Can fertility be increased? If so, what can you do to increase your fertility?
When you look at the factors that need to be in place to ensure a successful pregnancy, it’s a wonder that humans are able to reproduce at all!
Both male and female fertility rely on a delicate balance of hormones which can be influenced by environmental factors ranging from the food you eat to toxins in the environment, stress and other emotional factors, illness, physical activity – even the outdoor temperature.
One of the key things that women can do to increase fertility is to be aware of your usual cycle and how external factors can influence this.
For men, an understanding of their own fertility cycle and the steps to better sperm health is also a critical component of increasing fertility.
Sperm take around three months to develop in the testes before traveling through the tube of the epididymis where they mature over 2 to 10 days. During ejaculation sperm are then transported to the urethra where they combine with seminal fluid from seminal vesicles, prostate and Cowper’s glands.
Activities and environmental effects that occur now, can affect the quality of sperm in three months time.
Trying to get pregnant is an exciting, emotional and at times traumatic journey and couples who are going through this experience can be very vulnerable. In this instant-gratification society, if you don’t fall pregnant in one or two months, it’s easy to reach for the credit card and try to buy your way to increased fertility.
Just be aware that you are a bit vulnerable at this time and so it’s probably even more important to check for evidence before signing up for any big (or even small) purchases.
There are many, many websites, advertisements and services that offer all sorts of amazing products that will apparently increase your fertility – from goji berries to mojo powder, they all seem to involve sending a cheque and crossing your fingers.
It’s quite possible that some of these products may actually help you increase your fertility levels, but there are lots of proven, evidence-based simple things that you should try first – and these won’t usually cost you any money and might even save you some dollars.
There is solid evidence that smoking tobacco or marijuana, drinking alcohol and coffee and taking a number of different street drugs all have a bad effect on fertility.
A large number of studies have found that smoking has an adverse effect on both male and female fertility.
In women, cigarette smoking can disrupt egg maturation, follicle development ovulation rates, and fertilisation rates, with eggs exposed to nicotine having higher levels of chromosomal abnormalities. Smokers also have increased rates of miscarriage and far lower chances of pregnancy through IVF.
In men, smoking lowers sperm count and motility and has been found to increase the abnormalities in sperm shape and function.
A 2008 study from the University of Buffalo found links between THC in marijuana and lower amounts of seminal fluid, higher abnormalities and a lower total sperm count in males who smoke marijuana.
Another study has also found that female marijuana smokers secreted small amounts of THC in cervical fluid and reproductive organs which probably reduced the likelihood of successful conception.
Even relatively small amounts of alcohol consumption can have an adverse effect on both male and female fertility.
Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption in women is linked to increased miscarriage risks, hypothalmic-pituitary-ovarian dysfunction, ovulation dysfunction, luteal phase defect and abnormal development of the endometrial lining.
Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption in men is linked to abnormal liver function, raised oestrogen levels (interfering with sperm development) and a significant drop in sperm count.
There are a number of studies that show direct links between high levels of daily caffeine consumption (more than 300mg a day) and low fertility in both males and females.
Many fertility experts suggest that couples keen to fall pregnant cut caffeine from the diet of both male and female partners while attempting pregnancy.
Try to stick to a balanced diet that follows the healthy diet principles of loads of fruit and vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables and legumes), low-GI complex carbohydrates and low-fat meat.
If you can afford to buy organic produce, it’s worth the extra cost. There is certainly evidence that the chemicals used in agricultural food production can impact fertility, although the amounts and extent of this are difficult to measure.
Several studies suggest that dairy food (including low fat dairy) can promote fertility.
Avoid fatty foods, highly processed foods and foods that are high in sugar as these can all throw your delicately balanced hormones off course a little.
Trans-fats can be quite detrimental to fertility and these are often found in highly-processed foods such as chips cooked in fat, some highly processed cereals, pastries and pies, some cakes, and even pizza.
While fish can be an important part of a healthy diet, increasing levels of toxins and heavy metals can make fish a risky food choice when you are trying to maximise your fertility.
Smaller fish like sardines and anchovies tend to have a lower risk of toxins and are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids but larger fish like shark (often called flake) can be higher in heavy metals like mercury.
Avoid soft drinks, and even high levels of coffee and tea. Herbal teas and water are the best drinks. Too much juice can be problematic as it is high in fructose which can interfere with the sensitivities of hormone balance.
Check your cleaning cupboard – if you’re a keen user of chemical cleaners, this is a good time to switch to low-toxin and natural products.
In fact, it might be time to chuck out any non-organic makeup, shampoos or soaps.
Avoid using pesticide sprays – try a fly swat and liberal doses of harmless pest-deterrents like lemon oil, citrus and cloves. The catnip plant makes a good roach deterrent, especially when brewed into a cockroach ‘herbal tea’ that can be sprayed on to points of entry.
There have been a number of studies that suggest that exposure to phthalates can reduce fertility; the majority of human phthalate exposure currently comes from cleaning products, some laundry detergents, personal care products like makeup, shampoo and soaps – and from plastics, paints and some pesticide formulations.
The human body is a funny thing. Not enough physical exercise can reduce fertility in both males and females – but too much activity will also have a negative effect on fertility.
A 2009 Norwegian study found that a disproportionate number of elite athletes experienced fertility problems until they reduced their training regime – and increased their fertility.
The researchers concluded that physical activity at a very high or very low level has a negative effect on fertility, but moderate activity would increase fertility.
By Fran Molloy, journalist and mum of four