Can fertility be increased? If so, what can you do to increase your fertility?
When you look at the many factors which are important for a successful conception, it’s a wonder humans are able to reproduce at all!
Male and female fertility both rely on a delicate balance of hormones. These can be influenced by environmental factors ranging from the food we eat to toxins in the environment, age, stress and other emotions, illness, physical activity – even the temperature.
One of the key factors which women can do to increase fertility is to be aware of their usual cycle and the influence of external factors.
For men, an understanding of their own fertility and steps to better sperm health are also a critical component of increasing a couple’s fertility.
Sperm take around three months to develop in the testes before travelling through the epididymis where they mature over 2 to 10 days. During ejaculation, sperm are transported to the urethra where they combine with seminal fluid from seminal vesicles, prostate and Cowper’s glands.
Activities and environmental influences during this window of time can affect the quality of sperm produced over the next three months.
Trying to get pregnant can be an exciting, emotional and at times traumatic journey and couples who are going through this experience can feel very vulnerable. In this instant-gratification society, if you don’t fall pregnant in one or two months, it could be easy to reach for the credit card and try to buy your way to increased fertility.
Just be aware that you may be feeling a little sensitive at this time and so it’s probably even more important to check for evidence before signing up for any ”sound too good to be true” fertility deals.
There are many, many websites, advertisements and services that offer all sorts of amazing products that promise to increase fertility – from goji berries to mojo powder, they all seem to involve sending a cheque and crossing your fingers.
It’s quite possible that some of these products may actually help increase fertility, but there are lots of proven, evidence-based simple strategies that you should try first – and these don’t usually cost money and might even save you some dollars.
There is solid evidence that smoking tobacco or marijuana, drinking alcohol and coffee and taking recreational drugs all have a negative effect on fertility.
A large number of studies have found that smoking has an adverse effect on both male and female fertility.
In women, cigarette smoking can disrupt egg maturation, follicle development, ovulation frequency and fertilisation rates, with eggs exposed to nicotine having higher levels of chromosomal abnormalities. Smokers also have increased rates of miscarriage and less success of a positive pregnancy with IVF.
In men, smoking lowers sperm count and motility and has been found to increase abnormalities of sperm shape and function.
Even relatively small amounts of alcohol can have an adverse effect on both male and female fertility.
Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption in women is linked to increased miscarriage risks, hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian dysfunction, ovulation dysfunction, luteal phase defect and abnormal development of the endometrial lining.
Moderate to high levels of alcohol consumption in men is linked to abnormal liver function, raised oestrogen levels (interfering with sperm development) and a significant drop in sperm numbers.
There are a number of studies that show direct links between high levels of daily caffeine consumption (more than 300mg a day) and low fertility in both males and females. And continued high intake of caffeine during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage.
Many fertility experts suggest that couples who are keen to fall pregnant cut caffeine from their diets.
Try to stick to a balanced diet that follows the healthy diet principles of loads of fruit and vegetables (particularly green leafy vegetables and legumes), low-GI complex carbohydrates and low-fat protein including meat, poultry and fish.
Dairy foods appear to have positive benefits in supporting conception.
Avoid fatty foods, highly processed foods and foods high in sugar as these can impact hormone balance.
Trans-fats may impact on fertility. These can be found in highly-processed foods such as chips cooked in fat, some highly processed cereals, pastries and pies, some cakes, and even pizza.
While fish can be an important part of a healthy diet, increasing levels of toxins and heavy metals may make some fish a risky food choice when you are trying to maximise your fertility.
Smaller fish like sardines and anchovies tend to have a lower risk of toxins and are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids but larger fish like shark (often called flake) can be higher in heavy metals like mercury.
Avoid soft drinks, and even high levels of coffee and tea. Herbal teas and water are the best drinks. Fruit juice is high in fructose which can interfere with the sensitivities of insulin and other hormone balance.
Check your cleaning cupboard – if you’re a keen user of chemical cleaners, this could be a good time to switch to low-toxin and more “natural” products.
Avoid using pesticide sprays – try a fly swat and liberal doses of harmless pest-deterrents like lemon oil, citrus and cloves. The catnip plant makes a good roach deterrent, especially when brewed into a cockroach ‘herbal tea’ that can be sprayed at points of entry.
The human body is a complex creature. Not enough physical exercise can reduce fertility in both males and females – but too much activity will also have a negative effect on fertility.
Aim for a healthy balance of diet, exercise, sleep and activity. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any individual concerns which you feel may be impacting your fertility.
By Fran Molloy, journalist and mum of four