Do you or someone you know feel like you’re in a desert? Waiting… hoping for signs of life. A life inside of you perhaps you’ve longed for all your life?
Many may avoid talking about it to anyone other than their spouse, but infertility is, unfortunately, fairly common. Those suffering shouldn’t have to struggle alone or in silence.
Infertility is defined as not being able to conceive after one year of actively trying. For women over age 35, not being able to conceive after just six months of actively trying also qualifies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 12% of American women up to age 44 struggle with impaired fertility. Fortunately, there are many ways fertility may be improved naturally. And this article isn’t just for women – men can improve their fertility as well!
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for several reasons. When it comes to fertility, a healthy weight is important largely because it supports healthy hormone balance. Our hormones are one of the main factors affecting fertility. Being overweight or obese can cause our natural hormone levels to change. When this occurs, the chances of becoming pregnant decrease.
Excess weight can also lead to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can affect fertility by causing abnormal changes in the menstrual cycle or it may lead to anovulation, where the body doesn’t ovulate eggs properly.
Obesity can impact male fertility as well. Excess weight in men can cause testosterone levels to decrease and may lead to infertility. Additionally, erectile dysfunction is more common among obese men.
But it’s not just excess weight; highly trained athletes and those with a very low body weight may be at risk too since their body fat levels may be extremely low. In order to maintain normal hormone levels, the body requires a healthy level of body fat. For women age 20-40, healthy body fat levels are approximately 21 to 33%. For men in the same age range, a healthy body fat level is about 8 to 19%.
The great news is that losing excess weight (or gaining, for those underweight) to achieve a healthy weight can improve all of these issues!
Food for Fertility
While there are no “super fertility foods,” eating certain healthy foods can improve factors that may improve fertility. Research has shown that low levels of some vitamins and minerals may decrease fertility. Therefore, by maintaining adequate levels of these vitamins and minerals we can reduce our risk of infertility.
The best way to achieve adequate levels is by eating whole, natural foods. Overall, eating a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is recommended for general health and this is also good advice for pre-pregnancy health. Before or during pregnancy is no time to start a trendy new diet. Instead, try adding some of the following foods that are good sources of nutrients needed when trying to conceive:
- Walnuts & flaxseeds – rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Pomegranate seeds – rich in antioxidants
- Asparagus (cooked) – rich in folate, vitamins A, C, and K, selenium, thiamin, and zinc
- Beans & lentils – rich in folate, fiber, and plant protein (Research shows that women who get more of their protein from plants than animals are less likely to experience ovulation problems.)
- Pineapple – good source of vitamin C
- Sunflower seeds – good source of vitamin E, folate, selenium, and zinc
- Tomatoes (cooked) – rich in lycopene (an antioxidant that may improve male fertility)
- Cinnamon – may help improve glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol
Of course, there are also foods to avoid when trying to become pregnant:
- Processed foods
- Processed foods provide little to no nutritional value
- Additives and preservatives may collectively have a negative impact on fertility
- Red meat
- May lead to endometriosis which negatively impacts fertility
- High caffeine intake (>500mg/day) has been shown to increase the time it takes to become pregnant
- Excess alcohol has been associated with decreased fertility
Physical activity and exercise provide many health benefits, including improved fertility. In fact, the Nurses’ Health Study II found that “each hour per week of vigorous activity was associated with a 7% lower relative risk of ovulatory infertility.” Another study in Danish women showed even moderate exercise could improve fertility. Conversely, sedentary lifestyles have been associated with infertility.
One of the key benefits of regular physical activity is weight loss for those that are overweight or obese. This alone has been shown to improve a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant. It’s always important to discuss exercise changes with your healthcare provider.
Once approved for physical activity, work with an exercise professional such as a certified personal trainer to develop a plan that is right for you, your goals, and your daily routine. While there are a lot of ways to exercise, the best exercise is the kind you will actually do. If you enjoy the activity, you are much more likely to do it on a regular basis without having to force yourself to do it. Another good way to stay motivated is to find a friend to be your workout buddy. Knowing someone else is counting on you to show up provides a sense of accountability and encouragement.
Trying to conceive can be or can become a stressful time for many couples. Just thinking about the lists above can have your head spinning, not to mention advice you may be receiving from family and friends. But increased stress and anxiety can reduce the chances of becoming pregnant. Therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to take some time for yourself.
Set aside time to simply relax, either alone or with your spouse. Attempt to make your favorite way to lower stress a part of your daily routine. Perhaps take a vacation if that will help destress the situation!
Another, even more important way to reduce stress is to meditate on God’s Word and His promises. The waiting can be hard, but so much fruit can come from those desert times.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19
A few other tips worth mentioning include quitting smoking and avoiding hazardous chemicals and recreational drugs.
If you are taking prescription medications, discuss your plans of conceiving with your doctors as they may want to make adjustments to some of these medications. Your healthcare provider can offer specific advice for your circumstances to provide the best possible chance of conceiving.
Finally, talk to your spouse. Being open and honest with your spouse can help ensure you are on the same page when it comes to fertility health. This allows you both to support each other when it comes to making choices, such as what foods to eat, and encouraging each other to exercise. Additionally, talking about your desire to become pregnant with your spouse can reduce stress and increase the chances of conceiving.