How many couples do you know that have been trying to conceive for ages without success? Infertility – defined as the failure to conceive after one year of unprotected sex – affects an estimated 1 in 6 couples trying to get pregnant in the UK. And although in the past it was assumed that this was primarily a problem with the woman, recent research has shown that in 50% of cases the problem lies with the man. In fact, an estimated 9% of the UK’s 28 million men may have trouble fathering a child.
Spending a year unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant is frustrating and often disruptive to the couple, many of whom are already in their thirties and are finding that the ticking of the “biological clock” is getting louder.
Causes of infertility in women generally fall into one of three categories; hormonal dysfunction, poor egg quality and anatomic abnormality. The most common is hormonal dysfunction, which can result from a wide range of different causes including menstrual suppression, luteal phase defect, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and excess oestrogen.
Causes of infertility in the male also fall into three categories. Reduced sperm count or quality, reduced sperm motility and anatomic abnormality. In men, hormonal causes are less common and issues of sperm count, quality and motility are related to age, smoking, alcohol, mercury toxicity, prescription or recreational medication and exposure to pesticides. Less common causes include anti-sperm antibodies, infection and trauma.
Causes common to both sexes are stress and poor nutrition.
Stress, stimulation of the fight or flight response, has a significant impact on fertility in both men and women. Its effect is compounded by the added stress associated with the inability to get pregnant. Stress can lead to spasm in the fallopian tubes, crushing or obstructing the egg on its way to the uterus. Chronic stress increases levels of the hormone prolactin, which tricks the female body into thinking it is already pregnant, altering FSH and LH cycles and disrupting ovulation. It also increases inflammation in the uterus causing miscarriage. In the man, chronic stress decreases the production and integrity of sperm, increases DNA fragmentation, and may impair motility. In addition, in both men and women, chronic stress reduces libido and frequency of intercourse.
Poor nutrition impacts fertility in a number of ways. Anovulation associated with excessively low body weight in women is well recognized and an important cause of infertility in athletes and eating disorders. Low levels of leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells, in these individuals causes low GnRH, the hormone responsible for ovulation. This is thought to be a protective mechanism to prevent pregnancy in times of famine. Interestingly, leptin resistance associated with poor diet and excess weight can mimic low leptin and may play a role in the infertility found in overweight individuals.
Another factor associated with disrupted metabolism and excess weight is hyperinsulinaemia and excessive swings in blood sugar level. This has the same stress-inducing effect on the body as a wild tiger, increasing cortisol (our stress hormone) and causing the stress-related impairment in fertility noted above.
Excess weight is also leads to excess levels of the hormone, oestrogen. While normal levels are essential for a regular menstrual cycle and ovulation, excess levels in women with higher fat levels can be quite disruptive, resulting in a well-recognized cause of infertility.
In men, poor diet and excess weight impairs not only the hormonal cycle and sperm production. It also leads to issues with libido and impotence. High cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure narrow the blood vessels needed to achieve and maintain an erection.
How to change
An increasing number of studies have shown that by decreasing stress levels and normalizing metabolism through a healthy diet, 80% of women can regain a normal ovulatory pattern. 60% get pregnant in 6 months without traditional hormonal intervention.
Infertility is often a complex and highly individualized subject, so we suggest that a qualified health care practitioner monitor your fertility program. However, we do feel that starting with a simple plan to improve your diet, reduce stress and lose weight if necessary is only going to help.
The No-Crave Diet, designed by Dr. Penny Kendall-Reed for use in her practise as a Naturopathic Doctor, is a safe, effective programme. It can be used to normalize and rebalance hormone levels and metabolism, with or without weight loss. It effectively reverses insulin and leptin resistance, stabilizes blood sugar, and helps in the prevention and treatment of high cholesterol, blood pressure and type-2 diabetes. The No-Crave Diet reduces the physiologic stress associated with rapid swings in blood sugar and inefficient metabolism. It allows you to use your food as fuel and to access your fat stores for energy. The diet also results in lower levels of inflammation, an important factor associated with infertility.
Including the No-Crave Diet stress management program (Chapter 5) as part of your regimen will further enhance the effectiveness of the diet in improving your chances of conception.
Dr. Penny writes:
“In my naturopathic practise I treat many couples with infertility issues. The majority have had a full evaluation by a fertility specialist and have no medical or anatomic abnormality to account for their difficulty. The No-Crave Diet provides an important central role in my management, with the majority getting pregnant within 6-12 months.”