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Six Top Fertility Tips

The fertility journey can often be a confusing road with a complex information to make sense of. The process can sometimes be difficult because it’s hard to know what the right action is for you and your partner.

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Six-Top-Fertility-Tips

You fertility journey can often be a confusing road with a complex but we have six top fertility tips to help you make sense of the information. The process can sometimes be difficult because it’s hard to know what the right action is for you and your partner.

1. Eliminate and Reduce Stress

The number one contributing factor to infertility is stress according to trials carried out by researchers at Emory University in Atlanta.The results showed that stress increased the release of stress hormones in your body, which significantly reduces ovulation and your chances of successful conception. Many other clinical trials have shown similar results, with imbalances in hormones such as Cortisol (a stress related hormone), which hinders your ability to conceive.

Women with hectic jobs are most at risk and are often most in denial about the stress in their lives, but it dramatically affects men too. Spend some time thinking about how your day-to-day life is constructed and see if you can make some changes to reduce any stressful areas. It is helpful to differentiate between external stress and internal stress; Internal stress arises when you are not able to achieve the goals you set yourself while external stress is created by relatives, friends, and work pressures.

Treat yourself and take some time out for a change of scenery or why not go away with your friends. It is well known that you relax more when you go away. Search the internet for little trips away and weekend breaks. It will give you something to look forward to, and of course it will do you the world of good.

2. Quit Smoking

We all know that smoking is bad for us but when it comes to fertility issues its negative effects are even more profound. Smoking may result in underdeveloped eggs or sperm and it may also affect the genetic makeup of the unborn baby if you do conceive whilst smoking. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine found that the prevalence of infertility is higher, and the time it takes to conceive is longer, in smokers compared to non-smokers. Active smoking by either partner has adverse effects, and the impact of passive cigarette smoke exposure is only slightly smaller than for active smoking.

Research indicates that cigarette smoking is harmful to a woman’s ovaries, and the degree of harm is dependent upon the amount and the period of time a woman smokes. Smoking appears to accelerate the loss of eggs and reproductive function and may also advance the time of menopause by several years.

It was also shown that men who smoke have a lower sperm count and motility and increased abnormalities in sperm shape and function. The advice is that smoking should be discouraged for both male and female partners in couples with a history of infertility or recurrent miscarriage.

3. Stop Caffeine

As nice as it may be to sit down for a cup of tea or coffee, it isn’t helping your fertility. Caffeine has a negative effect on fertility and should be avoided where possible according to recent research. Common sources of caffeine are: tea (green, white and black), coffee, fi zzy drinks and some other products. Always check the back of the product label if you are unsure. Try to replace these products with other natural drinks that are free from caffeine. Try to also avoid decaffeinated tea and coffee as they contain other unpleasant ingredients.

Research published in the British Medical Journal shows that even one cup of coffee a day causes an imbalance in sex hormones, which compromises sperm and egg health. In women, the uterine lining is also affected, which may stop implantation of a fertilised egg and may also be a cause of early miscarriage.

Caffeine consumption during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction and this continues throughout pregnancy. Sensible advice would be to reduce caffeine intake before conception and throughout pregnancy.

My personal recommendation to my clients is to stop consuming caffeine completely whilst trying to conceive, and not to start again until they stop breast-feeding.

4. More animal, fish and plant fats in your diet

Evidence from studies as far back as the 1940’s shows that animal and plant fats (if not refi ned) are good for us and are a vital source of nutrients and cholesterol, which we need to keep our own cholesterol in check. The idea that eating fat makes you fat and gives you high cholesterol is a myth, but you must avoid hydrogenated oils and refined fats and oils.

Low fat diets are detrimental to health and will affect your fertility and chances of having a baby. The reason lies in the effect that fats have on your cholesterol level and having no fats in your diet causes a defi ciency and imbalance of the cholesterol, which is connected to poor hormone production and release. This can cause problems with ovulation as discovered by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health.

Their study showed that women who ate more than two portions a day of low fat foods were 85 per cent more likely to be infertile, due to ovulatory disorders, than those who only ate it less than once a week. They also discovered a variety of other issues relating to a lack of fats in the diet.

The advice is to have a little natural plant oil or animal fat in your diet every day to increase your fertility health.

Consumption of alcohol can reduce your fertility by as much as 50%. To give yourself the best chance, you should ideally stop consuming alcohol at least three months before you start trying for a baby.

5. The Effects of Alcohol

Consumption of alcohol can reduce your fertility by as much as 50% as proven in clinical trials and revealed in a Danish study. To give yourself the best chance, you should ideally stop consuming alcohol at least three months before you start trying for a baby. If you have already started trying then aim to stop drinking alcohol as soon as possible. You will instantly start to increase your possibilities of success.

The Danish study showed that women who drank less than 5 standard glasses of wine per week (approximately 5 units) were twice as likely to conceive within six months, compared to women who drank more alcohol.

Alcohol consumption affects both partners causing damage to egg and sperm quality. In men it can increase abnormal sperm, decrease sperm count and reduce the motility (movement) and also volume of the sperm.

Alcohol exhausts your body’s energy, as it’s a very toxic substance that requires a large consumption of energy to remove it efficiently, and also to counterbalance the negative effects it causes on your body. Where possible both partners should avoid it for 3-4 months in advance of trying for a baby, and most definitely throughout pregnancy and breast-feeding.

6. Avoid Pain Relief

A study at Oxford University has shown that pain relief drugs interfere with ovulation and may even stop it completely in some women. This would be sufficient to cause what looks like infertility. Once the drugs are stopped your body will balance itself over a few cycles and ovulation should begin again. In some cases Progesterone levels can also be negatively affected when using these drugs. This could and has been shown to lead to miscarriage and also problems with implantation after the egg is fertilised.

If you can, try to avoid taking pain relief if you are trying to conceive. If you suffer with pain during your period or at other times of your cycle, you may fi nd that using another treatment such as acupuncture will be much more conducive. Period pain is generally due to a lack of circulation of the menstrual blood and once it starts to fl ow efficiently, the pain will stop. Acupuncture is known to increase blood fl ow through the uterus and this will stop the pain. My clients report less pain within one menstrual cycle, and no pain by about three to six cycles depending on the severity they first experienced. No painkillers are used after the cycle has been balanced.

  • What to do next

If after reading these tips you feel a bit overwhelmed, just remember that this is only for a time period and it will most definitely help towards your goal of having a baby. Some of my clients struggle with making the necessary lifestyle changes at the beginning of their treatment, but the ones that manage it generally conceive within six months of starting the programme.

My suggestion to you is to stop any of the above that you may be doing, and focus on the long-term outcome. You’ll also experience much better health.

  • Case study – unexplained infertility

After one miscarriage and several years of trying to conceive, resulting in a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, I started to work with this couple at my clinic. They were fully onboard with the programme and made all of the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes that were suggested to them. They didn’t smoke but liked to have a drink at times and there was also room for improving their diet. After just six weeks of following the above advice along with the other components of the treatment programme, they conceived. Nine months later they delivered a healthy happy little girl.

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Increase your chances of IVF success with these 6 changes to your morning routine

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Increase your chances of IVF success with these 6 changes to your morning routine

You get up in the morning quickly eating a piece of toast and maybe drinking a glass of orange juice before jumping in the shower and throwing on whatever clothes are smelling fresh and clean for the day.

You’re tired so you stop off for a coffee on the way to work crumpling the receipt into your purse as you go.

A pretty typical morning, right?

But in the above scenario there are six small changes you can make to your routine to improve your IVF success rates.  And that’s not even including the whole ‘is caffeine bad?’ debate!

1.  Get a good night’s sleep

It seems obvious but a good day really does start with a good night’s sleep.  We are all different but a good place to start is to aim for approximately seven to eight hours a night.   One recent study has shown that those women that managed this had pregnancy rates up to 14% higher than those women got more or less than this amount of sleep when doing IVF1.

Sleep is also linked to your melatonin levels.  After all it is melatonin that makes you get sleepy in the evening and wake up in the morning.  Not only is melatonin a powerful antioxidant but there is also a significant amount of evidence that says when your melatonin levels are in balance it increases the quality and quantity of your eggs when doing IVF2.  You can support your natural melatonin levels by getting adequate amounts of natural daylight as well as by listening to your body’s internal clock and following a regular sleep routine (but don’t take melatonin supplements without medical advice).

2.  Be mindful of the carbohydrates you eat

It was only a small study but one fertility doctor noticed that some of his patients, who he was expecting to have higher IVF success rates, were getting poor quality eggs and embryos3.  On closer examination he noticed that these women seemed to be having cereal or toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch and perhaps pasta for dinner.  Although at first glance it appears there are worse foods to eat, this is a diet high in processed carbohydrates.  No one is saying to completely stop eating carbohydrates but there may be some benefit to making sure you prioritise eating whole grain carbohydrates and protein when you can.  The women in this study had proper dietary assistance but it was found that when they started eating a diet high in protein and lower in carbohydrates IVF success rates went up a massive 67%3!  This is an extraordinary number and this result is not typical but does highlight the importance of ensuring you are eating an IVF optimised diet.

3.  Limit the amount of juice (and other sugars) you drink

Orange juice is high in sugar which means your body will produce more insulin to try and lower your blood sugar levels. Over time if you experience prolonged exposure to high amounts of insulin it can lead to insulin resistance.   Not only does this possibly increase your risk of health problems such as diabetes, but it can also impact on how other hormones vital to the IVF process are produced.

Not only this but orange juice contains none of the fiber that eating an orange does which is necessary to support your digestive system.

So if you love the taste of oranges in the morning bypass the juice and go straight for the natural source.

4.  Reduce your exposure to chemicals

Many shampoos are filled with chemicals such as phthalates and parabens.  They are what makes the shampoo smell nice and foamy in the shower.  These chemicals though are also known ‘endocrine disruptors’ which means that they can possibly interfere with the way your body handles estrogen and high levels of these in the body has been linked to lower IVF success rates4.  Look for shampoos that are ‘fragrance free’ or ‘paraben free’ to take one little step towards reducing your exposure to harmful chemicals and helping increase your chances of IVF success.

5.  Check your laundry powders

Virtually any substance that has a fragrance to it is likely to have the potential to be an endocrine disruptor.  The washing powders and fabric softeners you use are no different.  For an easy win, stop using fabric softener.  Not only will you save money (and also put less soapy waste into the environment) but you will also reduce your exposure to those endocrine disruptors.

6.  Say no to receipts

When you bought your morning coffee, chances are you were given a receipt that has bisphenol A (BPA) on it that when you touched the receipt some of the BPA transferred onto your skin and into your blood stream.  It sounds extreme, but evidence has shown that BPA on cash register receipts can transfer into your blood stream when you touch them5 and there is also evidence that shows that increased amounts of BPA in your blood stream is related to decreased IVF success rates6.  So for now, try to avoid touching that cash register receipt and any others that may cross your path throughout the day.

These are just a few super small and easy changes you can make to your morning routine to try and increase your chances of IVF success.  Each on their own seems very small but when combined sets you well on your way to making the lifestyle changes that will hopefully increase your chances of IVF success.

1.       Park, I., Sun, H., Jeon, G., Jo, J., Kim, S. & Lee, K. (2013).  The more the better? The impact of sleep on IVF outcomes.  Fertility and Sterility. ASRM Abstracts 100 (3) Supplement S466

2.       Fernando, S. & Rombauts, L. (2014)  Melatonin: shedding light on infertility? – a review of the recent literature. Journal of Ovarian Research 7 98

3.       Russell, J., Abboud, C., Williams, A., Gibbs, M., Pritchard, S. & Chalfant, D. (2012) Does changing a patents dietary consumption of proteins and carbohydrates impact blastocyst and clinical pregnancy rates from one cycle to the next? Fertility and Sterility Sup 47 O-153.

4.       Hauser, R., Gaskins, A., Souter, I., Smith, K., Dodge, L., Ehrlich, S., Meeker, J., Calafat, A. & Williams, P. for the EARTH Study Team (2016). Urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and reproductive outcomes among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: results from the EARTH study. Environmental Health Perspectives 124:831–839

5.       Ehrlich, S., Calafat, A., Humblet, O., Smith, T., Hauser, R. (2014). Handling of Thermal Receipts as a Source of Exposure to Bisphenol A. Journal of the American Medical Association. Research Letter. 311(8).

6.       Ehrlich, S., Williams, P., Missmer, S., Flaws, J., Ye, X., Calafat, A., Petrozza, J., Wright, D. & Hauser, R. (2012). Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and early reproductive health outcomes among women undergoing IVF. Human Reproduction, 27 (12) 3583–3592.

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HEALTH & FITNESS

13 ways that smoking affects the fertility of men and women

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13 ways that smoking affects the fertility of men and women

Dr. Edward Marut of Fertility Centers of Illinois Board Certified in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Men who smoke over 20 cigarettes per day experience 19 percent reduction in sperm concentration when compared to nonsmokers.

Hormonal Issues

Smoking decreases testosterone levels in men, harming fertility.

Lowered Semen Ejaculate

The quantity of ejaculate declines in smokers, particularly those who smoke more than 16 cigarettes per day.

Erectile Dysfunction

Smoking can cause issues with achieving and maintaining an erection.

There are 1.1 billion people around the globe with a smoking addiction, adding up to a reported 5.8 trillion cigarettes smoked in 2014 alone. With each lit cigarette, 7,000 chemicals spread through the body. The major health issues that result, such as heart disease and lung cancer, are well-documented. What many don’t realise is that smoking is one of the biggest threats to fertility potential in men and women.

Approximately 48.5 million couples globally have infertility, with one in eight U.S. couples experiencing obstacles achieving or sustaining a pregnancy. Estimates show that 13 percent of infertility is a result of smoking. To build awareness around the harmful effects of smoking on fertility leading up to World No Tobacco Day on May 31st below is a breakdown on how the habit hurts both genders.

A study found that smoking causes hundreds of permanent genetic DNA changes within the body. These genetic mutations can also occur in the DNA of egg and sperm. Studies have also shown that couples who smoke require nearly twice as many attempts at IVF when compared to non-smokers.

Abstaining from smoking has a positive and swift impact on fertility. Women can increase chances of conception within two months while men can see negative semen effects cleared within three months.

Smoking is an extremely challenging addiction to quit, but 1.3 million smokers successfully stop each year. With so many smoking cessation programs as well as countless free resources promoted by the CDC, there is sure to be a quitting method that is right for you.

Reduction of Egg Quality

Reduction in Egg Quality
The chemicals in cigarettes damage the genetic information in eggs and accelerate egg loss; once ovarian supply is diminished, it cannot be replaced.

Higher Rate of Miscarriage

Higher Rate of Miscarriage
Women who smoke are 16 percent more likely to experience a miscarriage.

Higher Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy

Higher Risk of Ectopic Pregnancy
The risk of an ectopic pregnancy increases by 43 percent in female smokers.

Irregular Ovulation

Irregular Ovulation

Smoking lowers estrogen in the body. If estrogen production is low, the egg won’t develop well and the brain won’t be signalled to release Luteinizing Hormone, which causes ovulation.

Premature Menopause

Premature Menopause
Menopause occurs one to four years earlier in female smokers.

Increased PCOS Symptoms

Increased PCOS Symptoms
Smoking increases androgen levels in women, causing PCOS symptoms to increase and hurting fertility potential.

Damaged Sperm

Smoking causes the sperm count and motility (movement) of sperm to decrease between 16-17 percent. It damages the DNA in the sperm and makes them less likely to function correctly.

Lowered Sperm Concentration

Lowered Sperm Concentration

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FERTILITY 360

Understanding your cycle to optimize your fertility

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Optimize your fertility

Do you have a regular menstrual cycle? Do you know when you ovulate? Do you have a healthy period?

These are all questions you need to be able to answer to optimize your chances of having a healthy baby.

Let’s start with your cycle length. A healthy menstrual cycle will last somewhere between 26-32 days. There are 3 phases of the menstrual cycle.

The first phase starts on the first day of your period and is known as the follicular phase. This is when your eggs begin to develop and reach maturity. This phase on average lasts between 12-18 days. If it is shorter then this, it can mean your body doesn’t have long enough for your eggs to properly mature. A hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is released from your pituitary gland and signals to your ovary to begin the process of maturing follicles. Often as we age the follicular phase will become shorter. This doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to get pregnant with a shorter follicular phase as I have had patients report having a healthy pregnancy with ovulating as early as day 9 but if we have to opportunity to develop the eggs a little longer they are generally more likely to be viable.

Your period can also tell you a significant amount about your menstrual health. Your period will ideally begin with menstrual flow that is bright red. If it begins with a lot of brownish discharge this indicates blood that is older and more stagnant. Flow should last between 4-7 days. Ideally you shouldn’t need to change your pad or tampon more then every 2-3 hours for 2-3 days of your period then the remaining days should be lighter. If your flow is lighter, then this it can mean you aren’t developing a robust enough lining for an embryo to implant. If your flow is heavier then this, it may indicate that you have an excess of estrogen compared to progesterone or that you have fibroids. These are both reason to follow up with your health professional.

Mid cycle is known as the ovulatory phase and lasts a few days. During this phase you should see changes in your vaginal secretions. Secretions become thinner and stretchy and will have an egg white like consistency. This mucus is designed to assist sperm and provide easier passage to the ovulated egg. Some women will have a regular menstrual cycle but will not ovulate regularly, while others will have an irregular cycle without regular ovulation.

There are several potential contributors to anovulatory cycles including:

  • Having an endocrine disorder such as PCOS
  • Having low body weight or body fat percentage
  • Poor blood sugar regulation
  • Endometriosis
  • Premature ovarian failure

There are multiple ways to test if you are ovulating or not. At home you can do a combination of monitoring your basal body temperature as well checking your cervical mucous. To test your basal body temperature – measure your oral temperature first thing in the morning before getting out of bed for one full cycle. During the first half or follicular phase your temperatures should average 36-37 degrees Celsius. When you ovulate, your temperature should raise by around 0.4 degrees Celsius. This increase should correspond with the change in cervical mucous to thinner egg white like secretions.

You can also test for ovulation using urine-based test strips that test for metabolites of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH). LH will surge right before you ovulate, so this can be a great indicator that your ovary is going to release an egg.

At a fertility clinic health professionals can assess if you are ovulating using a combination of regular blood work and transvaginal ultrasounds. With this option you are able to monitor the number of follicles developing and if they reach a size that is viable for a pregnancy.

If it is determined that you are not ovulating regularly it is very important to try to discern the underlying cause.

If you have been diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) you may have irregular menstrual cycles and only ovulate during some cycles. PCOS is an endocrine disorder which means it has an impact on your body’s ability to regulate its hormonal cycle. Often women will have a challenging time regulating blood sugars, which can lead to inflammation in the body and disruption in healthy hormonal regulation. If this is your situation one of the most important things to do is to begin a regular exercise program. Exercise helps sensitize your hormonal receptors and helps regulate blood sugars as well as other hormones. If you aren’t currently exercising aim to start with regular daily walking for at least 20 minutes. If you are exercising already try to switch up between higher intensity training, cardio and weight training. It is ideal to do something active daily.

If you have an endocrine disorder, an autoimmune disorder (example Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or rheumatoid arthritis) or are low body weight making sure you are eating enough dietary fats can make a significant difference to help you ovulate regularly. Some of the foods to include more of include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. It is also important to make sure you are getting enough carnitine in your diet. Carnitine is an amino acid that comes from animal protein. Carnitine works as a shunt to move fatty acids from the blood stream into mitochondria. Mitochondria are organelles that make energy in the form of ATP. If you don’t have enough carnitine the mitochondria can’t make enough fuel/energy. This can be a concern for cycle regulation as well as in conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, poor egg or sperm quality.

The third phase of the menstrual cycle is the luteal phase. This phase usually lasts between 12-15 days. During this phase the predominant hormone is progesterone. Progesterone encourages more blood flow into the uterus and is necessary for the fertilized egg to implant. If progesterone drops too early this results in a shortened menstrual cycle and often time can be the cause of early miscarriage if the newly formed embryo doesn’t have enough time to implant properly.

Low progesterone can result from chronic stress. When under stress your body makes more of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is made from progesterone, so if your body is making more cortisol than normal this can result in lower progesterone. This will not only impact progesterone during the luteal phase but can also lead to lower progesterone levels during the first half of the cycle. Low progesterone during the first half of the cycle can lead to a thinner uterine lining. If there is a lot of stress (which is commonplace during periods when fertility is an issue) then implementing stress management is critical. Exercise again will be important in this case but not excessive exercise. Aiming for between 30-60 minutes daily is great but going beyond 60 minutes daily can in some cases increase the depletion of progesterone. Eating a diet full of nourishing fruits and vegetables along with minimizing packaged and processed foods also takes stress off the body.

If progesterone is still low after implementing changes, there is an herb called chaste tree that can help support your body’s ability to make more progesterone. There is also the option of using either transdermal or oral progesterone medication. If this is a route you need to go it is important to continue your stress reduction as this extra progesterone can end up converting to cortisol as well.

We can also see a higher ratio of estrogen to progesterone which will give a similar result. If you have too much of either 16-OH estrone or 4-OH estrone this can impact your menstrual cycle as well as contribute to conditions such as endometriosis or fibrocystic breasts. You want to have most of your estrogen processed to end up as 2-OH estrone. A nutrient called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) which is found in brassica vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) can assist your body encouraging estrogen to follow the pathway to end at 2-0h estrone or the “healthier estrogen”. This can then result in your body having a better ratio of estrogen to progesterone and resume regular ovulation.

An irregular menstrual cycle is a sign that hormones are not being effectively regulated in your body. Your body thrives on routine and wants to follow the natural rhythms of mother nature. An effective natural way to help regulate your menstrual cycle is with the use of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture or acupressure. Seeing a trained acupuncturist, you will have the opportunity to have imbalances acknowledged and improve the movement of energy or qi through the body. Another effective way to regulate your cycle is to look at the moon every night. Your monthly cycle will often then time with the planets natural moon cycles. Connecting with nature on a regular basis can also go a long way to helping your body’s natural rhythms. Many of us live in cities with very little exposure to the outdoors and nature. If you try to find a trail or to step in your backyard on the grass in your bare-feet these our great ways to connect yourself with the earth. This will not only help your menstrual cycles but your sleep cycle as well. Patients often will also note the more they connect with natural the less stressed or anxious they feel.

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