What is Natural Fertility?
Technically natural fertility is defined as the fertility of a population without birth control, however, within holistic fertility circles we’re really talking about your body’s optimum fertile state and helping you find it.
Making changes in your life has been shown to improve your body’s balance and natural fertility, but what’s little known is about how long it takes for these changes to truly affect your natural fertility.
How does making lifestyle changes affect your natural fertility?
There are many things you can do to boost your natural fertility. Read our blog ‘41 ways to improve your natural fertility.
One area that’s not given enough attention is how we can affect egg and sperm health with preconception care. Don’t worry, it’s not too complicated and you can easily and simply make some changes which are proven to increase your natural fertility. Watch our quick video for 4 top strategies for improving egg and sperm health.
As you heard in the video, something that is little known about improving your fertility is the length of time it takes for changes in your lifestyle and health to impact egg and sperm health.
Improving egg health – the magic window of time
You probably already know that you are born with all your eggs and that egg health declines with age. You may have even been given a diagnosis of low AMH or diminished ovarian reserve or suffering from recurrent miscarriages or chemical pregnancies / early miscarriage. So you may feel there’s not much you can do.
The exciting thing is there is! Until your egg is ready to develop, it’s in a state of ‘suspension’ and it takes 120 days for it to fully mature. This 4-month window is your opportunity to affect your ova or egg health. As it’s developing it’s using lots of energy and responding to its environment so we can affect positive change and reduce chromosomal abnormalities by working on health and lifestyle changes at this time.
Clinical studies have shown that there are certain strategies that can increase the percentage of eggs that can develop into healthy embryos, increase implantation rates and reduce the risk of early miscarriage. For more on this, we highly recommend Rebecca Fett’s book ‘It starts with the egg.’
Improving sperm health – another magic window of time
Just like egg development, sperm also takes a long time to develop. Although men produce millions of new sperm every day, the new sperm actually takes 74 days or nearly 3 months to fully mature.
Again, this creates a window of time where lifestyle changes like reducing alcohol, cutting out smoking and improving diet can positively impact sperm health. Other known factors affecting sperm health include avoiding extreme temperatures and tight clothing.
To increase your chances of conceiving and of a natural and healthy pregnancy, practice preconception care and ideally wait for 3-4 months for these changes to become apparent in your egg and sperm health.
Top 4 preconception care strategies to affect egg and sperm health and improve natural fertility
1. Reduce toxins
We are now surrounded by so many toxins in our environment and our food. During food production, many pesticides and herbicides are used to increase food yields and reduce pest problems. However, this isn’t great for our health. The move to eating more organic food is particularly relevant when you’re trying to conceive as this removes these harmful toxins from your diet.
A helpful list is the ‘Dirty Dozen’ – a list produced each year which ranks the worst offenders. Strawberries, Spinach, Peaches, Apples, Cherries and Tomatoes are among the common culprits of high pesticide residue, so even if you don’t go wholly organic it would be worth considering purchasing organic for these items. In contrast, the ‘Clean Fifteen’ shows you which foods have the lowest pesticide residues. The full list can be found here.
In addition to toxins from our food, we’re also exposed to a huge number of chemicals and toxins on a daily basis from our cleaning products, beauty products and household plastics. BPA (Bisphenol A) is one toxin that has been proven to compromise egg quality and fertility. It’s often found in food and drink storage containers like water bottles and food cans. It leaches out into the food or drink and is made worse by heating such as in your microwave or dishwasher.
There are many other toxins such as phthalates which pose a toxic risk to human health and are compromising our fertility, but still widely used in many household products. You can reduce your exposure by avoiding nail polish, fragrance, hair spray and looking for cleaning and laundry products that plant-based or fragrance-free and by generally minimising contact with plastics.
The overall message is to limit your exposure to toxins as much as you can in the lead up to conception and to boost your natural fertility.
There are countless studies, blogs and recipe books out there on a healthy fertility diet. The general advice is to cut out processed foods, refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread, cereal, pasta), trans fats and unnecessary/unnatural sugar. Instead, you should consume a balanced diet of slow-release carbohydrates (e.g. quinoa), fruit and vegetables, vegetable oil and lean proteins. This can be easily thought of as the ‘mediterranean diet’and there are many studies which show increased IVF success rates and natural pregnancy rates when this diet is followed closely in the preconception period.
When we eat sugars and refined carbohydrates, it causes our blood sugar (glucose levels) to spike. Our body’s natural response is to create insulin to deal with this. Over time, however, with repeated high sugar and corresponding insulin levels, our cells become ‘insulin resistant’ and this is a huge problem for our natural fertility as this disrupts the balance of hormones that regulate the reproductive system. This can result in ovulation disorders, poor egg quality, lower IVF success rates and an increased risk of miscarriage.
Diet is a critically-important factor for those suffering from PCOS but everyone needs to be aware of the role insulin is playing in affecting natural fertility. Read our diet tips for PCOS here
In men, diet is also a factor in sperm health and it’s important to get the right balance of vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and of course water too.
3. Fertility Supplements
The range of fertility supplements on offer can be a little bewildering. The general advice is you need folate (folic acid) and often Vitamin D (as many people are deficient in this.) A good prenatal multivitamin can deliver these and in combination with a well-rounded diet, can make a huge difference to your natural fertility.
In addition to that, there is much debate among fertility circles about which other supplements can positively impact your natural fertility. One supplement that gets a lot of good press is Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) as it’s believed to improve egg and embryo quality. Other supplements with links to improving fertility include DHEA, myo-inositol, Zinc, Selenium, Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamins E & C.
Seek specific and personalised advice on your supplementary needs as each person varies and there is contradicting evidence out there about some supplements like L’arginine and royal jelly which in some studies have been shown to harm your natural fertility. Here’s what one infertility veteran said about her journey through fertility supplements.
4. Stress-reduction and emotional health
There is a growing evidence base suggesting stress-reduction strategies and mind-body tools can not only address the negative impact of infertility but also improve natural fertility with outstanding results.
One study from Harvard University showed 55% of women getting pregnant following a mind-body program, versus 20% who didn’t, and 76% of them got pregnant naturally within 12 months. These women had on average been trying for over 3 years and had suffered repeated treatment failures in the past.
This an exciting area because this helps improve the everyday experience of infertility for women and couples AND also increases the chances of successful conception. Mind-body tools are a great complement to natural fertility and fertility treatments like IVF and IUI. Some studies have shown IVF success rates to double with the use of relaxation and visualisation during embryo transfer.
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