- If overweight, just a 5% weight loss can enhance fertility. Being underweight can be problematic as well. Gaining even 3-5 pounds can restore menstrual regularity and increase fertility. An ideal BMI (body mass index) is 18.5-24.9. To calculate your BMI click here.
- Look for slippery, “egg white” cervical mucus as you near ovulation. This is the time to start getting busy between the sheets! Remember that sperm live for several days so they can stick around while waiting for that egg to drop.
- Chart your basal body temperature to detect when ovulation is occurring and to observe the length of your luteal phase. This method shows ovulation after it has occurred, so it should be used to watch overall patterns in your cycle.
- Give up unhealthy and highly allergenic foods to enhance overall health, as well as fertility. Give up gluten, soy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
- Make sure your foods are organic and hormone free! Especially meat and dairy products, which can contribute to hormone imbalances.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy sources of fat. Remember that cholesterol is the precursor to all downstream steroid hormones. Good fat sources include olives, avocados, raw nuts/seeds, coconut oil and organic dairy products and meats. For more diet advice please read my blog post on healthy eating for weight loss, blood sugar control and PCOS here.
- If you have been trying to conceive for a while, make sure you see your MD to gather some basic information. Have your husband’s sperm checked. Ask for some hormone testing such as FSH, LH, estradiol, progesterone, TSH, prolactin and testosterone. A physical exam looking for fibroids, polyps or blocked tubes is also a good idea.
- Be mindful of your stress level. It is often blamed for everything, and for good reason. It can throw off hormone levels that can affect your fertility.
- Invest in your health by receiving regular acupuncture treatments. It improves blood flow to the uterus and ovaries, enhances egg quality, balances hormones and regulates the menstrual cycle. It can help couples conceive naturally as well as increase success rates when combined with western reproductive techniques like IUI’s and IVF. Numerous scientific studies have shown its benefits.
- Increase the omega 3’s fatty acids in your diet by eating wild caught salmon or supplementing with a quality fish oil product. They can improve sperm quality and hormone health.
Happy New Year! The holidays and all the decadence that often comes with them are behind us, literally and figuratively. As a result, for many people the new year often comes with the goal to drop a few pounds. Below you will find my general dietary recommendations that I share with people every day in my practice. These recommendations are helpful for weight loss and signs of blood sugar instability, such as cravings for carbohydrates and sugar or fatigue after eating. I am a firm believer in making life style changes for more effective weight loss, rather than trying the newest fad diet. These recommendations may also be helpful for my overweight fertility clients with PCOS as scientific studies have shown that women with PCOS can regain ovulation, menstrual regularity and decrease insulin by losing 5-10% of their body weight.
Some tips for weight loss and better blood sugar control include:
- Eat real, whole foods. No packaged foods please.
- Your plate should always contain a healthy mix of all the macronutrients: a healthy protein (organic always), non-starchy carbs (
lots of veggies) and healthy source of fat (cold pressed, non-refined oils, butter, avocado, raw nuts).
- Animal protein and dairy products should come from grass-fed, organic sources to avoid the added hormones and antibiotics that are fed to the animals. Portion sizes should be the size of a deck of cards.
- All refined carbohydrates and sugars should be eliminated. This includes, breads, pastries, candies, breakfast cereals, sodas, juice and alcohol.
- Carbohydrates from non-starchy veggies are great and can be eaten without limits.
- As a rule of thumb, if you are tired or crave sweets right after you eat, the carbohydrate portion of your meal was too high (assuming there are no hidden sensitivities we are unaware of).
- Fruit is a great snack, but should always be combined with a healthy fat &/or a protein. Aim to eat only low to moderate fruits on the glycemic index chart. High glycemic fruits will cause an insulin surge. A good example is berries with unsweetened organic Greek yogurt or apple slices with raw almond butter.
- Avoid trans fats, which are artificial fats, made from hydrogenated oils. They cause inflammation and arterial plaque. Findings from the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that eating trans fats decreased women’s fertility. Trans fats are found in most processed, packaged foods.
- Don’t be afraid of healthy sources of fat, as the cholesterol is needed for hormone production. Some good examples include, cold pressed unrefined oils, raw nuts, organic diary products, avocados, olives.
- Eat your dinner off of salad plates to help with portion control.
- Exercise is essential for blood sugar stability and weight loss. Aim for 30 minutes per day 4-5 days/week. A combination of cardiovascular and weight training is optimal.
- Find ways to nurture yourself, so that food is not comfort for you. Some things to consider: take a walk in nature, soak in a tub, meditate, do yoga, read an inspiring book or journal.
If eating cleanly, and still unable to drop weight, looking for food sensitivities is a good next step. Speak to your practitioner for testing options.
When it comes to fertility challenges or the label “infertility,” it can be much more complicated than egg and sperm quality or uterine linings. Fertility can be affected by the foods we eat, our immune systems, life stress and structural imbalances to name a few.
Today, we look at food and how it affects fertility. Most of you are already aware of the obvious things when it comes to diet, such as limiting sugar and processed foods, avoiding alcohol and eliminating caffeine. However, many people don’t realize that food sensitivities, even to healthy food items, can impair fertility.
I often recommend a lab that uses a patented technology, the ALCAT test, to identify food sensitivities. This test involves observing your white blood cells in the presence of common foods. If the blood cells enlarge, burst or shrink when combined with a food, this indicates a sensitivity. Based on the response, ALCAT classifies foods and herbs into four categories: severe, moderate, or mild reaction and acceptable foods. These sensitivities can manifest in a multitude of ways including headaches, heart burn, gas, bloating, weight gain and they can even impair fertility.
What is the link between food sensitivities and infertility? There are several we know about and probably more we haven’t identified yet.
When an immune reaction occurs, macrophages, a type of white blood cell, releases interleukin 1, which suppresses the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and disrupts the steps needed for follicle development and ovulation.
Dr. Lene Hoj, an allergy specialist from Copenhagen has observed many patients become pregnant after eliminating foods identified on the ALCAT test. Her belief is that the immune response causes inflammation in the fallopian tubes, preventing proper movement of the egg to the uterus. In addition, she has observed improved sperm counts, motility and morphology in men following the ALCAT elimination diet.
Any autoimmune condition can benefit from ALCAT testing, including endometriosis and autoimmune infertility. The cause of endometriosis is unknown but European countries classify it as an auto-immune condition and acupuncturists classify it as a Liver and Blood Stasis pattern of imbalance. Food intolerance, chronic infections and stress all exacerbate autoimmune symptoms.
Unexplained infertility is a diagnosis that leaves women feeling confused and frustrated. Following the ALCAT diet recommendations empowers women, improves hormone levels and benefits overall health. For many of my clients, this along with acupuncture leads to a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Poly-cystic ovaries is a condition that affects women who are both overweight and of normal weight. The cause is not fully understood, but there can be a genetic tendency, ovarian overproduction of testosterone and elevated insulin levels. A result of these hormone imbalances is an improper ovarian response leading to poorly developed follicles, lack of ovulation and/or ovarian cysts. The ALCAT test results, combined with a healthy diet and exercise program, can facilitate weight loss for my overweight clients with a diagnosis of Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Often a small amount of weight loss can normalize hormone function and enhance overall fertility.
The following symptoms are possible indications of food sensitivities. Take a look and see if any apply to you. If you have many symptoms, the ALCAT test may be one useful tool to use.
- Arthritis or joint pain
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic constipation
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Intestinal bloating
- Frequent infections
- Eczema, rashes or acne
- Hay fever
- Headaches or migraines
- Inability to lose weight
- Persistent canker sores
- Stuffy or runny nose
Found this question and answer in The New York Times and found it interesting.
Dr. Sheila Crowe, a professor in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology in the department of medicine at the University of Virginia, recently joined the The New York Times Consults blog to answer reader questions about celiac disease, an often overlooked digestive disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, is eaten. Millions of people have celiac disease, but most don’t know they have it, in part because symptoms can be so varied. Here, Dr. Crowe responds to a reader concerned about the links between celiac disease and infertility.
Q. Can you explain the link between celiac and infertility? Are you more likely to be infertile if you have celiac?
Dr. Crowe responds: Yes, infertility, or the inability get pregnant, seems to be more common in women with untreated celiac disease, based on a variety of studies in different countries. Other gynecological and obstetrical problems may also be more common, including miscarriages and preterm births. Men with untreated disease may also face fertility issues. Although these problems were not always recognized as being related to celiac disease by doctors and other health professionals, this situation is starting to change.
Women with celiac disease are reported to start having periods later and stop menstruating earlier than average. They also suffer more often from secondary amenorrhea, a condition in which menses start but then stop. Together, these menstrual disorders lead to fewer ovulations, which results in less of a chance to get pregnant. Hormonal factors and poor nutrition are thought to play a role in causing these problems.
For men, problems can include abnormal sperm – such as lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated celiac disease may also have lower testosterone levels.
Of course, for both men and women, how often a couple has intercourse affects fertility. If someone feels lousy from untreated celiac disease, infrequent sexual activity may be contributing to the problem. One study from Italy suggests that sexual relations occurred less often when one partner had active celiac disease compared with couples in which the partner’s celiac disease was being treated.
Once a woman with active celiac disease does conceive, other problems that can arise during the pregnancy include miscarriages and smaller babies because of preterm delivery or delayed growth in the uterus. These conditions are reported to be more common in women with untreated celiac disease, though miscarriages have many causes and occur in up to one-fourth of all pregnancies. Nonetheless, I would recommend that if a woman has repeated miscarriages or is unable to conceive, consideration should be given to screening her for celiac disease by antibody testing (see my earlier posting, “Confirming a Diagnosis of Celiac Disease”).
Indeed, there are many causes of infertility, miscarriages and small babies besides unrecognized celiac disease, and some studies have failed to show that the risks of these problems are actually increased by untreated celiac disease. Larger and better-devised studies are needed.
Still, my own clinical experience suggests that infertility and smaller or preterm babies are more common in women with untreated celiac disease than those without. I am sure some of our readers can share their own experiences in this regard. And the good news is that with proper treatment with a gluten-free diet and correction of nutritional deficiencies, the prognosis for future pregnancies is much improved.
Recent statistics show that 1 in 6 couples of childbearing age are experiencing infertility issues. Statically, female factor accounts for 1/3, male factor accounts for 1/3 and both male and female account for 1/3 of couples struggling. We are offering a new service to help people in the area as well as those outside of Madison who are struggling with reproductive issues. After treating hundreds of people in our clinic, we have identified certain functional medicine tests that uncover hidden health issues affecting one’s fertility.
Imbalanced hormones most often result from other systems functioning improperly. We recommend four tests to evaluate important areas affecting reproductive health. Sometimes additional testing is required. These tests allow us to identify:
- Chronic stress and adrenal imbalances
- Specific hormone imbalances
- Pituitary-ovarian miscommunication
- Liver detoxification challenges
- Systemic inflammation due to allergies
- Sensitivities or gastrointestinal assaults
Our goal is to support your reproductive health so you can become pregnant naturally or with western assisted reproductive techniques. Additionally, improving the mother-to-be health promotes healthy and viable pregnancies.
Some tests that may help to determine the cause of your fertility challenges include the following:
- Expanded Female Hormone Panel or Expanded Male Hormone Panel
- Adrenal Stress Index
- Gastrointestinal microbial/parasite/fungal panel
- Gluten sensitivity genetic test
Usually, starting with a clear picture of your hormone health using the Female or Male Hormone panel is sufficient, however in some complicated cases further testing is required.
For others, acupuncture treatment, combined with herbs, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes is all that is required.