Do you know what age you are most fertile? When is the best time to conceive easily, naturally and with the least pregnancy complications? It is generally agreed that for both Men and Women it is in our early twenties or even younger!
If you were (or are planning) partying, travelling, and having too much fun during these years of your life to even contemplate children, then you are not alone. Statistics are clearly showing that more and more couples are choosing to have children later in life, most commonly after the age of thirty.
Infertility rates are rising worldwide and currently affecting 1 in 6 couple trying to conceive. Infertility rates in both women and men double and then triple with age. Women are susceptible to more reproductive issues as we age and encroaching ovarian failure as our egg supply dwindles. Ovarian failure is attributed to 25% of infertility. Men’s health is also of major importance with 30% of all infertility attributed to sperm defects. Older men produce more sperm with DNA damage and of the estimated 15% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage, half of the causes are attributed to men.
Fertility is dependent on balanced reproductive function and total body health. To protect our fertility, we need to consider all factors of our health and wellbeing such a being in a healthy weight range, correcting reproductive health issues, managing stress, eating well and avoiding environmental factors that are known to affect our fertility. You can start at any age, the earlier the better, and the benefit is that in protecting fertility you are essentially, protecting your entire health and feeling well.
TREATING REPRODUCTIVE ISSUES
An important way you protect your fertility is to avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) through sensible, safe sex practices and if you have any symptoms of reproductive complaints, to have it checked out by a GP as soon as possible.
Chlamydia is an example of one STD that is considered the most common STD in Australia and has tripled in numbers over the past decade. Chlamydia is often a ‘silent’ infection with no symptoms and can cause infertility issues if left untreated. Gonorrhoea and Syphilis can have similar outcomes. If you test positive any of the mentioned STI’s you will require immediate antibiotic therapy.
Other common reproductive issues that can impede fertility in women specifically is Polycytic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)and Endometriosis.
PCOS affects approximately 5- 10% of women of reproductive age and of those women with this health issue, 75% of them have a fertility problem. It is called a ‘syndrome’ and not a disease as the symptoms are varied and can be quite different from person to person but the most common symptoms are variable (or absent) menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth patterns, acne, difficulty losing weight and insulin resistance. Orthodox medicine tend to treat PCOS with prolactin inhibitors, metformin (anti diabetic medication) or the oral contraceptive pill. If the medications concern you, Naturopaths have a lot of success with specific herbal medicines, and dietary and lifestyle recommendations that will also benefit your fertility.
Endometriosis is estimated to affect 4-10% of all women. It can be completely symptomless or range to severe symptoms of painful menstruation, internal scarring, heavy menstruation, and irregular spotting between cycles. Endometriosis is one of the biggest problems affecting infertile women. Caught early on, the effects of endometriosis such as scarring and hormonal imbalance can be controlled to prevent infertility issues. Again, both medicals and natural treatment options ought be considered and work well together as complementary treatments.
OBESITY AND BEING FERTILE
A BMI (body mass index) of between 22-25 is considered perfect for fertility, that leaves around 20%6 Of women in the most common childbearing age group with decreased fertility because they are overweight. Obesity, particularly visceral obesity(around the waist) contributes to infertility, miscarriages and a range of pregnancy and delivery issues. It is suggested that there is an approximately 7% increase in the risk of foetal anomaly for each one unit incremental increase in BMI over 25. Men who are obese are more likely to have low sperm concentration and motility which increases with increasing BMI, so weight management is just as important for men.
If you are wanting to lose weight before trying to conceive keep in mind that any weight loss you achieve needs to be in a balanced, healthy way so that you aren’t restricting any valuable nutrients needed for fertility health or losing weight rapidly at the cost of your organ or body systems health.
A good weight loss program should include a balanced diet that you can incorporate into your regular eating style (avoiding fasts, living off shakes or frozen, microwaved meals), as well as exercise appropriate to your body needs. Consulting professionals such as Naturopath, Nutritionist or a Personal trainer will give you important guidance on what is specific to you for healthy weight loss, whilst giving you a supportive hand.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE FOR FERTILITY
A well rounded, healthy diet is vitally important. It is the foundations to our health as good food and good digestion supports the healthy function of every organ and body system. For the average Australian a healthy diet means buying less sugary fast foods and salty takeaways, avoiding additives, eating less packaged, pre-prepared or frozen foods and choosing fresh, vital foods that are bursting with nutrients. Wholegrains, fruits and vegetable, quality protein and good essential fats should be the basics of everyday eating.
Scientific research also points out some of our less healthy habits that could be directly affecting our fertility. Being aware of these habits and avoiding them will have a big impact on our future health as well as our ability to make babies. Alcohol, smoking, caffeine and drugs are habits that are a big concern when it comes to our fertility. No amount of red wine antioxidants or ‘low carbs’ in beer can change the fact that drinking alcohol isn’t healthy. Our body’s considers alcohol as toxin and that is the bottom line.
In women, alcohol intake is associated with decreased fertility, even when five or less drinks are consumed weekly. In men, alcohol has shown to decrease the total health of sperm (such as morphology, motility and numbers). Alcohol can also interfere with hormone balance and metabolism in both men and women. Drinking in moderation and having periods of no alcohol (such as dry July!) is ideal for everyone.
Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea, green tea, chocolate, cola, certain weight loss supplements and some energy drinks. It is a stimulant, and a stressor to our bodies and so it is not best to take a daily dose like a vitamin supplement. More specifically, with fertility in mind, drinking more than 700mg of caffeine (a large latte has around 800mg) can affect sperm DNA health, and can have a negative effect on how long it takes to become pregnant. It has been shown that women drinking more than three regular cups of coffee per day have an increased risk of miscarriage and caffeine consumption both before and during pregnancy has been associated with risks of prematurity and reduced foetal growth.
Cigarettes. We all know they are bad for us. It harmfully affects our entire health. Metabolites of cigarette have been found in the follicular fluid of the ovaries and semen in men and there are many studies showing reduced fertility in smokers, so this is certainly yet another reason to drop this habit.
Drugs are known to affect fertility and this doesn’t just include marijuana, narcotics and other street drugs. This also includes prescribed medication with common ones including non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which includes Nurofen, has shown to possibly interfere with ovulation and contribute to infertility. Certain antimicrobial antibiotics such as erythromycin have been shown to impair sperm formation and function and the list continues.
Although medications can be vital, it is always worth researching any prescribed medication and comparing alternative treatment options where possible.
Arguably the biggest lifestyle factor affecting fertility today is stress. Stress can be physical stress, from exertion, heavy fitness training or long busy days with not much sleep. It can be mental stress from worry, work pressures or long work days or it can be emotional, from upheaval, disconnection with loved ones or again worry over loved ones. Stress tends to be part of our day to day life. Being aware that we create our own stress with what we allow to affect us, and taking measures to balance stress in our lives is always important. Stress affects our hormonal balance and health in many different ways and employing stress management techniques can help reverse the effects it has on our bodies. Techniques include counselling, deep breathing, yoga, gentle exercise, meditation, concentrating on positive thoughts, massage, hot baths and ‘time out’ are good ways of combating the effects of stress.
AVOIDING ENVIRONMENTAL DANGERS
The evidence is piling up that chemical exposure and radiation are linked with the rising incidence of fertility, particularly in men. This isn’t necessarily from big industrial chemical accidents or Fukushima, this can be from exposure to every items such as cleaning spray or ipads.
Perhaps men appear to be more susceptible due to the size of the sperm being so tiny and more affected by toxin exposure. Or perhaps it is harder to measure the effects in females. In comparison the female egg, is more than double the size of tiny sperm which is considered to be one of the smallest of human cells.
Sperm counts of western men have dropped by half over past 50yrs and is cause of great concern. Could human pollution be affecting our evolution?
Women are also at risk with links to xenobiotics and xenoestrogens (such as in the chemicals listed below) and infertility. Scientific focus on pesticides, phthalates and PCBs in plastics, air pollution, trihalomethanes (THMs) found in refrigerants and industrial solvents and mobile phone radiation exposure has found correlation to these manmade factors and a decrease in fertility factors.
Being aware of chemicals and radiation in our environment and then reducing exposure as much as possible is ideal for protecting our health and fertility. It will also benefit the environment as well.
Eating organic, reducing mobile phone use and not carrying them around in our pockets close to our bodies is a good first step. Reducing use of plastics (even the ‘bpa free’ varieties) in bags, bottles, toys and cookware and avoiding chemical cleaning products, skincare and make up is also important.
Protecting your fertility means taking charge of your health. If you have concerns, visit your GP and Naturopath for a health check.
Eating well, living healthily and happily will protect your fertility and when the time is right for you, you are more likely to conceive easily, naturally and with the least complication in pregnancy for a strong, bouncing baby. Don’t delay, start looking after yourself today.
Eliza Blackwood is an experienced Naturopath specialising in Natural Fertility and reproductive health working at NeuroBalance Chiropractic. Call 02 9938 5456 now to book an appointment with her.