Of all the reasons people consult me, failure to conceive is becoming an increasingly common one. For many people, having children is one of the most important and fulfilling experiences of their lives. However, the latest research shows that one in four couples have difficulty conceiving and this can have a devastating effect on the emotional and psychological wellbeing of both partners.
Some couples are unable to conceive at all and some have had a first child but have difficulty conceiving a second time. Whilst in some cases there are known conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or endometriosis (both of which can be helped by dietary changes) quite often tests are normal and the infertility is unexplained.
The nutrition and lifestyle approach
Although attitudes are changing, a medical fertility expert will probably not recommend a nutritional approach. This attitude is really short sighted as there is a great deal of research relating to the impact of nutrition on fertility. One example is a study carried out on several hundred would-be parents with a history of miscarriages and infertility. It was found that 81% went on to conceive healthy babies after following a holistic programme for several months. The programme focussed principally on diet, vitamins, detoxification and lifestyle changes.
The myth of the healthy diet
The crucial role of nutrition in the healthy development of a baby in the womb is well researched. Just one example is the discovery that folic acid deficiency results in a baby being born with spina bifida. The folic acid story illustrates perfectly, the direct consequence of a simple nutrient deficiency on an abnormal pregnancy outcome. Scientists now accept that lack of this important vitamin leads to increased likelihood of a baby being born with spina bifida. As a result the government advises all women to take this vitamin pre-conceptually and for the first three months of conception.
What is not so widely known is that nutrient deficiencies, even very slight ones, can prevent conception in the first place. You may be one of those people who think they could not be lacking in nutrients because you eat a healthy diet. In the course of my work I talk to many people who are convinced they eat very healthily! Usually a nutritional analysis reveals their diets are lacking in some important respects which could make all the difference where conception is concerned.
Folic acid, whilst important is just one of many nutrients that are just as essential for conception and pregnancy, but do not get any attention. For example, the mineral zinc is vital for hundreds of enzyme systems, many of which affect sexual performance and fertility in men and women. Hair mineral analysis reveals that a very large number of couples who fail to conceive or experience miscarriages are low in zinc. Yet few GPs would suggest a check on Zinc levels for infertile couples, not to mention a host of other vital minerals.
If you can’t get to see a therapist, take a well formulated multi supplement such as Archturus High Zinc + Manganese Formula One (take 6 capsules daily for three months prior to conception). Archturus is a small family run company based in Scotland and they supply exceptional quality supplements (mail order 01592 620 865).
The limitations of assisted fertility techniques
Often the first option given to couples unable to conceive is IVF (in-vitro fertilisation). This involves artificially stimulating a woman’s ovaries to produce extra eggs. The eggs are then removed and mixed with her partner’s sperm or sperm from an anonymous donor. The fertilised egg is replanted in the womb. This technique developed twenty or so years ago, is without doubt a remarkable scientific breakthrough and for some women it is their only chance of having children.
However, many experts (including some of the IVF specialists themselves) believe that assisted fertility treatment is being offered to couples too readily without consideration of other options. With a fairly low success rate, endless invasive procedures, large doses of synthetic hormones and unpleasant side effects, not to mention the as yet unknown, long term effects of artificially engineered pregnancies on mother and child, the decision to have IVF is not one to be taken lightly. At the very least, it makes good sense to explore nutrition and lifestyle interventions first.
For those women whose only hope is IVF, a diet and lifestyle programme can be invaluable in providing the best possible conditions in the body for the embryo to develop and grow. After all you would not throw a seed in dry, barren soil and expect it to grow into a plant.
It is never too late to begin a nutrition programme but ideally you should get started at least three months before trying to conceive naturally or commencing your infertility treatment. Don’t let your man off the hook either! Male infertility can be wholly or partly responsible for failure to conceive and therefore his nutrition should be considered too.
Whilst it is not possible to live a toxin-free lifestyle, reducing your exposure and taking measures to expel existing toxins from the body would seem sensible if you have hormone related health issues or are trying to conceive.
According to research, there is a strong possibility that toxins can damage chromosomes, the genetic material in cells. Chromosomal damage in the developing embryo is a very common cause of miscarriage. Alternatively, if the pregnancy continues the baby can be born with a disability such as Down’s Syndrome, a feature of which is chromosomal abnormality.
The liver is the principle organ of detoxification. The key here is that we are all different and one person’s liver may function far more effectively than another’s. Some people are even sensitive to caffeine and their liver does not metabolise it very efficiently. The conventional liver test available via your doctor, checks for abnormalities in certain liver enzymes and other substances. More often than not however, such a test will show normal results unless there is advanced damage in the liver. The use of cleansing herbs and nutrients can be of great benefit in treating a “sluggish” liver.
31 year old Sarah already had one child aged 22 months and had been trying for a second child for 5 months. She had high stress levels in her life reflected in poor sleep patterns, restlessness and anxiety, impatience and constantly feeling cold, which are all symptoms of adrenal stress.
Despite a diet rich in organic fruit and vegetables she was constipated. This is undesirable as it leads to the collection of toxins and wastes in the abdominal area which can affect the reproductive system. I advised Sarah to take a strong probiotic and made some subtle changes to her diet including increasing certain types of gentle fibre. I also gave her herbs for cleansing liver and bowel and adrenal support. Extra magnesium was also given as this mineral is lost in large amounts during stress and it helps calm nerves and muscles. Sarah found her sleep and bowel regularity both improved and lost a few pounds in weight as an extra bonus. Even better, six weeks into programme she became pregnant and went on to produce a healthy baby.
Another patient, Celia was 30 when she first came to see me and had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant a second time, for the past eight months despite a perfectly regular cycle. She had a history of yeast infections due to many courses of antibiotics for poor skin and white spots on her nails with pallor of the face, signs which suggest low zinc. She also experienced post lunch energy slumps and the need to eat sweet foods.
Extra zinc and balancing up Celia’s blood sugar levels with some dietary changes, including increased snacks and protein reduced cravings for cakes and biscuits. Balancing blood sugar in this way has a positive effect on hormone levels as well as energy. Her partner who had a history of testicular problems took a supplement containing nutrients to optimise sperm count and motility. Five weeks into the programme Celia became pregnant.
At 41, Janet was a little older than the other two women but had similar presenting symptoms such as stress, yeast infections, food cravings and mild constipation. Anxious about her age and not keen to undergo IVF, she had been trying to get pregnant with her second child for five months. Once again a successful pregnancy occurred after 6 weeks.
Using nutrition with acupuncture works very well for fertility issues. Acupuncturist Richard Jackson has extensive experience of working in this field. Richard is a member of the British Acupuncturist Council and specialises in both Five Element and Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture. By combining these treatments Richard provides the very best treatment available. See www.aculibrium.co.uk for more information or call Richard on 07715 409 547.
This article was originally published in Families magazine.