The fertility “puzzle”

Fertility

As 2019 comes to close, I wanted to talk to a group of women that have been trying to conceive but aren’t pregnant yet.

Maybe you set out at the beginning of this year, hoping to have a baby by now. Or at least be pregnant by the end of the year.

Perhaps you’ve only be “trying” for a couple of months. Perhaps you’ve been “trying” for a couple of years.

Maybe you’re frustrated and afraid. And as your period shows up each month, your heart sinks a little lower, knowing that you’re not yet pregnant.

I know that feeling because infertility was a real possibility for me.

I hadn’t had a period for 3 years when we wanted to start “trying” for a family. I had been to endocrinologists, fertility specialists, and countless internists. In between all of them, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called PCOS.

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that manifests itself with symptoms like irregular periods, cystic acne, unexplained weight gain, and hair growth.

So, when we wanted to start trying for a family, and my period was nowhere in sight, the fear, frustrated and sadness set in.

I was upset that my body wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do. I was angry that I didn’t have answers.

Maybe that’s where you’re at too?

Unexplained infertility is on the rise. It now affects about 3 in 10 couples. The medical community defines unexplained fertility  as the presence of no physiological abnormalities in both the man and woman, yet they’ve been actively trying to conceive by having unprotected sex for over 12 months.

So while physiological factors, like endometriosis, lack of ovulation, or poor sperm count, can contribute to fertility, there is now more people than ever experiencing fertility issues without answers.

That’s when we should look at other pieces of the puzzle that help make up our reproductive health. Factors like nutrition and stress play important roles in our hormonal health, which is the foundation to ovulation, egg implantation, and a healthy pregnancy.

So if you’ve been trying, here are 5 pieces of the fertility “puzzle” to consider:

  1. Diet

Refined sugar and simple “white” carbs disrupt our hormones. Hormones control everything from our metabolism and weight gain to our reproductive health.

Without getting into the science of it; a spike in blood sugar levels, also spikes our insulin, and our testosterone levels as well. And we don’t want that if we want to ovulate and encourage egg implantation.

So what can you do?

Be mindful of how much sugar or white carbs you eat. Especially in one sitting. If you do have sugar or white carbs, make sure it’s always a single serving. And pair that serving with healthy fats and protein to slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream. This will be less disruptive to your hormones.

A fertility diet focuses on real, whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, seafood, nuts, seeds and pasture-raised meat. And of course, full-fat dairy products and other fertility boosting foods.

If you have an autoimmune or thyroid condition, I encourage to eliminate refined sugar and grains for at least 30 days and see how you feel. I am a big fan of the whole 30 because you eliminate grains, sugar, and dairy for 30 days. While these food groups might not have the same effect on everyone, they can be disruptive to people with autoimmune and hormonal disorders.

I personally have done the whole 30 twice. I got my period back after the first time I completed the whole 30. We conceived my son after the second time I completed the whole 30.

  1. Stress

You might have heard it already. Stress reduction is key to reproductive health.

I like the analogy I once heard: if your phone goes into “low power” mode, it stops running certain apps in the background to save battery. Your reproductive system is one of those apps. Biology has it that we need to feel safe and secure if we are to reproduce. While there’s always exceptions to that rule, it’s true for the most part.

Check in with yourself, are you running in “low power” mode? Are there areas in your life and lifestyle that need to change?

Maybe that’s coming up with ways to reduce stress at work? Maybe that looks like an honest conversation with your boss or co-workers about a proper lunch break where you can “unplug” for 30 minutes? Or maybe that looks like prioritizing a workout 3-4 times a week? Or getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night?

 

  1. Sleep

It sounds so simple but sleep is so important to your reproductive health. Sleep is a key factor in happy hormones. And happy hormones means a higher chance of ovulation, egg implantation, and a healthy pregnancy.

Why?

Sleep plays a major role in stress reduction.

When we sleep, our body dissolves stress hormones like cortisol. So if we don’t get enough sleep, our body hasn’t had a chance to dissolve cortisol from the day.

If we get night after night of not enough sleep, our bodies aren’t getting a chance to eradicate stress hormones that have accumulated from the day. This can send us on a spiral of other hormonal-disrupting behavior like pepping up with excessive caffeine throughout the day, only to “wind down” with alcohol at night. Or binging on sugar-filled foods throughout the day to give us the energy to get us through the next couple of hours.

Let’s try and break that viscous cycle by getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

  1. Cleanse

If you’ve already looked at your diet, sleep, and stress levels but with no success; a cleanse could be what your body needs to flush out toxins that have accumulated over the years. Toxins from pesticides or antibiotics in our food. Toxins from excessive caffeine or alcohol. From prescription drugs or birth control. Or toxins we’re exposed to in our air, water, skincare or cleaning products.

What can you do?

Take a break from trying to conceive and do a cleanse. A liver detox or a birth control cleanse can help re-balance hormones and promote optimal reproductive health.

  1. Additional support

Our bodies – and the hormones that control it – are so complex. Sometimes sleep, stress, or food are just one piece in the puzzle. And it takes a readjustment of a few pieces for our reproductive systems to function optimally. At least it was for my case. For me, I needed to hormone-disrupting sugar and white carbs from my diet and replace them with nutrient-dense whole foods.

I removed sugary snacks. Replaced white carbs with starchy vegetables. I started baking healthier alternatives to the sweet treats I craved. I also started to exercise 4-5 times a week, and I had to set healthy boundaries at my high-stress job.

I also had to learn to “unplug” so I could get 8 hours of sleep each night. I also went through a series of full body detoxes and colon hydrotherapy sessions. I went to acupuncture treatments and had 6 months of holistic health guidance from a NRT practitioner.

It’s important to remember that, what might work for one woman, might not work for you – and vice versa.

I encourage you to find additional support. Acupuncture has high success rates with fertility. Or perhaps see a nutritionist or a holistic health coach to get support you need for your daily food choices. Or maybe you need to make an appointment with an endocrinologist or reproductive specialist.

Fertility is so complex. Sometimes it’s a matter of tweaking a few pieces of the puzzle before it all comes together.