Infertility: what can you actually do about it?!

10-15% of couples will be affected by infertility. We look at some of the most common (and less known) causes that science is attributing to this issue. More than that we look at how modern lifestyles are making this worse and what you can do about it.

It’s funny how you can spend your younger years fearing pregnancy and then once you actually want to get pregnant the terror of infertility immediately sets in! (At least thats how it went for me!)

The reality is that at least 10-15% of couples are going to face an issue with infertility, which is defined as no pregnancy after a year of unprotected sex. Main question of course - what can you actually do about it?

Well first and foremost is to get to the root of the problem:

Modern medicine is pretty good at treating symptoms once they have arrived (which is often the product of long held imbalances in the body) - we do however seem to be shifting towards looking at prevention or at least earlier intervention thankfully.

In the past, for various reasons, infertility was usually laid at the door of the female. However, that has changed. Statistics show that on average it is as much, if not more now at the door of the male side, with sperm count and quality on average falling dramatically over the last few decades. At this point at least 1/3 of issues from the male side, 1/3 from female and the rest a combination. So if you’re struggling, both parties need to consider what the issue could be.

So, what are the most common issues?

Unfortunately in many cases there are no ‘obvious symptoms’ other than not actually getting pregnant. So here are some things to consider/watch out for and some things you can do to reduce some of your risk factors around this and to put yourself in a better position:

Boys:

Statistics are showing a big fall off in sperm count and quality over the last forty years. Click here for much more. As usual, unfortunately there seems no one definitive cause which always makes it slightly trickier. However, here are some things that are being suggested as having an impacting. ‘Knowing the enemy’ is the first step:

  • Oxidative stress: this is where too much oxidation (which can come from various sources - see below) damages particularly lipid membrane cells like sperm. It is also something apparently on the rise in modern society.

  • Click here for much more, but some common culprits: pesticides, radiation, certain medications, environmental toxins, smoking, excessive drinking, drugs.

  • Keep it fresh: the good news is that sperm is regenerative - however, the longer it is left sitting in the testicles the more scope for DNA damage so regular ejaculation (ideally every other day) keeps it in a good state and is an easy thing to do in order to keep quality up.

  • Hormones: bizarrely seen as more of a female issue - but actually Estrogen dominance is hurting men too - click here for more - but common culprits: pesticides/herbicides, too much phytoestrogens (Soy an example), steroid use, excessive plastic exposure and excessive stress.

  • Exercise: can be a powerful positive but done in excess in the ‘wrong way’ can hurt fertility. Click here for more. Research shows that cycling excessively really doesn’t help!

  • Heat: too much is not a good thing - its why the testicles are outside of the body. So avoid tight hot clothing (exercising in tight Lycra not good for this!), hot laptops on your lap, too much use of saunas, hot baths etc. Keep them cool!

  • Certain medical conditions like Varicocele also cause issues with sperm - this is an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum (think a varicose vein) and often happens during puberty. Other things like radiation and cancer treatment and certain prescription medications can cause issues so discuss with your doctor. Other health issues like diabetes or STDs can have an effect. If you are concerned about any of these issues the first port of call is your doctor.

  • Age: not much we can do about the passage of time of course, but nature is a lot kinder when it comes to male fertility in fact. Most research suggests that DNA/chromosomal issues don’t start to increase until a man reaches his mid-50s so boys - you have a bit more time!

  • Sleep: has been shown to have a very real impact on sperm - click here for the low down.

What can you do?

Well the easiest things you can do which are in your control are to minimise exposure to oxidative stress and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Once you understand the very real effect that these things have on your body, you’ll be much more likely to try and avoid them. Click here for much more on Oxidative stress/inflammation and how to avoid EDCs.

Avoiding drinking excessively and cutting out smoking is and sounds obvious but is also a must as they are both huge contributors to oxidative stress. Interestingly, caffeine - as long as it is not in excess (which can disrupt your hormones) has been shown to be ok - click here for more.

Stress reduction and exercising in a moderate way are also helpful.

A good diet of fresh, whole foods full of antioxidants is also equally important to help fight oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Any supplements for boys? At Better Babies we tend to be quite cautious when it comes to supplements but click here for suggestions that have been shown to boost the swimmers.

Sleeping 7-8hrs per night has been shown to have a real impact on sperm quality, count and motility. Click here for much more. Simply prioritising it in our lives can have a positive effect.

Finally, keeping cool - both physically and mentally is very powerful. Click here for more.

Girls:

  • Age is not our friend: all girls are born with a finite number of follicles (immature eggs) that declines with age. The older we get the less we have and the more damaged they are. Unfortunately as it stands this is a process we cannot fight. That being said we don’t all age in exactly the same way - so first step is ‘knowing your number’ or specifically being aware of your egg reserve, particularly if you are in your 30s. We can get a good indication of this from your AMH number - click here for much more.

  • Ovulation issues: One of the most common issues is lack of ovulation and the most common cause of this is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. Often eggs are not released and if you don’t get ovulation, its pretty tricky to get pregnant! Other causes are hormonal (issues with thyroid), being over or underweight and too much extreme exercise can cause a problem here. Surprisingly to me, caffeine in moderate amounts has shown some recent research based evidence of improving ovulation. Click here for more.

  • Fibroids: these are benign smooth muscle tumours. Often there are no symptoms , but it can show up in painful or heavy periods. The causes are not clear but genetics, age, hormonal imbalances, excessive weight and poor diet have all been suggested to play a role. Once again as we age the chances of these becoming an issue increases and can interfere with a fertilised egg implanting as it should.

  • Endometriosis: this is where the tissue of the endometrium grows where it shouldn’t and can cause a lot of issues when it comes to fertility. Click here for more, but once sign to watch for is for very painful periods - that is not normal. It can be hard to diagnose and can cause blockages or affect the function of ovaries/uterus/Fallopian tubes etc.

  • Premature menopause: Periods stopping before 40. Usually genetic, so if a close family member had early menopause it is something to talk to your doctor about and get an AMH test done as soon as possible.

  • Hormones: just like for the boys - there are many things that knock our hormones off balance these days from the food that we eat, to our water, to all the new chemicals that surround us - click here for more - to emotional pressure and stress which can come mentally or from areas like too much exercise.

So what can we do?

Well on the age front - of course nothing we can do. However - all is not lost:

  • First port of call is knowledge of your own individual position, after all we are all different - an AMH test is easy and gives you an accurate picture of what you’re dealing with. Knowledge is power. Here is how to go about this.

  • Boosting your egg quality: once again - we are sceptical on supplements, however there are a couple that have been shown to have a positive effect when it comes to protecting from damage - click here for more on CoQ10 and DHA.

  • PCOS: if you have this condition there are a lot of lifestyle choices you can make to reduce the symptoms. Getting your BMI into a healthy range, reducing sugar in your diet will help with hormonal balance and the symptoms. Issues with insulin are very common in PCOS so cutting out refined sugars and eating low GI can have very positive effects.

  • Hormones: avoiding disruption is the name of the game. Click here for more on EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) and some easy ways to do it. Adaptogens are also worth considering - these are essentially supplements that help your body balance its own hormones naturally. The reason we like these is because they don’t add anything artificially but instead help support the most powerful moderator of your hormones - your own body. Click here for much more.

  • Stress and exercise: a lot of us are now chronically stressed which has a very real impact on our ability to get pregnant. Click here for more. Mental stress is of course more tricky to manage, however, physical stressors like excessive exercise and lack of sleep are things we can control. Click here for much more and what type of exercise can actually be beneficial when it comes to fertility.

Know your body: once again knowledge is power and sometimes we can be making easy mistakes. Click here for the top ten ways to help the conception process along.

Finally - sometimes there is no ‘obvious’ cause which can be very frustrating as it is hard to ‘fix’ something that you cannot identify. If you have been trying for a year with no luck the first port of call is to see you doctor and ask for a raft of tests to try and get a picture of what is going on. Most doctors will check sperm and egg reserve as well as doing an ultra sound and blood tests. Additionally you may want to ask for checks on:

  • CRP = C-Reactive Protein which is a commonly used test to measure inflammation in the body. Click here for why this is important.

  • A measure of your CoQ10 levels. This is a potent antioxidant that works well preventing cell damage and is commonly taken as a supplement for ‘egg quality’

  • Cortisol levels to see how stressed your body is. In fairness this level does of course fluctuate but it is good simply to see if it is very high.

  • Vitamin D levels.

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.