to help with this seemingly uncontrollable process. I recommend that you don’t self-prescribe the supplements and tests mentioned but instead work with your medical doctor and a qualified clinical nutritionist to design a diet and nutritional program for you to tip the conception odds in your favor.
Renee A. Simon is a certified Clinical Nutritionist and wellness educator. She is a long time member and supporter of Resolve and frequently speaks at their educational meetings. She has helped numerous Resolve members put programs together to help them conceive over the years. Ms. Simon practices in Ridgefield, CT and South Salem, NY. She can be reached at (914) 763-9107 or RSimon@totalwellnessnutrition.com to set up a phone consultation or office visit.