Reproductive issues may become a prominent stressor in the lives of couples who want to start families. Practitioners can help provide the healthy balance to succeed.
Trying to populate your own country by giving birth to 19 children (The Duggars) or using artificial means to have eight babies in one birth (Nadya Suleman) may be extreme, but many childless couples are mentally, emotionally—and they believe physically—ready to have one of their own offspring, but unfortunately have trouble conceiving.
Sterility in some men and women cannot be unchanged, but for those relatively healthy men and women who are experiencing conception issues, there is hope. Infertility, said Dr. Bradley Nelson, author of The Emotion Code is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse for women 34 and younger, and six months if the woman is over 35; or the inability to carry a pregnancy to life birth. One in eight couples, or 12 percent of married women have trouble achieving or sustaining a pregnancy now, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“It’s important to note how things have changed. Fertility rates around the world, but particularly in the Western countries, have been dropping steadily since the Baby Boom years and 1950s. Experts disagree on the reasons, but everyone agrees that there are more people struggling with infertility now than any time in memory.” There are some prevalent reproductive/fertility issues and challenges for women and men today. “A woman’s reproductive system is delicate and complex,” said Michelle Violi, PharmD, dispensing pharmacists manager, Wisconsin-based Women’s International Pharmacy, Inc. “It is important for a woman’s hormones to be balanced and her organs and tissues healthy in order for conception to occur. Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone play leading roles; however, there are many other hormones that are important players in the intricate process that is the female reproductive system.”
Corina Dunlap, ND, MS, of A Woman’s Time in Oregon explained that for women, the most challenging reproductive concerns are ovarian factor infertility, caused by age-related ovarian decline (lessened ovarian reserve) or ovulatory dysfunction, primarily when ovaries are not producing and releasing eggs normally. And, in today’s world, she said, women and men are having babies at an older age than in previous times, and this negatively impacts egg count, quality, and likelihood for ovulation.
Further, ovulatory health can be impacted by the increasing prevalence of cases of endocrine disorders such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid conditions and hypothalamic amenorrhea, which can impede normal ovulation and ability for an egg to grow into a healthy embryo. These problems are often correlated with environmental exposures to pollutions, pesticides and plastics—known as endocrine disruptors—which impede and pose challenges to hormone health and fertility. Chris D. Meletis, ND, Educational Consultant with Fairhaven Health, and author of Enhancing Fertility: A Couple’s Guide to Natural Approaches sees several other issues that impact reproductive efficiency in women. Early use of birth control pills, he said, “over-ride the natural hormonal balance of a young female prior to the monthly cycle being fully established. There can be long history of non-pituitary driven monthly cycle due to the external hormones used to prevent pregnancy.”
He also pointed to relative estrogen dominance and relative progesterone insufficiency. Aging causes progesterone levels to drop more quickly than estrogen levels, creating more marked imbalances. “This is a concern as adequate progesterone is needed for pro-gestation, to help sustain and maintain the fertilized egg until the placenta is sufficiently established to take of the maintenance of the pregnancy,” he explained. “Low progesterone levels can increase risk of early miscarriage.” More recently, and more controversially, Dr. Meletis asserted that the HPV vaccine may also contribute to ovarian dysfunction or failure.
While it makes perfect sense to wait until financial security and stability are in place before having children, this achievement also comes later in life than it ever did before, and as such, conception attempts later in life are not as easily successful. At this point, said Dr. Meletis, the hormonal cycle is not as strong and eggs are not as qualitative, having endured years of exposure to chemicals and stress; these impact “genetics and epigenetic considerations of both nuclear DNA (human DNA) but also mitochondrial DNA that fuels cellular potential of each of the cells of a developing embryo and human for a lifetime,” he detailed.
Prudence Hall, MD, founder of The Hall Center in California, agreed. “Today, women are waiting to have children later in life, lessening their chances for getting pregnant easily. Life and career goals, emotional maturity and fertility are not necessarily in sync. Plus, stress-related issues (like career and other forces) can also make it more difficult to achieve pregnancy.”
In men, explained Dr. Hall, the combination of increased stress, fatigue and bad lifestyle habits often create a toxic environment rending them less potent. She cited one study of Desert Storm combat soldiers showing that the extreme stress they were under significantly depleted their sperm count because of a significant drop in testosterone levels.
According to Dr. Dunlap, sperm health—a state that includes sperm count, morphology, and DNA fragmentation—is impacted greatly by environmental factors, diet, age and frequency of ejaculation. “We’ve seen average sperm counts decrease over the past few decades,” she noted.
There are more recent conditions that affect reproductive health, too. Dr. Nelson believes the most common underlying causes of infertility are emotional baggage followed by nutritional deficiencies. Emotional baggage, he explained, is also known as “trapped emotions,” a state where emotional energies remain “trapped” within the body during and after intensely emotional events. “A trapped emotion consists of invisible emotional energy that can be very disruptive to the body, since the body itself is a complex energy field,” he explained. In this case, a trapped emotion in the reproductive system will interfere with the biochemical reactions and acupuncture energy flow, which may interfere with a normal reproductive process. “This is one of the most common underlying reasons for reproductive difficulties, especially in women, in my experience,” he noted.
Inadequate nutrition is the second most prominent factor interfering with fertility, Dr. Nelson stated. As an example, he cited a study by Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger that compared fertility ability in cats fed either a totally cooked diet or a totally raw diet, and concluding that the cooked diet group was, as Dr. Nelson summarized, “never able to get past the third generation without losing their ability to reproduce. Incorporating more raw food into the diet and supplementing any deficiencies that may have developed is critical for fertility.”
Clients or patients interested in preparing themselves (and their partners) for family-hood, or clients or patients who express difficulty in conceiving, can be guided to help ensure their next generation will be a reality.
For Dr. Dunlap, recommendations are individualized for every preconception/fertility patient she sees, but generally she recommends a healthy diet, lifestyle, moderate exercise, stress-reducing techniques and decreasing exposure to environmental toxicity as much as possible. Patients should stop drinking alcohol, and not smoke marijuana to relax; instead they can reduce stress via yoga, meditation or a similar exercise, don’t overdo it in the gym/fitness, reduce caffeine intake (no more than 200 mg daily), reduce sugar/simple carb intake, and eat organic whenever possible. Further, men and women should ensure they reduce their exposure to endocrine disruptors in and around the home and office (if possible here). These include dry cleaning solvents, heavy metals, pesticides and plastics.
Timing of intercourse can help increase pregnancy potential. Dr. Dunlap recommends frequently after day seven (when day one is first day of menses) to several days after ovulation, as sperm can be viable up to five days in the womb. “The best chances for pregnancy are the five days leading up to ovulation. Women should track ovulation with any ovulatory predictor kit,” she added.
For her male patients, Dr. Dunlap recommends avoiding overheating of sperm (hot tubs, hot baths, saunas), limit EMR-cell phone/WiFi exposure (such as carrying cellphones in pockets), maintain optimal BMI (body mass index), and avoid vigorous exercise and any anabolic steroids or supplements.
The goal, overall, said Dr. Meletis, is to ensure that both male and female contributions (sperm and egg) are from optimal healthy and minimally stressed and minimally medicated parents. He recommends a clean diet, that follows at the very least the avoidance of the dirty dozen foods and consumption of the 15 clean foods offered annually by the Environmental Working Group. This will lessen incoming toxins. Also, avoid unnecessary prescriptions and OTC (over-the-counter) medications, as there is “an entire class of drugs that poison the mitochondria that can alter male and female fertility,” he asserted.
There are quite a few supplements that may be recommended to client and patients wishing to increase their ability to create a family.
Jamie Morea, co-founder of Hyperbiotics, asserted that, “Reproductive health begins with a healthy microbiome, the ecosystem of trillions of bacteria. What many people trying to conceive often don’t realize is that their bodies need to have plenty of beneficial bacteria (about 85 percent in a healthy microbiome) to optimize their fertility. The friendly flora ensure inhospitable bacteria and yeast that can impact fertility for both men and women don’t have a chance to attach and colonize. Probiotics also help balance hormones, support a healthy weight, ease temporary inflammation, and keep sperm healthy and normal—all crucial for fertility and reproduction.”
Morea recommends that women and men trying to conceive take a high-quality, multi-strain probiotic formula, such as its PRO-15 or PRO-Moms, to help them create the optimal reproductive conditions in their bodies. Additionally, he added, “a prebiotic powder supplement that supports the growth of beneficial bacteria—such as Hyperbiotics Prebiotic Powder—is key to encouraging the growth of and maintaining healthy populations of probiotics.”
Kathy McIntee, vice president of the New York-based Patient One MediNutritionals noted that there are indeed common nutraceuticals that provide nourishment for the male and female reproductive systems.
B vitamins (B complex), she explained, are believed to assist ovaries in releasing an egg (ovulation), while vitamin B6 increases progesterone levels, which is necessary to sustain pregnancy once it occurs. Vitamin C also appears to promote fertility, and in men, C helps to improve sperm health and motility.
Another B vitamin, folate (B9) is “a critical supplement for women who want to get pregnant because folic acid helps the baby’s neural tube close properly. That happens as early as two or three weeks after conception, when some women may not even know they’re expecting. Patient One offers folate as Quatrefolic, an advanced, pre-converted form of 5-MTHF (levomefolic acid, the primary biologically active form of folate used at the cellular level for DNA reproduction).”
And of course, women need both iron and omega-3 EFAs; low levels of iron may contribute to lack of ovulation, McIntee said, and omega 3 EFAs help ovarian follicles release eggs, increase blood flow to the uterus, and preliminary studies show that they may also assist with fetal brain development and IQ.
For men, zinc is a critical nutrient for reproductive health because it helps improve sperm motility and boosts the general quality of sperm. It’s equally important for female reproductive health,” she maintained. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked low levels of zinc to early miscarriage.”
To support the body’s fertility in women, Dr. Dunlap’s favorite suggestions are: melatonin to improve sleep quality and egg count/quality, vitamin D, CoQ10, vitex and DHEA, the latter to increase egg count and fertilization rates. “DHEA however, needs to be dosed appropriately and prescribed only in specific circumstances,” she cautioned.
There are three aspects to increase the chances of healthy conception in women, and Fairhaven Health’s supplements that help support them, according to Dr. Meletis. First, is prenatal nutrition. Fairhaven Health’s Peapod Prenatal vitamin is a small, once-daily tablet that has no dyes or artificial flavors, plus it contains a vitamin A source of 100 percent beta carotene. Another aspect is ensuring healthy quantity and consistency of cervical mucus, “the key to improving conception odds,” he said. FertileCM contains L-arginine and n-acetyl cysteine to help with cervical mucus production. Third is menstrual cycle/hormonal support, for which Fairhaven Health has two supplements. FertilAid for Women is a prenatal vitamin formula combined with ingredients such as vitex agnus castus to help correct irregular cycles. OvaBoost, formulated to help improve egg quality and overall ovarian health, includes myo-inositol, folic acid and melatonin, which Dr. Meletis assured can be “particularly helpful for women with PCOS or if trying to conceive at a later age.”
For men, Dr. Meletis added, Fairhaven Health offers FertilAid for Men has been clinically shown to help improve sperm parameters such as count, motility and morphology.
Fairhaven Health has also introduced a clinical-grade line of supplements called FH PRO that he said can be used to support IVF protocols or for couples trying to conceive naturally.
When the reproductive system is not functioning optimally, it can cause great distress for would-be parents. Ensuring healthy lifestyle habits are adopted, and recommending the most appropriate supplement protocol for future mom and future dad should help improve the odds of the much-desired stork visit.
Healthy Take Aways
• Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse for women 34 and younger, and six months if the woman is over 35; or the inability to carry a pregnancy to life birth.
• Fertility rates in the western world have been dropping steadily since the baby boom years and 1950s.
• The most challenging reproductive concerns in women are ovarian factor infertility, caused by age-related ovarian decline.
• Women and men are having babies at an older age than in previous times, and this negatively impacts egg count, quality, and likelihood for ovulation.
• Endocrine disruptors impede and post challenges to hormone health and fertility.
• Average sperm counts have decreased over the past few decades.
• The goal is to ensure that both male and female contributions (sperm and egg) are from optimal healthy and minimally stressed and minimally medicated parents.
• For men, zinc is a critical nutrient for reproductive health because it helps improve sperm motility and boosts the general quality of sperm.
For More Information:
Fairhaven Health, www.fairhavenhealth.com
Patient One MediNutritionals, www.patientoneformulas.com