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Boosting Your Fertility, Naturally
by Dr. Chris Meletis, Jan. 22, 2010
Infertility is a growing problem in the United States. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) reports that one in six U.S. couples have difficulty conceiving a child. Infertility has numerous causes, involving both male and female health problems. In fact, 30 percent of cases are attributed solely to male causes and another 30 percent are attributed to solely female causes. There are some steps you can take -- naturally -- that may boost your ability to get pregnant.
Common causes of male-factor infertility conditions may include anatomical problems, endocrine disorders, and trauma. Sperm production can be affected due to numerous causes, such as endocrine dysfunction, metabolic abnormalities, infections, high fevers, kidney disorders, varicocele, or cryptorchidism (undescended testes). Anatomical issues such as obstruction of the ducts can be caused by local inflammation, sexually transmitted diseases, developmental disorders, and retrograde ejaculation. Various diseases have also been associated with male infertility such as hemochromatosis, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and testicular cancer. Trauma to the testes can also impair fertility. Furthermore, fertility can be affected by pharmaceuticals including those used to treat cancer, arthritis, hypertension, and digestive disorders.
In women, 25 percent of all infertility cases are related to defects in ovulation, including endocrine dysfunction, amenorrhea, luteal phase defects, anovulatory cycles, premature ovarian failure, elevated prolactin levels, and increasing age. Anatomical problems can also affect female fertility. Uterine masses such as fibromas, myomas and leiomyomas can affect implantation, and fallopian tube blockage may inhibit the passage of the egg through the tube. Endometriosis, which is characterized by adhesions and aberrant uterine tissue, is present in 30 – 45 percent of infertile women. Another gynecological condition that may affect female fertility is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is characterized by endocrine and metabolic abnormalities and affects 6-10 percent of reproductive age women. Non-gynecological conditions such as diabetes, digestive disorders including inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease, epilepsy, and thyroid disease may also decrease fertility. As with men, pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants, antibiotics, hormones, pain-relievers, and aspirin and ibuprofen taken at mid-cycle may also impact fertility.
Environmental and Lifestyle Factors
In addition to the physiological and anatomical causes, environmental and lifestyle factors should also be evaluated. Some of these issues include:
• Alcohol consumption: excessive alcohol intake is associated with decreased sperm count and motility, as well as sperm morphologic abnormalities.
• Tobacco: smoking cigarettes has been shown to decrease sperm count motility.
• Recreational drugs: Marijuana use is associated with decreased male fertility.
• Caffeine consumption: The intake of two cups of coffee per day or more has been shown to adversely affect female fertility, particularly in women with endometriosis or disease affecting the fallopian tubes.
• Environmental chemicals: Estrogen-like compounds in the environment have been associated with decreasing sperm count. Organochlorine levels have been linked to reduced sperm count and motility.
• Weight loss: Both weight loss and excessive exercise are associated with irregular menstrual cycles, decreased progesterone levels, amenorrhea, and anovulation.
Dietary factors must also be considered. Numerous nutrient deficiencies are associated with decreased fertility.
• Antioxidants: Low levels of vitamin E can cause reduced sperm motility and lipid peroxidation in seminal plasma and spermatozoa. Vitamin C deficiency can cause spermatic DNA damage in men. Vitamin C plus vitamin E may decreases the reduction in ovulation rates in women associated with aging.
• Minerals: Low levels of zinc in men are associated with reduced testosterone levels, seminal volume, sperm count and motility. Iron deficiency causes anemia and is linked to amenorrhea in women. Also, selenium deficiency may decrease sperm motility.
• B vitamins: Low levels are linked to abnormal hormone levels. Additionally, sufficient folic acid is required for cervix health.
• Amino acids: Supplementation with arginine or carnitine may increase sperm counts and motility.
Natural Medicines May Boost Fertility
Botanical medicine may also help optimize fertility. Vitex agnus castus (Chasteberry) has been studied for hormone balancing. Vitex supplementation in women with polymenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, and corpus luteum insufficiency increased progesterone levels and normalized menstrual cycles in many of the women. Additionally, 29 percent of the women in the study became pregnant.
Two botanicals have also been shown to improve fertility issues in men. Panax Ginseng (Asian ginseng) can increase sperm number, sperm motility, and levels of total and free testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone. Lepidium meyenii (Maca) has also been shown to increases seminal volume, sperm count, and sperm motility.
Additionally, there are comprehensive natural products designed to improve fertility. Natural products such as Fertilaid and FertileCM provide specific vitamins, minerals, and botanicals to optimize fertility. Stress reduction must also be considered.
Yoga designed specifically for women attempting to conceive such as “Bend, Breathe, and Conceive” by Dr. Anna Davis may provide additional benefit. Adding acupuncture to conventional treatment has also shown to improve pregnancy rates.
Natural interventions including diet, lifestyle modification, and herbal treatments may help optimize fertility for many couples. These interventions offer less invasive and less costly therapies that may assist couples trying to conceive.
Dr. Meletis is an internationally recognized author and a former recipient of the Naturopathic Physician of the Year award from the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Previously serving as the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the National College of Naturopathic Medicine, he worked to open 16 clinics that serve lower income households. Dr. Meletis also consults with and works to help formulate products for Fairhaven Health, a specialty supplier of natural products for trying-to-conceive couples.