Many couples have problems conceiving. Such a problem can be due to genetics or to the environment. When genetic, there is really not much that can be done at the present with the state of our technology. The only options in such cases are to take a healthy sperm or egg from a donor or to adopt a child. If the problem is environmental, it can have many causes that can be eliminated for increased fertility.
Diet is very important. High fat diets and diets with high simple carbohydrates can impact fertility in a negative way. It is important to have a diet rich in vegetables, fruits (preferably the not-too-sweet ones such as tropical fruits) and lean protein sources such as fish and organic poultry. It is also very important to stay away from processed foods, foods with preservatives, and food products that have been exposed to hormones and/or antibiotics (for example, beef or poultry that were exposed to hormones for increased growth and to antibiotics to prevent infections). Antibiotics are used in these cases because of the crowded and usually unsanitary conditions of big production cattle and poultry facilities. Both hormones and antibiotics, but especially hormones, can cause infertility by wreaking havoc with our endocrine (i.e. hormonal) system. A healthy endocrine system plays a pivotal role for the health of our reproductive organs, our eggs and our sperm.
Other Lifestyle Factors
Another very important point for women and their male partners is to stop smoking and stop or limit alcohol consumption to one glass of red wine (or equivalent) every few days. Both tobacco smoke and alcohol impact fertility in a negative way by accelerating the aging process of the ovaries. They also have a negative impact on sperm and erections in men. If a pregnancy does occur, it is imperative that both substances are stopped completely, due to the tremendous toxic impact they have on the developing fetus. Both can cause permanent malformations and underdevelopment of the brain.
For optimal fertility in both women and men, it’s important to provide the body with all the essential vitamins and minerals. This is best achieved by taking one multi vitamin/mineral each day. Calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are also very important and should be taken at higher doses than that found in multi vitamin/mineral tablets. Another supplement that is very important for women is folic acid (i.e. Folate). It is needed at higher doses during the initial stages of pregnancy for the proper development of the nervous system as well as for the prevention of neural tube defects (i.e. defects of the spinal cord, the vertebra or the brain itself). These defects can have dire consequences. Thus it is very important to prevent them by supplementing with this vitamin.
Another important supplement for women are probiotics. These should be taken orally but they can also be used as vaginal suppositories. Probiotics prevent the colonization of the vagina with yeast and harmful bacteria. When such infections do occur they can have a negative impact on sperm before they reach the female egg for fertilization. Please see below under Vaginal Health for more details.
Body Weight & Exercise
With respect to women, it is important to have optimal body weight. This means not too much weight and not too little. What I mean by that is a body mass index (BMI) between 18 and 25. BMI is calculated by taking the weight of an individual in kilograms and dividing this number by the height of the individual in meters squared. Women with a body mass index below 18 may stop ovulating, and women with a body mass index above 25 can have problems with their menstrual cycles. Regular exercise is very good for increased fertility, but it should not be exaggerated. Reaching a body mass index below 18 due to exercise can stop ovulation. This is commonly observed in anorexic women. The stress that is put on the body due to excessive exercise can also stop ovulation.
Mental stress can also impact fertility in a negative way. Thus, it is imperative that women wishing to conceive are in a stable and peaceful environment.
Another important advice for women is not to douche. It’s a fancy word for washing the internal vagina with soap and water. This removes the normal bacterial flora in the vagina. These are mainly lactobacilli bacteria (i.e. probiotics) which help maintain the inner vagina in a healthy state. When these good bacteria are removed by douching, it leaves room for bad bacteria and/or yeast to flourish. Most of the time, the two pathogens actually invade together. When this happens, the inner vagina gets inflamed and becomes a very inhospitable environment for sperm, thus leading to infertility. During a bacterial infection, there is a yellow green discharge, while during a yeast infection there is a chunky white discharge. In both conditions, there is unpleasant aroma. Both conditions can be treated with antibiotics. When doing so, it is a good idea to replenish the vagina with good bacteria after treatment. A simple yet effective way that this can be achieved is by soaking a tampon in kefir or sour milk and inserting it in the vagina for eight hours. This will help prevent the recurrence of the conditions listed above and will create a very favorable environment for sperm.
Timing of Intercourse
Another important point is the frequency and the timing of unprotected intercourse between partners. When trying to conceive, sexual intercourse should happen on a daily basis. This is especially true during ovulation, around the 14th day of each menstrual cycle. It is also the 14th day after the beginning of menses (i.e. menstrual bleeding). However, the exact time is hard to predict, so unprotected sex (protected sex does not allow for the sperm to reach the egg) should be performed with a higher frequency starting at day 12 and ending at day 17.
Message For Men
There is one thing that is specific to men. The reason why men have testes (i.e. the site where sperm is produced) outside of the abdominal cavity is because production of sperm requires a slightly lower temperature than normal body temperature. This difference in temperature is only about 2 degrees Celsius, but it is very important. Increasing the temperature by only 1 or 2 degrees can hinder sperm production to the point of infertility. This is why it is important for men not to wear tight underwear. Such underwear keeps the testes close to the rest of the body, thus increasing the temperature of the testes and hindering sperm production.
These are the main tips for increased fertility. For those of you trying to have a child, I wish you all a success in having a healthy baby. See you next time.