Nutrition, Exercise and Fertility (part 1)

1 in 6 couples of childbearing age experience fertility problems.  If after one year of unprotected sex, a couple is still unable to conceive, then infertility is considered.  The complication appears to be evenly spread between men and women and 20 percent of the time it is a joint problem.

There are a number of measures that can be taken once infertility is diagnosed, and approximately 80 percent of couples are able to conceive after weight, nutrition, hormone levels and physical abnormalities are addressed.

Though a number of the causes of infertility call for assisted conception treatments like; In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIT) and others, regular exercise, stress management and proper nutrition have been seen to increase chances of conception by 30%.  Many acupuncturists and Chinese medical therapists report an even greater success rate with simple lifestyle changes.

Nutrition’s role in fertility doesn’t stop at conception.  We want to bolster the body to conceive, but we also want to keep the body prepared to carry to term.  While a number of the medical treatments increase the chance of conception, they do not prepare the body to carry a baby through pregnancy, both the the burden and the blessing falls on the body to stay healthy.  When fertilization doesn’t ‘take’ or hormone therapy is failing, these treatments can get very expensive.  A pre planned nutritive approach can boost the chances that your treatment of choice will take the first time around, lessening the cost and stress of failed attempts. In my opinion, It can and should be your first resort, before you even consider any other invasive therapies.

Hormonal balance is a major factor in a woman’s ability to conceive and achieving this balance becomes harder with age.  Vitamin and mineral levels and digestive functioning are key elements in harmonizing the ebb and flow of hormonal activity.  This is true for men as well, as sperm health is also dependent on hormonal balance.  In addition to a balanced diet, filled with whole, organic foods, plenty of protein and low glycemic carbohydrates; essential fatty acids, vitamin A (less or equal to 3000 iu.) and B6, zinc, magnesium and high quality antioxidant supplements should be included in your diet.

Hormones return to the digestive tract once their function is complete and have been processed by the liver.  Consequently, liver function is just as important as digestive function.  It would be a good idea to plan ahead and wean yourself off of alcohol a few months before trying to conceive as well as applying a liver detox. In order to effectively eliminate the hormones once your healthy liver has processed them, an abundance of fiber (25-35g/day) and water is necessary.

Another measure to ensure hormone balance is to identify food sensitivities or allergies.  Many people are unaware of dairy, soy or wheat sensitivities that can complicate nutrients absorption and digestion.

A fairly common cause of infertility is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); an endocrine disorder characterized by hormone imbalance, obesity and insulin resistance.  PCOS also causes poor placenta attachment which increases miscarriage rate by 70%.  Insulin resistance, which is present in almost all sufferers of PCOS meddles with fertility as the pancreas will overproduce insulin in order to break down carbohydrates.  This, in turn increases testosterone levels and leads to anovulation and  another 3% risk of miscarriage.  The high levels of testosterone can also cause acne and facial hair growth; two more warning signs of insulin resistance and PCOS.

In order to treat these conditions an exercise regime along with a strictly scheduled nutrition plan should be implemented.  High glycemic Carbohydrates need to be minimal,  (see for a decent list of low glycemic carbohydrates) and protein should be increased significantly.  The protein should be lean animal protein or from legumes and needs to be fairly constant throughout the day.  The ratio of carbs to protein should be 1:1, at about 70g/day, fat intake should be half of that.  Chromium Picolinate has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity when matched with an appropriate nutrition and exercise program.   You can also find natural sources of chromium in bananas, carrots, green beans, strawberries and cabbage.  While many vitamins and minerals are safe even in ridiculously high doses, it is always better to be safe than sorry.  If you think your doctor is the type to shy away from supplements then maybe it would be better to look for a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor  Medications also exist that perform the same function as a balanced diet, exercise and supplements, but they are more expensive, take just as long or longer to take effect and are a non natural product.  When dealing with fertility and pregnancy, the less toxins the better, including medication.

Exercise should not be limited to aerobic activity.  Cardiovascular routines are beneficial while they are being performed and also have long term health benefits.  But resistance training will increase your muscle mass creating a more efficient response to insulin.

It should be mentioned that overweight AND underweight women have an increased chance of fertility problems.  Underweight individuals, while still possibly dealing with PCOS, hormonal imbalances or any number of complications, need to address their nutritive situation differently.  The body needs a certain amount of fat percentage for hormone regulation, sometimes it takes a small adjustment in either direction in order to optimize your hormones to conceive and carry to term.

A few dos and don’ts with regards to nutrition and fertility;

Olive oil, green tea(decaf), buckwheat, cinnamon, wild pacific salmon, summer flounder, croaker, haddock, flax seed, walnuts, vitamin supplements (A, C, E, B complex), folic acid, magnesium, Selenium,

Find a way to ensure that you are getting enough amino acids! They are found in meat, fish, beans, nuts etc.

Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, sugar substitutes(especially Aspartame), ginger, msg, tonic water, canned tune, mahi mahi, shark, swordfish, sea bass, tuna steaks, blue mussels, pain relievers and antihistamines.

Check back for a more detailed list of foods that can improve your fertility and over all health.  The second part of this blog will also include some ideas on meal scheduling and exercise programs.

Good luck,


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