Infertility is a sign of an underlying disease and not a diagnosis in itself. With restorative reproductive approaches such as NaProTechnology, underlying diseases are targeted and then corrected to restore optimal health. Healthy parents are more likely to conceive and have healthy pregnancies and children.
Targeting the underlying disease also applies to general health as reflected in signs of fertility, such as young men with sexual dysfunction or young women with cycle disorders. These underlying diseases should be identified and corrected not only for family planning but for overall health.
In working with couples challenged with fertility concerns, think about 2 broad categories: Lifestyle Choices and Medical/Surgical. Let us start with the first category.
Lifestyle choices – Things you can control & improve:
◻️Focus on relationships, not conception. Understandably, many couples suffering with fertility challenges become conception focused which can be emotionally draining. Pregnancy should not come at the expense of your health, relationship, or psychological well-being. The focus here is: building a family which may include adoption; improving your health so natural conception can occur & you can live a long healthy life; and strengthening your relationship which is best for you and any of your children. This approach affirms the dignity of all concerned: husband, wife, and any future children whether they be adoptive and/or biological.
◻️Chart accurately. Fertility awareness charting can reflect accurately a woman’s physiology, especially when taught by a trained, certified teacher. Having at least 6-8 weeks of charting will help enormously in directing & interpreting lab tests, imaging studies, procedures, and timing of treatment. Many couples have expressed that just learning to chart their shared fertility has helped them feel like they are in the “driver’s seat” of their health and not just guinea pigs. They learn the “language” of their fertility and use the chart as a guide and not a master.
◻️Eat closer to the farm. We absorb nutrients best through smaller bioavailable increments which can best be done through food. Fresh foods such as green leafy vegetables, colorful vegetables & fruits and less processed proteins of various sources (beans, legumes, diary, eggs, & animal), not only provide us with more essential nutrients but provide the 100 trillion human bacteria (10 billion to 1 trillion/milliliter in the large colon alone) the proper substrates. Disruptions in normal biota have a profound effect on our immune system, gene expression, neuroendocrine disruption, metabolism of estrogens, endometrial health, and sperm health to name a few. These also provide fiber. Sodas, treats, and fancy coffee drinks are not helpful, and in fact are detrimental to health.
◻️Time your meals. Breakfast: Humans are relatively insulin resistant in the early morning hours so breakfast should have some protein and not be solely carbohydrates. (Breakfast burrito with cheese, hard boiled eggs & toast, protein shake, plain yogurt with nuts & fruit, leftover dinner, etc). A protein/carb balance will help to stabilize insulin and glucose levels throughout the morning. Midday: Gravitate towards a large satisfying lunch including fruits & veggies. Snack: One serving of carbs (such as a small apple) with nuts or cheese can help bridge hunger until dinner. Dinner: Aim for zero carbs (chicken breast & salad, marinara sauce over roasted veggies, etc). Then stop eating for 12 hours!! A water-only 12-hour fast will help to reset all of the metabolism hormones such as insulin, growth hormone, leptin, etc. and reduce fat stores in the liver and the rest of the body.
Prenatals: Prenatal vitamins should be taken daily, as these provide folic acid to reduce spinal cord disorders which occur in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. Those with a personal/family history of miscarriages, severe early cardiovascular disease, or depression may choose to take a prenatal vitamin with the L-methylfolate version of folic acid (5-10mg). Folic acid has to be metabolized by the enzyme MTHFR to L-methylfolate to be effective for certain processes. Genetic dysfunction of the MTHFR enzyme is associated with higher rates of miscarriage but people with normal MTHFR can still take the L-methylfolate.
Probiotics: There are very few probiotic brands that have been in medical studies, so while taking them in general won’t hurt, effectiveness needs to be targeted. Visbiome has 8 species and has 112 billion colony forming units per capsule and has been shown to be effective in some specific fertility studies. However, it does not make sense to take probiotics if your nutrition is poor.
Vitamin D: Optimum levels of Vitamin D have not been established, but low levels of Vitamin D (<30ng/mL) are associated with obesity, PCOS, poorer sperm motility & morphology (Lerchbaum: European J Endocrinology 2012) Vitamin D can be increased with UVB light, salmon, tuna, herring, and fortified milk and plant-based alternatives.
Omega fatty acids (fish oil): Infertile men have lower concentrations of omega 3 fatty acids in sperm than fertile men. Low omega fatty acids are associated with cardiovascular disease. Like Vitamin D, food sources for omega fatty acids are fatty fish or fish oil supplements.
◻️ Incorporate physical activity. The human body is made to move but don’t over do it. Daily brisk walking, taking the stairs, seated leg raises, using soup cans as weights, sit-ups, etc., are all meaningful ways to increase muscle strength, improve joint stabilization, and improve overall metabolism. Moderate regular exercise goes a long way to improve overall health where as more frequent, higher intensity exercises reduce pregnancy rates in normal weight women.
◻️ Get quality sleep. If you snore, toss & turn, have irregular breathing, or don’t feel refreshed after sleeping, it is possible you have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is associated with poorer pregnancy rates and outcomes as well as daytime sleepiness, poor work/school performance, cardiovascular disease, low testosterone, and poor seminal fluid. Change to a daytime work schedule if possible as night shift workers have significantly higher rates of fertility problems, probably due to effects on melatonin and the pineal gland. Decreasing screen time near bedtime and melatonin (1-3mg 1-2 hours prior to bedtime) can help with improved sleep.
◻️ Don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or use cannabis. Get healthy by stopping tobacco (higher risk of miscarriage, lung health), marijuana (lung health and unknown effects on hormones and cannabinoid system), alcohol (high calories, developmental effects). Systemic CBD even without THC has unknown effects on hormones and on fetus.
Author: Dr. Gretchen Marsh, Family Practice Physician and Fertility Provider with MyCatholicDoctor