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Is Your Social Life Affecting Your Fertility?

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Is Your Social Life Affecting Your Fertility

One of my mantras is act pregnant to get pregnant.

That’s because the same risk factors in pregnancy are risk factors for fertility too. My preconception care programmes show couples what to eat, which supplement programmes are right for them and how their lifestyles need to change to fuel fertility, based on testing.

Yes, lifestyle.

I’m saying that our lifestyle choices can harm our health and fertility. At least 3-4 months before starting to try for a baby, it’s better for us AND the health of future children, to clean up our act.

Egg and sperm are products of prospective parent’s diet and lifestyle. It turns out we are really what we eat …and how we live.

And our children’s health is influenced by our health pre-conception and during pregnancy.

It takes about 3 months for follicles to develop before one is released as an egg. It takes about 3 months for sperm cells to mature too.

So, let’s look at how our social lives affect fertility and what can we do about it, without becoming a total bore.

It’s all a matter of choice. And taking some control over the path to parenthood.

Junk Food, Processed Food and TakeawaysProcessed Junk Food

Junk food, processed food and takeaway food can be a weekend ritual for some. A way of life for others. Or maybe the very occasional “treat” or fall-back for convenience. Sometimes they’re “party” food or “movie night” food.

They have no place in a fertility-friendly diet.

Generally, they are cheap, low quality and not organic.

They have little nutritional value. And we need foods packed with fertility firing nutrition when we’re planning a baby naturally or via IVF.

Refined foods can produce spikes in blood sugar and cause hormone havoc.

And these foods often contain, or are cooked in, trans fats (hydrogenated fats) which have been linked in some studies to ovulation issues in women.

Best avoided. Or eaten only very, very occasionally.

Eat real food!

In our home we enjoy pizza, curries and burgers occasionally. We make our own healthier versions from high quality, mostly organic ingredients and we find suitable alternatives. For example, experiment with pizza bases made from non-wheat flours or even veggies …. don’t knock home-made cauliflower pizza base until you tried it!

And with a little smart, it’s possible to choose a healthier meal from most menus … hold the sauce, take the dressing on the side, remove the worst ingredients, choose a mix of starters and sides instead of a gut busting main…

Alcohol

Many people enjoy a night out in a bar, maybe wine with dinner or to raise a glass …or three at a party, right?

It’s just not that fertility friendly.

Booze is diuretic meaning it makes us pee more…flushing valuable fertility friendly nutrients like zinc and folate down the toilet.

Alcohol is toxic to egg, sperm and a developing baby.

Women who drink heavily can stop ovulating, can stop having periods and can take longer to fall pregnant.

As with most aspects of health, you can find contradictory studies with differing conclusions.

Many countries advocate giving up alcohol totally. Others say there is a safe limit.

I think it’s fair to say that not drinking or limiting alcohol intake is a great idea as part of preconception care, when you’re trying to become pregnant and in pregnancy. For your fertility and your child’s development and health.

Guys, you too. Alcohol can cause abnormalities in sperm and reduce sperm making hormones.

It’s much better to give up the demon drink as part of preconception care.

If there’s just too much peer pressure or you want to avoid any awkward questions, give it up and get sponsorship for the charity of your choice. Your friends, family, neighbours and co-workers will applaud you.

Choose filtered water, diluted fresh juices and healthy soft drinks like kombucha (fermented tea) instead.

If you must choose alcohol, the very occasional glass of red wine or champagne are probably your best choices

Coffee (and Tea)

Coffee and tea

Are you a lady who likes to a latte with her friends?

Caffeine (also found in tea, chocolate, some soft drinks and many over-the-counter drugs) impacts female fertility and increases risks of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Sperm health issues are also associated with caffeine intake.

Different studies draw different conclusions, so I advise playing it safe and giving up caffeine as part of preconception care.

Watch out for decaffeinated coffee or tea too. It’s often chemically processed so not an ideal choice for baby-making. You can find naturally decaffeinated brands.

Find fruit and herbal teas that you like. Choose rooibos tea (it has no caffeine). Try coffee tasting drinks made from barley and chicory found in Health Stores. There are some really tasty ones.

Sugar

Bright Candies

Blood sugar levels have a big impact on fertility. Fact!

So are you eating cake with your latte? Maybe your hobby is baking sweet treats at home like a Domestic Goddess or God and then scoffing them too? Perhaps you just eat a lot of sugary and processed foods? Then, you’re at greater risk of high blood sugar, haywire hormones (high insulin and risk of insulin resistance and even diabetes) and a rollercoaster of energy.

Balancing our blood sugar is important for general health, hormone health, ovulation and fertility.

Too much insulin can be a factor in some conditions that affect fertility, like PCOS, diabetes and obesity.

Insulin issues can also lead to higher levels of adrenaline (a stress hormone) which can cause high blood pressure and heart disease as well as interfering with the reproductive hormone, progesterone: progesterone is essential for maintaining pregnancy.

Quit or reduce sugar. Try small amounts of natural sweeteners raw honey or quality maple syrup instead. Or you could choose processed sweeteners stevia or xylitol in moderation only.

Choose unrefined carbs like brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, oats, veggies. For other fertility-fuelling reasons, it’s best not to choose wheat or wheat based foods as part of a preconception care diet.

To balance blood sugar and eat for maximum health, eat quality protein, healthy fats and fibre at every meal and snack.

Smoking

Smoking

If you’re a smoker – even a social one – quit.

Smoking is linked to reproductive health issues for men and women.

It’s thought that smoking harms egg quality in women, effectively ageing eggs. It also interferes with female hormone levels, which can lead to irregular cycles and early menopause. Smoking raises miscarriage risk.

It robs us of vital nutrients needed to support fertility too and increases toxic metals especially cadmium.

Women who smoke during pregnancy are passing on all those nasty chemicals via the placenta.

Smoking affects erectile function and sperm quality and quantity.

Just quit smoking. Please. Women and men.

And vaping is not a viable alternative. It’s a relatively new thing. But some early studies show it’s just as dangerous as smoking.

Quit. There is plenty of help to quit through conventional health practitioners and private therapists.

Recreational Drugs

Street drugs affect reproductive health in men and women.

Even if you see yourself as a social drug user, the advice is still to give up.

Cocaine can lower sperm count, lower testosterone and reduce sperm quality. Marijuana can lower the hormones needed for sperm production.

Cocaine is linked to infertility, miscarriage and birth defects when taken by women. Marijuana can cause irregular cycles and reduce ovulation in women

These are just examples.

Of course, babies born to mothers taking drugs can be addicted when born.

Stop taking recreational drugs at least 3-4 months before trying to conceive.

Exercise

Many people exercise in their spare time. It’s good for us, right?

This may seem surprising but exercise with caution when trying to fall pregnant. Too much exercise can cause low body fat percentage in women, which can lead to non-ovulatory and irregular cycles.

So, exercise, but gently and regularly. That’s 30 -60 minutes of moderate activity most days. And mix it up for stamina, strength and flexibility.

For guys, just be wary of any exercise that causes your testicles to overheat like cycling for long periods. Overheating your testicles is not great for baby-making.

Personally, I think it’s possible to change our social choices when we ‘re trying to get pregnant and still have fun times and enjoy life. It doesn’t all have to be about abstaining from everything but the baby-dance and eating kale. Honestly.

It does require some planning for success, some mutual support and sometimes support from experts. But it can be done.

And it doesn’t always have to be obvious to everyone you’re changing habits to boost your fertility and for a healthy pregnancy and baby.

It’s well worth it in pursuit of your goal of natural conception or IVF success.

Love, Kathy x

Kathy Payne is a Booster of Fertility and Harmoniser of Hormones using food, supplements, lifestyle choices and natural therapies with women and couples worldwide via Skype. She has lots of free resources on her website www.kathypayne.co.uk and has a free Facebook Group for fertility support called Footsteps to Fertility.

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Complementary Therapies

How to Rock Your Fertility Journey, Even if You’re Over 40

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Rick Your Fertility

This past weekend my son Charlie turned 5 years old.

I’ll be 49 in April.  You can do the math.

Charlie was conceived a month before my 43rd birthday, after a roller-coaster ride of miscarriage, doctors visits, testing, lots of negative pregnancy tests, and an emotional maelstrom during which I cursed myself for not trying to have a baby when I was younger.   

My doctor never said the words, “you’re too old” but it was implied when he explained that I didn’t have many eggs left because I was over 40.  When he said that the eggs that I did have were of “compromised quality” and that’s probably what led to my miscarriages. When he predicted that it was highly unlikely that I’d get pregnant with my own eggs and that donor egg IVF was my best chance of having a baby.

Conventional wisdom drives the doctor’s analysis and you’ve heard all this:  women are born with all the eggs that we’ll ever have and through 30+ years of having periods, as well as the natural aging process, cause our fertility to begin to decline in our early 30s, and take a big dive after age 35.  By the time we’re over 40, our fertility has practically fallen off a cliff. By the time we hit menopause, we may not have run out of eggs but the supply is scant and we’re no longer ovulating.

My test results bore this out.  My Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) was high at 16.4, indicating that my ovaries had to work harder to stimulate follicle growth (and egg maturation) than the ovaries of a younger woman.  My Anti-Mullerian Hormone, which measures ovarian reserve, was very low at 0.15 and indicated “undetectable” egg supply. My Antral Follicle Count, which counts resting follicles in the first few days of the cycle and indicates how many follicles may have the potential to grow that cycle, was never higher than 5 (a “normal” or “good” is between 15-25).

My doctor looked at all of these numbers, and that information is what drove his diagnosis of my condition, and his grim prognosis for my success.

The reality, though, is that we are about so much more than our numbers.   

If it were just about the numbers, all the women with strong numbers would have their babies, and the women like me with sub-optimal numbers wouldn’t.  And we just know this is not the case. Read more about how I overcame the odds to get pregnant with my own eggs and without IVF.

Here’s what we know: fertility does decline as we get older.   And that’s all we know.

Luckily, we “older” women can have some tools in our arsenal to help us get pregnant and have a baby, if that’s what we want.  

Here are some things to keep in mind, as well as some tools for your toolkit, if you’re trying to get pregnant at an “advanced age”:

You do have time.  While age is correlated with fertility, it’s not like the minute you turn 40, or 35, or another age, you all of a sudden aren’t able to get pregnant.  Fertility is more of a continuum. Time may be of the essence, and you may need to act quickly, but you do have time.

Fertility in your 40s is going to look different than it did in your 20s.  You are not the same woman, physically, emotionally or spiritually than you were in your 20s.  Like the rest of you, your fertility has changed too. For example, it’s common as we age to produce less cervical fluid than we do when we’re younger.  Cervical fluid is important when trying to get pregnant, especially when trying naturally, so it’s important to be aware of.

In any area related to your fertility, you need to be able to do your research and find ways to mitigate the situation to account for your age.  This is true regardless of your age, but especially if you’re over 40 and trying to conceive.

5th Birthday

The tools in your arsenal are even more important when you’re older.  On your fertility journey, you’ve probably heard that the following things are important:

  • Nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Knowing how to track your fertility signs and your menstrual cycles
  • Stress reduction
  • Mind/body connection

These things are crucial for anyone on a fertility journey, regardless of age and whether trying to conceive naturally or through treatment.  Being the healthiest you can be will help you achieve optimal fertility. This is especially crucial for you if you’re at an advanced age.

If you’re trying naturally, it’s important to keep in mind that generally speaking, middle-aged couples tend to have intercourse with less frequency than younger couples.  In trying to conceive, you don’t have to have intercourse all the time, but you do need to have it at the right time, and knowing your cycles will help you pinpoint with laser accuracy when that time is.  

Managing your stress will help you endure the trials and tribulations of fertility treatment, and cultivating a mind-body connection will help you silence the negative self-talk that tells you you’re too old or that your time has passed.   

The fertility journey can really mess with your physical body and your mind, and it’s important to have the tools to fight back.  My Big Little Fertility Toolkit gives you the exact tools that I used on my own successful fertility journey.

Listen to your intuition.  When my doctor told me that I likely wouldn’t get pregnant with my own eggs and that donor egg IVF was my best option, I didn’t disbelieve him.  I knew my numbers; I knew the situation was bad. But I also knew deep down that donor egg IVF wasn’t the right path for me to become a mom. This wasn’t based on any hard facts; I just intuitively knew that intrauterine insemination would work for me.  I knew that I had a good egg somewhere in my dwindling supply and that it was up to me to find it.

I encourage you to learn how to listen to your own intuition.  You’ve been with yourself every second of your life. YOU know yourself better than anybody else.  The answers are already within you, and when you take the time to tune in to yourself and to listen to what your intuition is telling you, those answers will always come to you.

Always keep in mind the end goal.  In our quest to get pregnant we can sometimes lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is not necessarily to be pregnant, but to be a mother. Motherhood can come in many shapes and forms – donor egg, sperm or embryo; surrogacy; adoption. As we get older, it’s increasingly important to keep all of those options in mind if your own natural fertility is compromised and the wellness tools in your toolbox aren’t helping.  

It’s a process to work through your feelings and emotions around the other avenues to motherhood, and it may take some time to do that.  But it may become important to do so, if you need to let go of the idea of a traditional pregnancy. We’re fortunate to live in a time with so many options for parenthood!

A good mantra to keep in mind for your journey is:

“Somehow, some way, I will be a mother.”  

You have power over your journey.   I know it may not seem like it, but you do.  You may be acutely aware every day of your age, and, if you’ve already experienced some setbacks in your fertility path, these weigh on you.  

While there’s so much that’s out of your control – like age, biology, egg supply, there’s still so much you can control.  Things like –

  • How you eat
  • How you move your body
  • How much you sleep
  • How you choose to manage your stress
  • How you interact with others
  • How you show up in the world

These things impact your fertility, and your well-being.

Another good mantra to keep in mind for your journey, and to help you feel and own the power that you have is:

“I am more than my numbers.  Infertility does not define me.”

Because there’s a huge grey area.  And while there have been so many medical and scientific advancements in the areas or fertility, pregnancy and birth, the reality is that there is still so much that we don’t know.  

And it’s this grey area, this area of the unknown, where magic can happen.  

Baby dust to you! xo


Also published on Medium.

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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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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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