A number of factors can cause reproductive issues. Here is how natural practitioners can address them to help their patients.
It is said that having a child is one of the most wonderful gifts in the world. While that may be true, sometimes the path to welcoming said child into the world may be a difficult one. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6 percent of married women 15-44 years of age in the U.S. are unable to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex, and about 12 percent of women ages 15-44 in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. There are a number of reasons that it may be difficult to conceive a child. Washington-based Ayush Herbs, Inc.’s Priya Walia, ND, MS noted that a number of things may cause infertility in women. “Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilized,” she explained. Other problems may include:
• Irregular or absent menstrual periods
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS, the most common cause of female infertility)
• Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI, another cause of ovulation problems)
Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:
• Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis or surgery for an ectopic pregnancy
• Physical problems with the uterus
• Uterine fibroids
Dr. Walia added that there is an increased risk for infertility among women with:
• Excessive alcohol use
• Poor diet
• Athletic training
• Being over- or underweight
• Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
• Health problems that cause hormonal changes, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and primary ovarian insufficiency
Heather Nangle, director of marketing for Nevada-based Hyperbiotics, added that nearly 78 percent of the population choose to delay having a child for the following reasons: 34 percent are focusing on career or education, 22 percent are undecided about having children and 22 percent believe they can’t afford it financially. And according to the CDC, the most common causes of infertility for men include:
• Varicoceles, a condition in which the veins on a man’s testicles are large and cause them to overheat. The heat may affect the number or shape of the sperm.
• Medical conditions or exposures, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, trauma, infection, testicular failure, or treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.
• Unhealthy habits, such as heavy alcohol use, testosterone supplementation, smoking, anabolic steroid use, or illicit drug use.
• Environmental toxins including exposure to pesticides and lead.
Further, a CDC study analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth and found that 7.5 percent (approximately 3.3–4.7 million men) of all sexually experienced men younger than age 45 reported seeing a fertility doctor during their lifetime. Of men who sought help, 18 percent were diagnosed with a male-related infertility problem, including sperm or semen problems (14 percent) and varicocele (6 percent).
Addressing the Issues
As noted above, there are a number of issues that may have a hand in why it may be difficult to conceive or carry a child to term. Emotional issues, nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, poor gut health and toxicity can all have an effect on reproductive health.
The mind is a powerful thing and some studies show that the mind/body connection may have a powerful effect on how the body functions, depending on how good a person’s emotional health is. Bradley Nelson, DC explained that the subconscious mind needs to be in alignment with the reproductive process. “When we experience intense negative emotions, the energy of those emotions may become ‘trapped’ in the body in the form of a discrete area of emotional frequency,” he said.
Dr. Nelson added that once emotional issues have been addressed, he focuses his attention to nutritional deficiencies. He explained that the most common nutritional deficiencies in his experience include vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and manganese.
“Our modern Western diet is not conducive to reproduction. In a landmark study, Dr. Francis Marion Pottenger, Jr. showed that cats who were fed a diet of cooked food and pasteurized milk entirely lost the ability to reproduce after the third-generation, while cats who were fed on raw meat and raw dairy products were perfectly healthy,” he said. “Our reproductive health is certainly affected by our diet; the less raw foods and the more processed foods we consume, the more reproductive problems we seem to have, just like Pottenger’s cats.”
When trying to have a child, a woman’s hormones may be “out of whack.” Dr. Walia explained that regulating the body’s natural hormonal rhythm via lifestyle shifts, healthy sleep patterns etc. are very important. “Generally, we take a look at hormonal levels for shifts to help bring the woman back into balance so her body can do the rest of the work on its own,” Dr. Walia said.
Gina Besteman, RPh, director of compounding and dispensing for Wisconsin-based Women’s International Pharmacy, agreed, explaining that the thyroid plays an important role in both fertility and maintaining pregnancy. “Thyroid disorders are a well-documented cause of infertility and miscarriage. Pregnancy places a higher demand on the thyroid and maintenance doses of thyroid medication established prior to pregnancy sometimes need to be increased during pregnancy,” she explained. “[The] thyroid can be a concern postnatally as well. According to the American Thyroid Association, postpartum thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland that may occur after the delivery of the baby) affects 5 to 70 percent of women. Careful monitoring of thyroid function is important before, during and after pregnancy.”
Ayush Herbs, Inc. offers a number of products that help support the body of a woman who is trying to get pregnant, including Sitawari Female Support, Shilajeet Mumiyo and YoungFem Hormonal Support.
Sitawari (or Shaatavari as it is known traditionally) is considered to be a main rejuvenating and endocrine supporting herb for overall female health and vitality in ayurvedic tradition. The reputed adaptogenic effects of Sitawari may be attributed to concentrations of saponins that are very similar to those found in the more commonly known ashwagandha, according to the company. Ayurvedic tradition also uses Sitawari to support the gastrointestinal tract, for its aphrodisiac effects and for general circulatory system support.
Shilajeet Mumiyo is also known as mineral pitch found in the Himalayan region of India. It has at least 85 minerals in ionic form and has been used traditionally for genitourinary and immune support, as well as for its aphrodisiac properties. Shilajeet Mumiyo contains an array of bio-available minerals from this ancient remedy for endocrine system support.
YoungFem is an herbal preparation for young women who are seeking relief from common symptoms associated with PMS (premenstrual syndrome). It has Saraca indica, which is an excellent source of tannins, catechin and naturally occurring iron; Centella asiatica, which promotes healthy blood circulation, supports collagen tissue, and is considered in ayurveda to support cognition by providing nutrients to the brain and the nervous system; and aloe vera, which, in addition to its traditional uses in liver and digestive support, also provides relief for common symptoms associated with PMS and supports female health. Symplocos racemosa sustains the uterus and promotes urinary health, and Bamboo manna also contains silica, which supports female reproductive health and provides relief for common symptoms associated with PMS. YoungFem also contains measured amounts of pyridoxal-5-phosphate, a form of vitamin B6, which has been shown to help with relieving common PMS symptoms.
The health of the gut goes far beyond the digestive tract. In fact, 70 percent of the immune system resides in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. According to Nangle, research continues to show the fundamental role that the microbiome plays in overall health, including reproductive and postpartum health.
“We believe in an integrated, whole-body approach to women’s wellness that begins with the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut environment,” she continued. “Whether a woman is actively trying to conceive or journeying through pregnancy and postpartum, an abundance of targeted probiotic strains helps to fortify the immune system, promote a healthy mental and emotional function, balance and regulate hormones, and support healthy digestion and regularity.”
Hyperbiotics features various of probiotic formulas that are beneficial to women pre- and postpartum including PRO-Women, PRO-15 and PRO-Moms.
PRO-Women contains 5 billion CFU of the six targeted strains (L. plantarum, L. fermentum, L. acidophilus, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus and B. bifidum) specifically chosen for the benefit they provide to women, including promoting the balance of yeast, aiding weight loss, improving digestion and regularity and reducing bloating. The formula includes cranberry extract and naturally occurring D-mannose to promote healthy urinary function.
PRO-15 includes 15 proven probiotic strains (from the genera Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus) to effectively counter the indiscriminate effects of today’s broad spectrum antibiotics—all wrapped up in a tiny, easy-to-swallow pearl. It supports wellness from the foundational level, aiding in digestion, helping absorb the nutrients from food and vitamins, strengthening the immune system, reducing temporary inflammation associated with exercise, increasing energy levels, supporting brain function and mental clarity, and promoting optimal body weight.
Lastly, PRO-Moms contains 5 billion CFU of six targeted probiotic strains (B. infantis, L. acidophilus, L. fermentum, L. plantarum, L. reuteri and L. rhamnosus) for expecting and nursing women. PRO-Moms helps seed the digestive tract, birth canal and breast milk, with beneficial bacteria to promote optimal immune response of mother and child, support healthy glucose levels, increase regularity, promote proper nutrient absorption, support more balanced mental function, and produce natural folate.
While working on your emotional well-being, correcting nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances and gut health, isn’t enough to think about—environmental toxins can come into play. And unless you live in a bubble or a biodome, it is practically impossible for a person to completely avoid them.
“Toxicity is the accumulation and buildup of toxins, or toxic materials, in the bodily tissues. For the most part, toxicity is a relatively new phenomenon,” Dr. Nelson explained. “Most toxins were introduced into our environment and subsequently into our bodies around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This problem continues to increase as the health of planet earth declines. Toxicity is now a worldwide problem, and unfortunately there aren’t many places you can go on the earth where you don’t find some kind of toxins. It’s my experience that toxicity will also interfere with reproduction and is one of the less-recognized reasons for sterility. Fortunately, the human body is very willing to detoxify itself if the right conditions are created to allow detoxification to occur.”
After the baby is born, the mother may face additional struggles post-portum according to Ayush’s Dr. Walia; some of the problems that women face after birth and delivery include emotional problems (postpartum depression), breastfeeding issues, a lack of sleep, ensuring adequate nutrition, as well as recovering from birth. Dr. Nelson added the issues of a hormonal imbalance, relationship stresses, anxiety and delays in the body’s ability to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
Hyperbiotics’ Nangle also noted that probiotics are quite beneficial post-birth. “Postpartum recovery can consist of fluctuating hormones, healing wounds, sore muscles, and constant shifts in microbial composition as the body’s biology changes to support the new life outside the womb,” she said. “Targeted probiotic strains help regulate hormonal balance and ensure there is proper communication with the brain along the vagus nerve (the gut-brain axis), so women can feel more balance and experience a joyful journey in the days, weeks and months after pregnancy. As well, a plethora of beneficial bacteria in a mother’s gut directly supports and strengthens immune function, helping mothers feel their best and ensuring they can pass on the benefits of a healthy microbial system to their child through birth, skin-to-skin contact and breast milk.”
Often those trying to conceive do a lot of research and will read anything that will help them understand the issue that they are facing and what they can do to be proactive. This is where manufacturers can step up and help their practitioner partners. For instance, Hyperbiotics works closely with practitioners, and provides them with all relevant, helpful, and appropriate information on its products. “We are happy to provide practitioners with an abundance of merchandising support,” Nangle said. “We provide attractive acrylic display racks, professional product literature and posters, free patient sample bottles, goody bag inserts—as well as the ongoing support of our Practitioner Partnership team of experts.”
Practitioners also want to make sure that they are doing everything they can to help their patients; this includes giving them products that actually do what is claimed on the bottle. “Awareness and education of the supplements makes a big difference and impacts the future of the market,” said Dr. Walia. “Effectiveness of the supplements matters more to practitioners as well—the more knowledge and effectiveness, the better the supplement will do.”
As for practitioners supporting their patients throughout this process, which is often tedious and emotional, Dr. Walia recommended that practitioners should not only be open and have a good rapport with patients, but they should educate them as well.
“Approximately half of the women who have experienced issues with infertility report that their doctor never discussed this subject with them,” Nangle concluded. “While it can be a sensitive topic to discuss, practitioners need to find ways to take a more whole-body approach to treatment and to initiate these conversations with their patients.”
For More Information:
Ayush Herbs, Inc., www.ayush.com
Bradley Nelson, DC, (435) 656-4923
Women’s International Pharmacy, www.womensinternational.com