Fertility "Misconceptions" Debunked - Part 2/2
With the multitude of sources that exist in this day and age it can be quite difficult to separate fact from fiction for just about anything. Fertility is definitely one of those things that you want to be in the know about because being misinformed may actually work against you and prevent you from getting pregnant. In the second half of this two-part article I will dive into the remaining fertility myths that I most often encounter in practice. It’s time to uncover the truth and focus on what really matters when it comes to trying for a baby.
5. “Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF will always work at any age – all the celebrities are having babies well into their 40s and even into their 50s!”
Despite what the media suggests, it is not true that assisted reproductive therapies such as IVF can evade the effects of aging and result in conception for everyone. How many times have you been in line at the grocery store and glanced at the tabloids that surround you to pass the time, only to read “ _________, Pregnant With Twins At 49!” in big yellow print? Although it may seem like celebrities possess some sort of fertility superpower, it certainly is not the case! Fertility declines with age, as does one’s success with ART treatments including IVF. This fact remains true for everyone, famous or not! What the stars often fail to disclose to the public is the way in which they became pregnant so late in life. For a good majority it was likely through the use of donor eggs from a younger woman. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with egg donation, misleading the public into thinking that all of these women conceived on their own at such an advanced age only sets the stage for unrealistic expectations. False assumptions are often made, causing people to become widely misinformed in regards to their beliefs and perceptions of fertility. We know that in this day and age couples are delaying childbearing more than ever before, often well into their 30s. Although this can be explained by a number of things, from wanting to gain financial security, achieving an education, or establishing a career, one should also question whether simply being unaware of and/or misinformed about the impact of aging on fertility underlies the delay. While naturopathic medicine cannot reverse the effect of aging, what it can do is offer support for couples going through ART treatments.
6. “I am a smoker but I don’t have to give it up until I am pregnant.”
Numerous studies have shown that smoking and even exposure to secondhand smoke impairs fertility in both men and women well before conception occurs. It is known that smokers have higher rates of infertility and take longer to conceive than do non-smokers, which is largely a result of the impact that the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke have on our reproductive health. Smoking reduces the quality and quantity of eggs and sperm by causing damage to the genetic material held within them, which may ultimately increase the risk of birth defects, miscarriage, and ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, it can interfere with and alter hormone production, egg and sperm maturation, and the process by which fertilization and implantation occur. The good news is that it doesn’t take very long to make improvements in fertility after quitting. Both sperm quantity and sperm quality can be enhanced in men with naturopathic medicine through correcting hormonal imbalances, optimizing nutrients needed for sperm development, providing acupuncture, and supplementing with antioxidants needed to protect against cellular damage. While it is not possible to increase the number of eggs a woman has within her ovaries, it is possible to improve upon the quality of her remaining eggs. Your naturopathic doctor can use tools such as antioxidants, acupuncture, botanical medicine, nutrients, and lifestyle interventions to maximize the quality of your eggs, balance hormones, and regulate your cycle.
7. “My weight does not matter.”
Unfortunately, the numbers on the scale really do matter when it comes to your fertility and reproductive health. Being either overweight or underweight can directly influence hormone production and hormone function, which may lead to underlying hormone imbalances, irregular menstrual cycles, ovulatory dysfunction, abnormal sperm parameters, and ultimately trouble becoming pregnant. Studies have found that overweight and obese women take longer to conceive, have lower success rates with ART, and are at a greater risk for pregnancy related complications such as miscarriage, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and premature birth when compared to women of a healthy weight. Likewise, men that are obese are 3 times more likely than men of a healthy weight to have sperm of poorer quality, with lower sperm counts, sperm that are less motile (i.e. don’t swim properly), and a greater proportion of sperm that are genetically damaged. Exceeding a healthy weight also increases the likelihood of erectile dysfunction, as it induces vascular changes and creates an imbalance in testosterone levels. Just as being overweight can derange hormones, cause irregular cycles, and prevent ovulation, the opposite is also true. When the body perceives a state of chronic stress, whether it is from not receiving adequate nutrition, enduring excessive physical activity, or suffering from a psychologically distressing event, the brain can slow down its signaling and ultimately halt all communication to the reproductive organs. As a result, hormones needed to control processes such as ovulation, menstruation, and sperm production are not effectively made, which can significantly alter one’s reproductive capability. Fortunately, these effects are not permanent by any means, as studies have found that even modest changes in weight (about +/- 10% of body weight) can restore ovulation, hormone function, and ultimately fertility. Your naturopathic doctor can help you achieve your weight goals and will provide you with the tools you need to stay on track.
8. “Stress will not affect my fertility.”
The role that stress plays in regards to fertility is far too often overlooked and underestimated. Stress is like a double-edged sword, meaning that it can be either beneficial or harmful to our health depending on the level of exposure. Small amounts of stress are needed to react appropriately in situations that threaten our survival. For example, suppose that during a hike you encounter a hungry bear that is fast approaching. In response to such a threat your body will produce a cascade of hormones that in turn will enable you to either run to safety or fight it off more effectively. However, when the body is under a constant state of stress (as the majority of us are in our daily lives), it can bring forth some negative consequences. Chronic stress can influence fertility by affecting the production of our reproductive hormones in a way that is not ideal for conception. In the long term, this may lead to irregular menstrual cycles, lack of ovulation, problems with implantation, and early pregnancy loss. Stress can become a vicious cycle in anyone trying to conceive, let alone those who are struggling. In fact, studies have found that the stress levels of patients undergoing treatment for infertility are comparable to those in patients that have cancer, HIV, and chronic pain. Your naturopathic doctor can offer you tools to help better manage and cope with the stress in your life, such as through the use of mind/body techniques, acupuncture, supplementation, and botanical medicine.
Dr. Jessica Geil, HBSc, ND
Team Health Over All
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