What factors can affect fertility – can you do something to improve it?
I am a reflexologist, and part of working with clients trying to conceive means we look more widely – w/holistically at what is going on in their lives. This is going to be a longer read, so do get a drink, find somewhere comfy to sit, and take your time.
Here are four of the most important areas that I have found usually need a bit of work when people are thinking about their fertility or already trying for a baby. They are something you can do for yourselves – remembering that BOTH of you should be reading! – without the need for too much advice, and can have a really big impact on your fertility.
- Gut/vaginal microbiome
- Lifestyle choices
- Toxin exposure
Why is sleep important for fertility?
Getting enough sleep is as important as anything else you try when you’re trying to get pregnant.
Although not many studies directly assess the impact of sleep issues on fertility, there is already good evidence that shift workers, particularly those working nights have documented changes to their overall wellbeing. These included weight gain which is hard to shift, changes to menstrual cycles, poor mental health, and increased time to conceive, and feeling tired. Never a good place to start when you want to start or add to your family.
Sleep has a regulating effect on hormones – many of them do their work whilst we are asleep. Any disruption or disturbances to a regular sleep pattern can therefore have an impact on hormones, which regulate or influence fertility, including the quality of sperm and eggs. You can see then that having a good night’s sleep isn’t just important for your rest, but also for your long term health and potential your fertility.
What can you do to improve your sleep? Having a bedtime routine is key – you want to give yourself all the signs that it’s time to rest. Here are some ideas that you can start with today.
– Have a regular bedtime and wake time
– Make sure you get morning daylight (preferably outside) on your face to reset your internal clock
– Reduce exposure to blue light in the evening (phone, tablet, computer, tv)
– Turn off blue light emitting devices at least one hour before your bedtime, and keep them out of your bedroom
– Make sure your sleeping place is cool and dark enough – blackout blinds behind curtains help on light mornings and evenings, or if you have to sleep during the day
– Avoid caffeine 4 -6 hours before bedtime (tea, coffee, fizz, and chocolate) as it acts as a stimulant
– If you work nights, see if you can switch to a daylight pattern for at least a three month period before you start trying to conceive
Why is the gut/vaginal microbiome important for fertility?
What is a microbiome? ‘A microbiome is the community of micro-organisms living together in a particular habitat.’ We have these communities throughout our bodies, about 29% of them live within the gut and around 9% within the vagina.
There are good (helpful) and bad (unhelpful) communities of bacteria within these microbiomes, and getting the balance to swing in favour of the helpful kind will contribute to your physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improving the vaginal/uterine environment and your fertility.
Poor gut health can:
– lead to inflammation within the body, affecting the reproductive organs
– lead to nutrient deficiencies which affect all aspects of wellbeing affecting hormones, egg and sperm quality
– affect the hormonal balance of oestrogen – poor gut health can affecting how it’s regulated which may lead to an oestrogen dominance affecting menstrual cycle health and fertility
– lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to a rise in insulin which has a negative effect on egg quality and menstrual cycles
To support a healthy microbiome, try to incorporate a wide variety of vegetables into your diet. The advice to ‘eat the rainbow’ is a great place to start. You’ll find a few ideas on this page from BBC Food to get you started. Eating what’s called the Mediterranean diet can also be a great support to a healthy gut. It includes a broad range of fresh fruit and vegetables that include oils, good fats, slow-releasing carbohydrates and protein. which all support nutrient absorption, blood sugar and rich in antioxidant which help protect cells (including egg and sperm) from damage, whilst the good fats improve cell membrane quality and help protect against inflammation in the body.
A healthy gut biome will also support a good vaginal biome, but you can also consider adding in a quality supplement designed to support specific vaginal bacteria (such as Nua Fertility). Sensible things to help externally include reducing the use of conventional sanitary products as they contain many chemicals which are very unfriendly for a health vaginal environment. Try to choose organic, non-bleached products, or go re-useable for pads, period pants or menstrual cups. I’ll add a few more tips further down in the ‘avoiding toxins’ section.
Why are lifestyle choices important for fertility?
Unfortunately, many of the things you choose to do are likely to have an impact on your fertility – and not always a positive one. The main culprits are smoking, alcohol use, drug usage and weight. Let’s have a closer look – and remember, I am casting no blame, just aiming to educate you on factors that YOU can change to improve your overall health and fertility.
Men who smoke have lower sperm counts, poor motility, and higher numbers of malformed sperm. Nicotine also interferes with absorption of vitamins and minerals, causing increased free-radicals, this is damaging to the developing sperm cells and increases the likelihood of DNA fragmentation. The effect of nicotine in women: as well as being highly toxic, it reduces blood flow to the endometrium (the uterus lining); these two things in themselves are a good enough reason to stop smoking. Alongside that it has a direct impact upon fertility, and increases the chances of miscarriage, still births and abnormalities.
This is the most socially acceptable ‘drug’, and is used more and more to manage stress levels in today’s society. However, it can have devastating impacts on sperm morphology (formation) and motility (ability to swim).
The effects of alcohol upon pregnancy and the developing baby are very well documented, but include increased chance of stillbirth, miscarriage and foetal abnormalities, together with prematurity and life affecting debilities. Alcohol has a direct impact upon the quality of the egg. General advice is now to stay alcohol free whilst trying to conceive and during pregnancy because the effects on development of babies has truly devastating effects.
Male fertility is affected by being either underweight or overweight. Maintenance of a sensible body weight makes sense. Females that are over- or underweight will also see an impact upon their fertility, as this can create changes in hormone levels, which may restrict your chances of conceiving, and your chances of carrying a baby to full-term. Being overweight changes oestrogen levels, interfering with the menstrual cycle. Being underweight will often impact on ovulation and general menstrual health – both will have a knock-on effect on your general wellbeing.
Cannabis/Recreational Drugs/Prescribed medication
Marijuana lowers blood testosterone diminishing libido, and increasing the likelihood of impotence. It also affects sperm motility and morphology. Recovery time from stopping use is at least 6 weeks. For women using any recreational drugs, understand that they are extremely toxic and have negative impacts on your fertility, libido and the ability to carry a baby to term and in good health. Cocaine increases heart rate, suppresses appetite, and raises body temperature, which is unhelpful when trying to conceive. Frequent use also causes depression. Steroids are used by some men to enhance their muscle strength, but this does not aid fertility and is incredibly damaging to sperm. Unfortunately, many prescribed medications interfere with fertility. Antibiotics/Anti-Depressants/Beta-blockers – these prescribed medications interfere with the production of healthy, functioning sperm and eggs and may also have negative effects on menstrual cycles. If you are taking any prescription drugs, please check with your GP to ask if they are absolutely necessary, or if there are fertility-friendly alternatives available.
Why is toxin exposure important for fertility?
Unfortunately in today’s world, toxins are all around us. Most of them are generally bad for us, some have particularly nasty effects on your fertility. Elimination of as many as possible (within reason, budget and sanity) will add to the overall impact on your bodies – it may seem a lot to digest at first, but my advice is to take it steady, try and change one or two things a week and that way will be less overwhelming. You will be reading labels more carefully!
What to look out for?
Xenobiotics are the chemicals found in cosmetics, pesticides, food preservatives and cleaning products, they affect sperm function, production and testosterone levels. Looking for organic or environmentally friendly products will help here – many of them have had the irritants and preservatives that can cause issues removed. Start with washing liquid/powder (please try to stop using fabric conditioner – it’s full of hormone disrupting chemicals), cleaning sprays and toilet cleaner. Sanitary products can also hide some pretty unpleasant chemicals, and I would suggest that this is an easy place to start making changes (as above), reduce the use of very perfumed, coloured or antibacterial bathroom products – toilet paper, wet wipes for personal hygeine, bubble bath, shower gels, shampoo etc., and try more natural alternatives like hand made soaps or solid products (more likely to contain fewer dangerous chemicals). Storing food and cooking (eg in microwaves) food in plastic can also add to toxin exposure. If you can, use glass or china to store and heat food, reduce the use of non-stick pans and trays, and keep drinks in china, stainless steel or glass rather than plastic bottles.
Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring oestrogens found in foods such as soya. Soya is found in many prepared foods, including pizza bases, and it would be sensible to reduce this as much as possible from the diet. If you’re following the gut health advice above, you’ll be eating fewer processed foods and will hopefully have lower exposure from these.
Oestrogens are a bit more tricky. The oral contraceptive pill has been responsible for allowing higher levels of oestrogen to contaminate our water supplies, creating havoc with men’s fertility by skewing hormone levels, and impacting on sperm production. There is little that can be done about this currently, but remember, tap water is generally safe to drink (in the UK) and bottled water in plastic is much worse for both you and the planet in the wider scheme of things. It may be worth considering a water filtering jug whilst you are trying to conceive – this one has a glass jug and refillable filters, which are much more eco-friendly than throw-away cartridges.
Anything else to consider?
Yes, of course, there is always going to be more! However, the four factors that can have an affect on fertility that I have outlined above are all things that you can make changes to. The power is within your hands to make a start. Hopefully you don’t feel completely overwhelmed, but better informed.
If you want to make a start on incorporating these changes, but need someone to help you along the way, then please get in touch. I offer differing levels of support depending on what your needs and budget are – ranging from a 2 hour Zoom consultation with advice tailored to your specific situation, up to three month plus programs which include sessions of holistic therapies, lifestyle and nutrition information, tailored natural products and email support, both in person or via Zoom or as a blended version which makes my services easier to access if you can’t visit me in person. Send me an email to find out how I can help you, book a free discovery chat, or contact me via my social media channels on Instagram or Facebook.