Fertility issues affect close to 20 % of couples.
Primary infertility refers to couples who have not become pregnant after at least 1 year having sexual intercourse without using birth control methods. Secondary infertility refers to couples who have been able to get pregnant at least once, but now are unable.
Let's look at common causes of infertility and how to boost fertility naturally.
Common causes of infertilityThe common causes of infertility include:
1. Poor semen quality in men
There are a few herbs which can help to increase sperm count, motility and boost healthy sperm production such as American Ginseng, Peruvian Maca, Saw Palmetto, Tribulus, Horny Goat Weed, Astragalus, Yohimbe, Goji Berry and Schisandra Berry.
2. A lack of regular ovulation
This may be due to hormonal imbalance such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), being underweight, or due to a lack of eggs.
- PCOS happens due to insulin resistance. Few tests or measurements that can be done to assess the PCOS status are FSH:LH ratio, fasting insulin, fasting glucose, glucose tolerance test, HbA1c and waist-to-hip ratio.
- Low thyroid hormones or suboptimal thyroid hormones can also be another factor which causes insulin resistance and hence PCOS. It is imperative to check the thyroid hormones as well. Food that can support the thyroid are foods rich in iodine (seaweed, sea bird nest (Eucheuma cottonii), fish (cod & tuna) and shrimps), selenium (Brazil nuts, beans and legumes such as peas and lentils), magnesium, (Avocados, nuts especially almond, cashew & Brazil nuts, seeds such as pumpkin seeds, flax seeds & chia seeds, and legumes - lentils, peas & soybeans), zinc (red meat such as beef, mutton & lamb, shellfish, legumes, nuts, seeds and eggs) and iron (liver, & other inerts red meat, spinach, shellfish, legumes and seeds).
- Obesity is another factor which contributes to insulin resistance and hence PCOS. Therefore, exercise is important for weight management as well as controlling diet by choosing “low glycemic index” food. Some examples of low-glycemic food are healthy fats like avocados and nuts, fibrous non-starchy plants like kale, broccoli and cauliflower, low-sugar fruits like berries, and high-quality protein from meat and fish. Examples of high-glycemic foods are white sugar and refined flours, bread, white rice, noodles, junkfood, crackers, cakes, cookies and even non-fat sweetened yogurt.
- Underweight, over-exercising and under-eating can backfire. Exercising too much or not eating enough calories to support the exercise routine will cause period to stop and subsequent anovulation.
- Herbs which can help increase ovulation, balance and regulate estrogen & progesterone hormones are Ashwagandha, Dong Guai, Red Clover, Wild Yam, Vitex, Black cohosh and Motherwort.
3. Abnormalities in the female reproductive tractSuch as scarred or blocked fallopian tubes. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including chlamydia, can affect fertility by causing damage to the reproductive tract. Red clover is believed to help in correcting fallopian tube scarring due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
4. EndometriosisThis is a condition where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (the endometrium) is found outside the womb. One of the reasons for endometriosis is PCOS itself.
5. Cigarette smoking & excessive alcohol consumption
Both are strongly linked with reduced semen quality in men. For women, there are links between high alcohol consumption and reduced conception rates.
6. Environmental toxins
Such as exposure to heavy metals, industrial chemicals like (BPA, phthalates, PEGs & fragrances), pesticides, preservatives like parabens and other toxins have been shown to affect fertility. Hence, it is essential to consume organic food (poultry and vegetables) if possible and stay away from chemical-laden detergents & household products (instead try using baking soda & vinegar), cosmetics, personal care products and toiletries.
We also need to regularly detoxify our body through having regular bowel habits, eating sufficient fiber, drinking enough water (minimum of 2litres per day), and sweating (through exercise), in order to fully help the body eliminate toxins. Examples of food that can help with detoxification are:
- Sulphur-containing food (onions, broccoli, and garlic, enhance excretion of heavy metals like cadmium),
- Chlorella (which is type of algae that has many nutritional benefits and may enhance the elimination of toxins like heavy metals, according to animal studies)
- Cilantro (which enhances excretion of certain toxins, such as heavy metals like lead, and chemicals, including phthalates and insecticides).
Eating sulfur-rich foods like eggs, broccoli, and garlic helps enhance the function of glutathione, a major antioxidant produced by our body which is involved in detoxification. By having a good gut health; with the correct balance of the gut microbiome; will also enhance the process of detoxification through consuming food containing prebiotics (chicory root, dandelion green, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks & asparagus) and probiotics (yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi & tempeh).
7. Insufficient sleep which leads to stress
This can reduce testosterone levels, sex drive and in severe cases sperm production in men. In women, stress can also cause a loss of sex drive and may also affect ovulation. Therefore, sufficient (between 7 -9 hours) and good quality of sleep are important to support the adrenals, thyroid and all other hormonal health. Regular practice of stress management through yoga, meditation, exercise, spa treatment and listening to music are encouraged.
8. Nutrients & minerals deficiencyNot consuming enough nutrients and minerals can have a major impact on how your body functions, including its ability to regulate hormonal function that affects your ability to conceive and carry a pregnancy. Thus, the choices of food on your platter for each meal should include macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to ensure adequate nutrients & minerals consumption each day. It is also important to take note to avoid inflammatory trigger foods such as white flour, white sugar, GMO soy, high fructose corn syrup, gluten and highly processed food.
Where to start?
Finding the root causes of infertility often able to reverse frustrations and reverse fertility. For those who have been struggling and do not know where to start, it is advisable to look for a Functional Medicine doctor to aid you in understanding the root causes of fertility and to maximise the chances of conception.