According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention about 20 percent of women are diagnosed as infertile without a specific reason why. A number of these women end of seeking alternative or naturopathic medicine when their medical doctor is unable to explain why they’re having a hard time getting pregnant. What I often tell these patients is that just because their MD can’t explain what the problem is – doesn’t mean that there isn’t something we can do to help with their fertility struggles. On the other side of this spectrum is women who have a diagnosis that is contributing to their fertility struggles – most commonly PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) or endometriosis.
Endometriosis affects approximately 1 in 10 women in North America. It's a condition where tissue that normally lines the uterus — called the endometrium — grows in other parts of the body where it’s not supposed to be, most commonly the abdominal cavity, where it can land on the intestinal lining, ovaries and fallopian tubes. This leads to irritation and inflammation with can be extremely painful. Some other common symptoms include long heavy periods, constipation and bloating, painful sex, and chronic fatigue. In some cases the first noticeable symptom of endometriosis is difficulty in conceiving. It is estimated that up to 50% of women with infertility have endometriosis.
PCOS is a commonly diagnosed (and occasionally mis-diagnosed) condition which happens with a women’s ovaries or adrenal glands produce more male hormones than normal – often resulting in cysts on the ovaries. Common symptoms include pelvic pain, acne, excess hair growth on the body, oily skin, and infertility. PCOS interferes with conception due to hormone imbalances causing a lack of ovulation – but one of the less thought about obstacles to fertility with PCOS is egg quality.
Good quality eggs promote healthy ovulation.
Treatment of infertility or sub-fertility with naturopathic medicine is definitely multi-factorial – utilizing a variety of lifestyle, nutritional, and herbal medicines. The three months prior to the ovulation process is when each egg is most susceptible to environmental factors within your body. Therefore the three months before you conceive is a crucial time for influencing your fertility.
“the three months before you conceive is a crucial time for influencing your fertility”
It is best to visit your ND (ideally at least 3 months before your hoping to conceive) in order to conduct the appropriate lab tests and exams in order to come up with your individualized fertility treatment plan.
The following are a few general recommendations I make for a majority of my patients regardless of diagnosis.
1. Eat a Mediterranean-style diet, which focuses on fish and lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and good fats and has been shown to decrease inflammation and boost fertility. Being sure to avoid processed foods and sugar as much as possible.
2. Avoid alcohol and smoking.
3. Avoid plastics with bisphenol A (BPA), which is a known endocrine disruptor and has been correlated with increased risk of miscarriage. Sources of BPA are mainly plastic containers, canned food linings, and credit card receipts.
4. Supplement with a high-quality prenatal vitamin that contains the bioavailable form of folate—methyltetrahydrafolate (more on this crucial compound in future blog posts!)
5. Supplement with fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids) to reduce inflammation. (Dosage and quality is important here so be sure to speak to your ND before picking any omega 3 off the shelf!).
6. Supplement with vitamin D3, which increases follicular development and ovulation. Again dosage is important (are you seeing a trend? haha)
7. Get moderate exercise.
8. Develop a stress management routine — meditation (ask me for my favourite meditation supports for fertility!), take baths, do yoga, get acupuncture (which can also help to boost blood flow to the uterus and ovaries!) —anything to get you out of the fight-or-flight response and signal to your body that you are safe and ready to carry and care for a baby.