With Beltane welcoming the month of May, you may have noticed birds flitting from tree to tree and bees buzzing from flower to flower. Fertility is the message Spring sends in a dozen different, colorful ways! Are the birds and the bees inspiring you to start a family soon? If so, keep reading to discover some surprising suggestions that may increase your ability to conceive.
Avoid Plastic Bottles or BPA
You may not be thinking about how fertility is related to the cups that contain your iced lattes and fruit smoothies, but it’s important to consider the startling impact that plastic has on your hormones. Specifically BPA, or bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used in a variety of plastics since the 1950s. This type of plastic is most often found in single-use containers that store food and beverages, such as water bottles, as well as the lining of metal food cans or bottle tops and even dental sealants. Studies show that BPA disrupts endocrine (or hormonal) pathways because it mimics estrogen and blocks testosterone synthesis as well as thyroid activity. Though BPA’s effect on hormones is very weak, it can accumulate in tissues over time, thus leading to reproductive issues such as poor semen quality, undescended testicles, testicular cancer, as well as polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and ovarian follicle loss.
To decrease your exposure to BPA, bring a reusable beverage container made of glass, stainless steel, or porcelain during your next trip to your local coffee shop. Also, look for BPA-free canned beans and soups, and don’t put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher as heat encourages the leaching of BPA into your meals or coffee.
Get Regular (and More) Amounts of Sleep
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that a third of Americans suffer from sleep-related problems, and log less than the recommended amount, which is at least 7 hours per night. Sleep deprivation and irregular sleeping patterns not only lead to adverse health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression, but they can also lower sex drive. More importantly in relation to fertility, a lack of sleep quantity and quality disrupts estrogen, testosterone, and other reproductive hormones, creating reproductive health conditions, such as increasingly painful menses, menstrual irregularities, reduced rates of conception, and increased miscarriages. It turns out that the part of the brain responsible for regulating hormones like melatonin and cortisol also regulates reproductive hormones, so when one is disrupted, the others are as well.
Make sleep hygiene a priority even if you aren’t trying to conceive, as research shows it can lengthen your life and protect you from a myriad of health issues. A few suggestions you could try are:
- Darken your bedroom with black-out curtains and dim the brightness on digital clocks.
- Go to sleep around the same time every night (even on weekends) to help regulate your circadian rhythms.
- Lower the thermostat to ideally around 65°F as your body temperature drops during sleep and a cooler room will help you keep sawing those ZZ’s.
- If you’re hungry before bed, choose light snacks such as oatmeal, yogurt, a handful of nuts or fruit and avoid spicy, sugary, or rich foods, alcohol, and caffeinated beverages. Drinking a glass of milk (or non-dairy milk) mixed with a pinch of nutmeg and a spoonful of honey can also help, as nutmeg contains a chemical called trimyristin that relaxes muscles and calms nerves. Careful not to use too much however as large amounts of nutmeg can induce hallucinations and be toxic, even fatal.
- The most challenging, yet most effective sleep hygiene tip is to turn off all electronic devices 30 minutes before bedtime. Artificial light, especially blue light from phones and computers, affects your circadian rhythm by increasing alertness and cognitive performance, while also inhibiting melatonin production.
Don’t Wait Too Late
More and more American families are waiting to have children. In fact, since 1980, 60% more women over the age of 35 are giving birth whereas the birth rate in women between 20 and 34 increased only 10%. 40% more men over 40 became fathers since 1980, while the incidence of fatherhood actually dropped by 15% in men under the age of 30. Many couples delay starting a family as they are busy obtaining advanced educational credentials or building professional careers. Could this be you? While you may feel that it is wise to wait until you’re on more secure financial footing or have a well-established career, here are a few facts to contemplate as you plan a family. A crucial truth is that women are born with a fixed number of eggs in their ovaries and that number decreases as they age, while the likelihood that their remaining eggs will have abnormal chromosomes increases in their “older” years.
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1 in 4 women in their 20s and early 30s can conceive during a single menstrual cycle but by age 40, that statistic drops to 1 in 10. The risk of miscarriage and complications such as gestational diabetes, placenta detachment, caesarean section and still births also increase in women over 35. And men are not immune from the effects of aging on their fertility. Though men continue to produce sperm their entire adult lives, sperm motility decreases 0.8% per year while normal sperm morphology decreases between 0.2 to 0.9% per year. Testosterone, which is essential for the formation of sperm, also decreases by 2% a year. It also takes longer for partners of men over 40 to conceive – if both partners are under 25, it can typically take 5 months, while if the man is 40 or over it can take up to 2 years. The time may never be “just right” to start a family, but if it's sooner than later, the chances of a smooth pregnancy followed by a healthy child are certainly higher.
Speaking of Weight
Whether male or female, maintaining a healthy weight – or a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 24.9 – is key to fertility. While BMI has been criticized for not accurately identifying whether or not a person is healthy, many studies confirm that a person’s risk of premature death and health conditions such as type 2 diabetes as well as heart, kidney and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases increase with a BMI greater than 30. For those who are overweight and looking to conceive, polycystic ovarian syndrome and metabolic syndrome are the most frequent issues among women, whereas overweight men are 11% more likely to have a low sperm count and 39% more likely to have no sperm in their ejaculate. Alternatively, according to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, being underweight (with a BMI under 18.5) can also cause problems with pregnancy if you are female, as your body may stop making estrogen, creating irregular menstrual cycles or you may cease ovulating and menstruating altogether. Premature birth and lower birth weights are also conditions related to mothers being underweight. Among men, a low body mass index is correlated with low semen quality, including sperm count and motility as well as volume.
Besides BMI, here are 3 alternate ways to gauge your health:
- Body fat measurements, such as skinfold calipers, help you determine how much subcutaneous fat you carry – if the thickness goes down over time you are probably losing fat. The caliper is used to pinch skin near your belly button, armpit, back of your arm, shoulder blade or just above your hip bone and the measurement (usually in millimeters) is entered into a body composition calculator. Another, perhaps more accurate tool, is a bio impedance “smart scale” – a scale that besides telling you your weight also determines your body fat percentage by sending an electrical impulse through your body, measuring your body fat by how quickly the impulse returns to the scale (as electricity moves more quickly through water and blood than fat and bone).
- Waist circumference is arguably a better indicator of health, as excessive fat around the abdomen has been linked to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that obesity-related health issues are more likely to arise with a waist of 35 inches or more in women and a waist of 40 inches or more in men. But how exactly do you measure your waist circumference? Here is a guide to doing it right: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2bmwZtZMv4
- Waist to Height Ratio, a tool similar to BMI in evaluating health, has been found to be even more accurate than both BMI and waist circumference when assessing risk factors related to cardiovascular conditions such as stroke or heart attack as well as diabetes. To calculate your Waist to Height Ratio, divide your waist circumference by your height. The National Institute of Health Care and Excellence states that a healthy waist to height ratio is between 0.4 to 0.49.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is defined by metabolic and hormonal imbalances which affect how regularly eggs are released from the ovaries, making it currently one of the leading causes of infertility among women. The main symptoms include:
- Irregular menstrual cycles in which menses may occur too often (less than every 21 days), or not often enough (less than 8 times a year).
- Irregular hair growth or loss where there is either too much facial hair growth or hair loss on the scalp such as male-pattern baldness. 70% of all women with PCOS experience facial hair growth, due to high levels of androgens, hormones carried by both sexes, but typically in higher amounts among males.
- Acne or oily skin on the face, chest and upper back, also caused by high levels of androgens.
- Obesity plays a big role in PCOS as almost 80% of all women with PCOS are overweight or have trouble losing weight.
- Darkened skin patches, also known as acanthosis nigricans, along the neck, groin, or underneath breasts.
- Skin tags or small excess flaps of skin in the armpits or neck area.
What causes PCOS? Researchers are still pinpointing an exact cause and believe that genetics may play a role. What is known is that insulin resistance – which is much more common in women who are overweight – causes the ovaries to release high levels of androgens, and this in turn suppresses ovulation, leading to infertility, as well as painless, fluid-filled ovarian cysts (hence the name polycystic ovary syndrome). As of yet there is no cure for PCOS, but because insulin resistance and body mass have such a huge impact on symptoms, physical exercise, weight loss of at least 5%, and a healthy diet are crucial to managing it and increasing the chances of regular menses and ovulation cycles. Besides lifestyle changes, if you have been diagnosed with PCOS and are trying to conceive, talk to your doctor about ovulation-inducing drugs, removing tissues in ovaries that produce androgens surgically, and in vitro fertilization.
Preparing for Pregnancy
Avoiding toxins like BPA, maintaining a healthy weight, and sleeping more regularly all have one thing in common – improving and maintaining hormonal balance. Fertility boils down to supporting your endocrine system, which produces hormones that naturally ebb and flow, whether you are male, female or identify as non-binary. The more you can support this natural system, the more fertile you will be. Comprising of a blend of herbs that harmonize sexual hormones, strengthen the uterus, and increase libido, Fertile Grounds Tincture or Tea Blend can be of great assistance. It contains Chaste Berry which optimizes progesterone levels, thus balancing menstrual cycles and promoting ovulation. Acting as a sister herb to Chaste Berry, Black Cohosh Root is an anti-inflammatory herb that also stimulates the release of progesterone, inducing ovulation and increasing fertility rates. Dong Quai is considered a uterine tonic as it both relaxes and stimulates uterine tissue and improves blood flow, reducing the presence of fibroids. It also has menstrual-regulating effects, especially for those whose menses cycles are scant or absent. Red Raspberry Leaf is packed with plant-based progesterone which, similarly to Chaste Berry, supports ovulation and helps sustain a healthy pregnancy. And like Dong Quai, Raspberry Leaf has a soothing effect on uterine muscles, decreasing the likelihood of miscarriage while increasing the likelihood of embryo attachment to the uterine wall. Oatstraw is a nourishing herb high in calcium, magnesium and B vitamins that supports the eventual formation of a healthy baby while easing nervous tension and stress that the process of family planning may generate. Horny Goat Weed is known to normalize cortisol, a stress hormone which can dampen libido, while increasing blood flow to sexual organs, making it a wonderful, all-natural aphrodisiac! Perfectly paired with Horny Goat Weed is Maca Root, a nutrient-dense turnip that grows in the Andes and has been shown to increases libido, as well as improve mood and energy levels. Clearly, Fertile Grounds addresses many of the issues that you likely may be facing as you begin your journey toward parenthood.
With any hormonal balancing treatment, give yourself at least 3 months of regular consumption of these herbs before expecting to see changes. Combined with the tools above, you can take your first steps as a future parent armed with empowerment, knowledge, and confidence.