NUNM students have many opportunities to explore topics, research and areas of practice that interest them. From broad elective choices to research study participation and self study, our students choose the doctor they want to become. Here, Rachel Peterson, naturopathic doctoral student, shares her research and perspectives on boosting fertility using natural medicine.
Whether you’re planning to conceive in 15 years or hoping for a baby any day now, it is important to consider your fertility and hormonal health. The sad reality is that infertility is a nationwide epidemic today, and even when you feel like you’re ready for a baby, your body might not be. To put it in perspective, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that 12.1% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 struggle with infertility, affecting over 7 million American women. It is crucial to prime your body, mind, and spirit for easeful conception and pregnancy. As an added bonus, the essence of fertility is hormonal balance, so establishing a strong foundation early-on incites a lifetime of benefits (clear skin, regular periods, and a healthy libido). Essentially, a healthy lifestyle now may save a world of difficulty later on.
Menstrual Cycle is Key Indicator of Hormonal Health
Observation is your best tool when taking an empowered role in your journey of fertility. Your body is constantly communicating important signals, and as we develop our awareness, we can read these messages and adjust our choices appropriately. Studies show that your menstrual cycle is an indicator of your overall hormonal health. As a first step, work towards establishing regular cycles. Start tracking your cycle and note your ovulation time, for optimal conception. Quality of blood, length of cycle, regularity, and associated symptoms may also be noted. Believe it or not, periods do not have to come with painful cramps, overflowing tampons, bloating, and migraines, and these symptoms actually indicate an imbalance in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone. The color and texture of your blood can provide more information on your specific balance or imbalance. In addition, the length of your cycle (specifically the luteal phase) indicates your progesterone level, and whether you will be able to sustain pregnancy after the initial conception. Contact your healthcare provider for questions and support in alleviating symptoms and correcting underlying hormonal imbalances.
Pay Attention to Stressors, Inflammation and Your Adrenals
Along with a focus on hormone levels, it is equally important to observe your overall health and create a lifestyle of well-being. Studies show that inflammation is a huge obstacle to conception. It is crucial to manage the inflammatory nature of conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and autoimmune disorders. There is a strong link between cortisol and inflammation. You must manage stress and support your adrenal glands to ensure that your body and nervous system will be energetically ready for all the changes that pregnancy brings. Exercise and sleep are important parts of a balanced lifestyle. Also, a large body of research indicates that acupuncture can be a powerful modality in balancing hormones and promoting fertility. Lastly, creating a healthy bacterial balance in the vaginal canal allows the sperm to reach the egg, so chronic yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary tract infections (UTI)s must be treated. If you plan on a vaginal birth, your baby will be directly populated by your bacteria, so establishing a healthy microbiome also creates a healthy postnatal environment for your baby. Make sure to get checked for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), which can create long-lasting fertility issues.
A Balanced Diet is Foundational to High Fertility
When it comes to healing imbalances and optimizing fertility, eating a balanced diet is foundational. Start with a whole foods diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and balanced meals containing protein, healthy fat, and complex carbohydrates. Choose organic foods and cleaning products, as pesticides on food have been associated with infertility in a recent study. Pesticide chemicals are endocrine disruptors, confusing the body’s natural hormone balance. Eliminate processed food, vegetable oils, and added sugars. A study in Human Reproduction found that women who ate junk food four times a week or more had higher infertility rates. Leaving fruit out of the diet was also associated with increased infertility. Caffeine should be avoided, because it can overstimulate the adrenal glands, flare estrogen levels, and deplete B vitamins. Other stimulants, such cigarettes and alcohol, should also be avoided.
What Foods Are Best for Balancing Hormones?
Health coach Alisa Vitti recommends specific foods that balance hormones and support elimination. Buckwheat contains d-chiro-inositol, which eliminates excess testosterone and stabilizes blood sugar levels. Leafy greens contain folic acid, vitamin E, magnesium, and calcium; nutrients that support not only your menstrual cycle, but also the development of the fetal brain and spinal cord. Chickpeas provide a dose of vitamin B6 for optimal progesterone levels. Bee pollen, royal jelly, and honey can support ovarian function. Vitamin D is required for ovulation, and free-range organic eggs provide a nice dose. Sunflower seeds contain zinc, which promotes estrogen and progesterone balance. Omega-3 fatty acids are important in decreasing inflammation, regulating hormones, and increasing blood flow to the uterus, ovaries, and vagina. Salmon, oysters, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts are good sources of omega-3s. Found in avocados, almonds, and cashews, monounsaturated fat has also been associated with increased fertility. Cinnamon helps to balance blood sugar and improves ovulation. Lastly, add turmeric to any meal for an anti-inflammatory benefit. Make sure to couple the spice with black pepper for maximal bioavailability.
What Supplements Support Fertility?
Supplements can further support healthy hormones, menstrual cycles, and fertility. Your healthcare provider can help you determine whether these herbs might work for you. A Chinese herbal blend containing dong quai may support the development of a healthy endometrium (the uterine lining). Omega-3 supplements are also estrogen-aiding, along with Vitamin D3. Studies have shown Vitamin D deficiency to be associated with infertility, so supplementing with Vitamin D and getting regular blood testing may be beneficial, if it is recommended by your doctor. A B6 supplement, along with B-vitamin rich foods, can also help to increase progesterone. Abnormal levels of FSH or LH can be balanced with daily vitex or white peony supplements, and they work best when prolactin hormone is also elevated. Myo-inositol has been called the “ovary vitamin,” as studies show it is associated with improved egg quality and pregnancy rates, potentially by making the ovaries more responsive to FSH and LH. Combined with D-chiro-inositol, it is a great supplement, especially for women with PCOS. Targeting high androgens and inflammation, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) has been shown to increase glutathione in the ovary and improve fertility. Licorice root can also decrease androgens, with additional anti-inflammatory effects. Lastly, studies show antioxidant coenzyme Q10 may promote regular ovulation.
Never Too Late or Too Early to Prep for Pregnancy
No matter where you’re at in your fertility journey, it is never too late or too early to focus on balancing your cycles and preparing your body for pregnancy. Balancing your hormones and improving your fertility is a long-term, multidimensional journey. Supplements, diet, and lifestyle factors are just a few pieces of the bigger picture: living in a holistic, vital way that supports the creation of life. This article is meant as a starting point to incite a larger conversation. How can you become more aware of your body’s signals? How can you support the monthly shifts in your cycle, and your overall hormonal balance? It might seem like a lot to ponder, but one thing is simple: establishing a healthy, balanced lifestyle today promotes greater health and possibilities for the future.
*Please remember, before adding any vitamins or supplements to your routine or before making any radical changes to your eating habits, to speak to your health care provider first.
More Articles on Women’s Health
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- Vitti A. Woman Code: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. New York, NY: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers; 2014.
- McCulloch F. 8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS: a Proven Program to Reset Your Hormones, Repair Your Metabolism and Restore Your Fertility. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group Press; 2016.
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- Smith N. Diet to help with fertility. Naturopathic Doctor News and Review. https://ndnr.com/naturopathic-news/diet-to-help-with-fertility/. Published June 11, 2018. Accessed January 31, 2019.