Optimal Fertility

By Lindsay Ingleton

Do you need some help achieving this?

On the back of my “Fertile Years” presentation a couple of weeks ago, I’ve had SO many of you contacting me asking for more information on fertility/infertility. So, I thought I had better do a bit of a re-cap for you! There is so much information surrounding the causes of infertility and the various treatment options. It can be such a confusing topic!!

Current statistics show that up to 1 in 6 Australian couples have trouble falling pregnant, and sadly, these numbers are predicted to continue to rise. It is baffling to think that so many of us are finding such a basic, fundamental and natural human function so difficult to achieve. When we think about it, it is our body’s natural state to be fertile; the evolution of our species depends on it! So where are we going so terribly wrong!?

Sadly, some of it is out of our control. The world we live in is more stressful and more toxic than ever before. However, we must not dwell on the things we cannot change, but rather put our focus towards optimising the things we can.

Several serious medical conditions and/or circumstances can cause infertility, and most of these will require extra intervention, support and/or medical assistance. Hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Endometriosis, fibroids etc., and issues such as low sperm count and/or quality are all issues I help my patients overcome with a thorough treatment plan tailored to their individual circumstances.

The research is now finding that the cumulative effects of poor diet and lifestyle choices are significantly contributing to the rates of infertility.

There are 3 main areas of focus EVERYONE should really know about when trying to achieve optimal fertility:

  1. Stress
  2. Hormone Disruptors
  3. Poor Diet

1. Stress

The world we now live in is such a stressful place. The daily stressors and demands that we take as a ‘given’ are constantly putting our system into a state of ‘fight or flight’. This wreaks havoc on our hormonal balance, nutritional status and fertility. Stress, literally knocks our reproductive hormones out of whack! Sometimes we will have to deal with big awful stressors, but hopefully these are short lived and few and far between. However, even the small little stressors we deal with on a day-to-day basis can be enough to send our reproductive hormones off track. Skipping meals, not getting the nutrients we need, lack of exercise (or even over exercising), running late for work, sitting in traffic, meeting deadlines and work stressors, getting through our lists of jobs and chores, demands of friends, family and even our own expectations are all stress to our body. These all send the exact same hormonal signals to our body as if we were running away from a tiger! Higher levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin override our reproductive hormones and rid our body of many of the nutrients necessary for reproduction. This leaves us stressed and depleted = Not the most ideal place to grow a baby.

SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Schedule in some down-time. Rest and relaxation are so important for healthy hormones. You may even need to look at re-scheduling your work hours or extra commitments to make some time and space to look after yourself.
  • Make an effort to put some better stress coping mechanisms in place. Consider seeing a psychologist, learn breathing techniques, meditation and mindfulness etc.
  • Prioritise a healthy exercise routine. Exercise is a great way to alleviate stress. It helps to burn off excess cortisol and adrenalin and increases our feel good endorphins. Be careful to not over do it, or to only do high intensity exercise. It’s important to have the balance with some more relaxing exercises such as walking in nature or along the beach, yoga or Pilates. Find something you enjoy!

2. Toxic Exposure

On top of the constant stress, the world we live in is also full of so many toxins. The worst of all, as far as fertility is concerned, are the ‘Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals/Toxin’s’ (EDC’s). Endocrine is the scientific word for ‘hormone’ so an EDC is a chemical that disrupts our hormones! Now, these sound like awful things we might come into contact with if we happened to work at a chemical factory or randomly come across a big chemical spill or something of the like.. but the sad fact of the matter is, we are all actually exposed to many of these hormone disrupting chemicals in our everyday lives! Chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA) in plastic water bottles and food containers, linings of take-away coffee cups and tinned foods, cling wrap and PFOA in non-stick cookware all have a huge impact on our hormones. The chemicals commonly found in these products leak into our food/drinks/water. What’s worse, heat increases this chemical leakage, so hot food in plastic containers, hot coffee in takeaway coffee cups and the sun shining on that plastic water bottle in your car, all lead to very unhappy hormones! On top of this, 100’s of seemingly harmless chemicals in every day beauty care products such as make-up, deodorant, moisturisers etc., have been proven to disrupt our hormones. Our skin is our largest organ and it absolutely absorbs everything you put on it, so choose your beauty care products wisely!!

There is also a huge body of evidence showing a direct effect on fertility from exposure to common pesticides, herbicides fungicides etc., used in common farming practices of our fresh fruits and vegetables, and even in those used on our parks, footy ovals, golf courses and our own back yards (including roundup).

SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO?

  • Avoid plastic food containers, water bottles & take away coffee cups. Definitely never heat food or drink up in plastic. Opt for glass or ceramic food containers, glass or stainless steel drink bottles and a glass or ceramic reusable coffee keep-cup. There are so many of these available now! (Great timing, as “Plastic free July” is a great way to kick off some of these changes!)
  • Avoid most generic beauty and personal care products. Opt for natural chemical free alternatives. There are so many great options available these days! If you’re not sure where to start, hit up the lovely ladies at Natural Supply Co and The Low Tox Fox for all the chemical free beauty and household goodness they have on offer! Tell them I sent you.
  • Try to buy organic produce when you can, or at least opt for fresh, seasonal, local and spray free produce. I like to prioritise where I spend my money on organic produce. The list of the ‘dirty dozen” (highest pesticide residue produce) and “Clean fifteen” (lowest pesticide residue produce) is a great place to start, you can find these lists on the ewg.org website.
  • Endocrine disrupting chemicals can be especially impactful in the lead up to conception, so it might be a good time to ask your naturopath for some great high strength anti-oxidants and some guidance on how to cleanse and to help protect you from the ones you can’t avoid.

3. Poor Diet

We all know the saying “you are what you eat”. Well, what if you think about the fact that, your baby will be made out of what you eat? Hopefully this gives you enough incentive to make sure you are limiting the junk food and optimizing the good stuff!?… Surely you want your baby to be made from the good stuff!??

It’s pretty simple really, avoid fake ‘processed’ food and enjoy real ‘nourishing’ food! You need a lot of nutrients to grow an entire human from scratch, so now is the time to go completely overboard on nourishing yourself as often as you can.

Each time you look at your meal, make sure it is well balanced and contains my THREE non-negotiables:

  1. PROTEIN
  2. COLOURFUL CARBOHYDRATES
  3. GOOD FATS

GOOD QUALTIY PROTEIN: Protein is essential for hormonal balance, healthy mood, blood sugar regulation, metabolism, energy, cellular repair and growth and also immune health! Aim for a palm size portion at each meal, and half a palm size at a snack.

ENJOY: organic free range eggs, free range poultry, grass fed red meats, organic tofu or tempeh, chickpeas, lentils and beans, and raw unsalted nuts and seeds.

AVOID: Processed deli meats, processed meat products such as poor quality sausages, burgers, bacon that have nitrates and preservatives.

COLOURFUL CARBOHYDRATES: Carbohydrates are essential for energy production and focusing on getting your carbohydrates from nutrient rich salad, vegetables and fruits will also give you so many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants vital for optimal fertility!

ENJOY: all fresh fruits and vegetables, aim for as much variety as possible. If possible 2 handfuls per meal and at least 3 different colours, but the more colour the better. Eat a rainbow every day! Aim for organic, or spray/wax free local seasonal fresh produce when possible.

AVOID: Tinned and dried fruits which often have preservatives and lots of sugar!

also avoid all processed and refined carbohydrates as much as possible, these include breads, pasta, pastries, biscuits etc. Aim for small serves of nutritious whole grains such as organic brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and raw oats. If you have a gluten intolerance, make sure you avoid all gluten containing grains.

HORMONE-HEALTHY GOOD FATS: Essential fatty acids are SO crucial for hormone health and optimal fertility!! They are important precursors for hormone production and have many anti-inflammatory properties. Aim to include a decent serve (the size of two thumbs) of good-fats at each meal!

ENJOY: Avocado, raw extra virgin olive and coconut oils, raw nuts (almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamias, pistachios), seeds (chia seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds) and oily fish such as salmon, sardines & ocean trout.

AVOID: Processed transfats, processed meats, hydrogenated oils in margarine, poor quality vegetable oils including canola oil, deep fried & fast foods.

Key Take Away

Pre-conception health is so important! Eggs and sperm take 3-4 months to mature before they are released. Therefore, making an effort to improve the stress you experience, the toxins you are exposed to and the foods you nourish yourself with in the months leading up to conception will play a huge roll in not only optimizing your hormone balance, but also in improving the health and quality of your eggs and sperm. The healthier your eggs and sperm, the healthier the genetic DNA you will be passing of to your future baby for the rest of their life! The message is pretty clear: optimal health leads to optimal fertility! This is the time to make the necessary changes and put the effort in, I promise it will be worth it!

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with all the info, perhaps it’s a good idea to book in with a naturopath who specialises in this area. There is so much we can do to help you improve the odds!

Food for thought!

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