'I wanted to write this book because after working in this field now for over 30 years, I know how much heartache women and their partners go through along their fertility journey. 1 in 6 couples have difficulty getting pregnant and IVF only has a 25% success rate. This means that 75% of the cycles are failing, which is not only emotionally but also financially traumatic.
Couples struggling to conceive need to know that there is important information hidden away in the medical journals which shows how effective dietary, supplement and lifestyle changes can be in conceiving naturally or boosting the success rate of IVF.
Simple nutrients like antioxidants have been shown to significantly boost male fertility and also help women improve their chances of success during IVF. Similarly, deficiencies of certain nutrients such as vitamin D can have an enormous effect on both male and female fertility. But couples don't often hear about these simple and practical dietary changes that can mean the difference between getting pregnant and not getting pregnant.
Interestingly, the most common cause of infertility is 'unexplained', which means that following thorough investigations, doctors can find no specific or identifiable medical problem at the root. Fertility is multi-factorial, in other words, there are many things that can affect one's ability to conceive, and they are not all medical! To find the cause of fertility problems, it is important to look at every aspect of your health, your emotions and your lifestyle.
The natural approach to fertility is and has been enormously successful, largely because fertility is multi-factorial. A study conducted by the University of Surrey showed that couples with a previous history of infertility that made changes in their lifestyle and diet and took nutritional supplements had an 80 percent success rate. Given that the success rate for IVF is around 25 percent, it's worth considering these options.
A woman is twice as likely to get pregnant if she doesn't smoke compared to a woman who does. And smoking is linked to 5,000 miscarriages per year.
Stopping smoking is just as important for men. We know that chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage DNA in sperm. This can make it harder to conceive because fertilization can't take place or if it is does, it can increase the risk of a miscarriage, as nature will always work on survival of the fittest. Smoking can also affect sperm count, motility and the morphology (the shape of the sperm, it could have two heads or two tails if the morphology is abnormal). Smoking also has a negative effect on the head of the sperm, making it harder to fertilize an egg. It is thought that nicotine overloads the receptors on sperm, affecting their ability to bind to the egg.
Smoking also reduces the changes of an IVF treatment being successful. If couples smoke during the IVF cycle the number of eggs retrieved is decreased by 40 per cent and 46 per cent if just the man smokes during the cycle. Also, the overall success rate of the IVF was 44 per cent for non-smokers and 24 per cent for smokers.
Other simple lifestyle changes for men includes avoiding hot baths and tight underpants, as sperm production takes place at 32°C (89°F) which is lower than the body temperature at 37°C (98.4°F). The testes are on the outside of a man's body to keep them cooler but the closer they get to the body, (by sitting for long periods when driving for example), the hotter the sperm and the more likely a reduction of sperm count.
Men using laptops on their laps can also be affecting their sperm health. In order to balance the laptop, men will often close their legs and this on its own (even without the laptop) raises the temperature of their genitals by up 2.1°C. But the laptop itself generates heat and the combination of closing the legs and the heat from the laptop causes a rise in temperature of up to 2.8°C. Just a rise of 1°C can decrease fertility by 40%.
If a couple has a combination of four negative lifestyle factors (including caffeine, smoking and alcohol) it can take them seven times longer to get pregnant.
Although it goes without saying that a healthy diet is crucial to a successful pregnancy and a healthy baby, many people are unaware of the fact that diet can help to correct hormone imbalances that may affect a couple's ability to conceive. The following should be adhered to:
• Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
• Include complex carbohydrates – wholegrains like brown rice, oats and wholemeal bread
• Buy organic foods where possible
• Include oily foods such as fish, nuts, seeds and oils
• Reduce intake of saturated fats from dairy products
• Increase intake of fibre
• Avoid additives, preservatives and chemicals, such as artificial sweeteners
• Avoid sugar, both on its own and hidden in food
Eating the right type of fats is particularly important for fertility. Just small increases in the consumption of trans fats can double the risk of infertility. Also for problems with ovulation like PCOS, substituting just 5% of the calorie intake as vegetable protein rather than animal protein reduces the risk of not ovulating by 50%.
Having four cups of coffee or any caffeinated drinks a day makes it 26% less likely that a woman will conceive and drinking only 2 cups of coffee (200mg of caffeine) a day is associated with a 25% increased risk of miscarriage. Problems with sperm health are connected with increased coffee intake.
Alcohol will also make it more difficult to get pregnant, when as little as three alcoholic drinks or more a week can have an impact on female fertility. The same is true for male fertility, as we know that alcohol can lower sperm counts and will also block the body's ability to absorb fertility boosting nutrients like zinc. It can also cause abnormalities in the head of the sperm, which is important for healthy fertilisation of the egg.
The Omega 3 fatty acids have a profound effect on every system of the body, including the reproductive system and they are crucial for healthy hormone functioning. Sometimes immune problems may be affecting a woman's ability to get and stay pregnant. The theory is that in order for her body to stay pregnant, her immune system has to quieten down because half the baby's DNA is not hers. Normally if the body detects something foreign it aims to reject it and expel it from the body. For some women, their immune systems do not quieten down and so they can't get or stay pregnant.
One of the immune antibodies measured is called antiphospholipid antibodies (APAs). These blood-clotting antibodies can prevent implantation and cause recurrent miscarriage by attacking the cells that build the placenta. The medical treatment for this is blood thinners like aspirin and heparin. But research has shown that fish oil given to 22 women with APAs who already had 3 or more miscarriages went on to have 23 pregnancies (one woman had twins) without a miscarriage.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also important for male fertility because semen is rich in prostaglandins, which are produced from these Omega 3 fatty acids. Men with poor sperm quality, abnormal sperm, poor motility or low count, can have inadequate levels of these beneficial prostaglandins and by supplementing with Omega 3 fish oils there was a significant increase in sperm count compared to a placebo.
It is estimated that we are getting up to 25 times more Omega 6 fats from our diet than Omega 3 and that for good health it should be nearer a ratio of 1:1. You can easily find out if you have the right ratio of these two essential Omega fatty acids with a home prick test. See this link for more information - Omega 3 Support
In the clinic I use two supplements that contain the most important nutrients for fertility. They are called Fertility Support for Women and Fertility Support for Men and are available from Fertility. If you choose the complete fertility supplement programme, you will receive a number of videos from my fertility programme.
I know making these changes requires an effort on the couple's part but as research in 2010 in the journal Andrologia stated 'There is strong evidence that complementary treatment with an appropriate nutraceutical improves the natural conception rate of infertile couples and increases the success rate of assisted reproductive techniques. Combating obesity, correcting inappropriate diet and banning the abuse of tobacco and alcohol are part of the integrated approach'.
Dr Marilyn Glenville PhD is the UK's leading nutritionist specialising in women's health. Dr Glenville is the Former President of the Food and Health Forum at the Royal Society of Medicine, as well as the author of a number of internationally best selling books including 'Getting Pregnant Faster', 'Natural Solutions to PCOS' and 'The Natural Health Bible for Women'. For more information on fertility, please go to www.marilynglenville.com. Dr Glenville runs a number of women's health clinics in London, Tunbridge Wells and Dublin. If you are interested in a consultation, you can contact Dr Glenville's clinic on 0870 5329244 or by email: [email protected]
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