Infertility issues, which seemed so rare 20 years ago, are quite common these days. The most significant factor seems to be the desire couples have to start their families when they’re a little older, after they’ve established themselves in their careers. Clearly this affects a woman’s chances of reproducing, since fertility in women declines after age 35. And conception after age 45 is rather rare. Aside from trying to reproduce earlier in her life, there are some surprisingly simple steps a woman can take to increase her likelihood of becoming pregnant. It amazes me (although perhaps it should not) how little emphasis is placed on lifestyle issues and good nutrition by either gynecologists or infertility specialists. In all parts of the world, “wise women” have been using herbs for centuries to help their infertile daughters.
Today, couples who want children spend a lot of time and money at infertility centers. Although the results from these centers can be very gratifying, you might want to start with some simple steps first and see how things go for three or four months. If you’re currently in treatment for infertility, you can safely follow our suggestions at WholeHealth Chicago right along with your specialist’s recommendations.
What is Female Infertility?
When a woman hasn’t conceived after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse during her most fertile times of the month (before and during ovulation), infertility is a possibility that she and her partner must consider. The problem affects about 10 million Americans. In 40% of infertile couples, it’s the woman who has problems that prevent pregnancy. In another 40% of cases, the primary cause lies with the man. In the remaining 20%, both partners have factors that stand in the way. Because fertility declines with age, a woman who is over 35 is advised to seek help after six months of trying to become pregnant.
- No conception after six months to a year of unprotected intercourse
- Endometriosis, a history of pelvic inflammatory disease or previous pelvic surgery
- Infrequent, irregular or absent menstruation
What Causes Female Infertility?
Under normal circumstances, one of a woman’s ovaries releases an egg (ovum) at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle (this is called ovulation). The egg moves through the Fallopian tube, where fertilization can occur if the couple has intercourse.
An interruption in any part of this sequence can make conception difficult or impossible. Some women ovulate irregularly or not at all. Irregular ovulation becomes more likely as a woman enters her late thirties. Weight problems and heavy exercise can also cause hormone imbalances, disrupting or inhibiting ovulation.
Even if a woman does ovulate, medical conditions such as endometriosis, underactive thyroid, or pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scars and obstructions in the Fallopian tubes that keep egg and sperm apart.
A medical evaluation can often pinpoint the reason for the infertility, but in some cases, extensive testing reveals no cause.
Treatment and Prevention
Before beginning conventional treatments for infertility, which can be expensive, time-consuming, emotionally draining and laden with side effects, it may be worthwhile to consider a course of herbal and nutritional supplements. For many women, these can offer a more convenient, affordable, and equally effective alternative.
Women considering taking supplements for infertility should know that patience is essential because supplements may take three to six months to work. If a woman doesn’t conceive with the help of these strategies, she should be sure to contact a fertility specialist, who would be able to offer a variety of conventional treatments, such as fertility drugs, in-vitro fertilization, and ovum transfer. Usually, supplements for infertility can safely be used along with conventional approaches.
Chronic stress is well known to diminish fertility. Stress-reduction mechanisms, especially meditation and biofeedback, have been shown to increase considerably a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Likewise, acupuncture and Chinese herbs are commonly used to aid fertility and also can assist in stress reduction.
Just a reminder: If you have a serious medical condition or are taking medication, it’s always a wise idea to talk with your doctor before beginning a supplement program.
How Supplements Can Help
Chasteberry, also known as vitex, can help stimulate ovulation and is especially helpful if infertility is due to irregular ovulation. This herb appears to stimulate production of the female hormone progesterone and suppress production of the lactation hormone prolactin, creating a hormonal environment more conducive to ovulation. Chasteberry should be taken on those days each month when you’re not menstruating and stopped altogether if conception occurs.
The herb false unicorn root also appears to prompt ovulation. Known as blazing star, fairywand, and starwort, this root has been called a “uterine tonic” in the past but has not been as widely studied as chasteberry. But like chasteberry, it’s thought to work best taken daily until menstruation begins and stopped if pregnancy occurs.
The B vitamins play a key role in reproductive health and also in early fetal development; folic acid, especially, can prevent certain birth defects. Experts recommend that women trying to conceive take a vitamin B complex supplement that contains vitamin B12, biotin, folic acid, and all other B vitamins, plus extra vitamin B6.
Zinc is a mineral that plays a role in cell division. Those who take zinc daily for more than a month should also take copper to prevent a copper deficit associated with long-term zinc supplementation.
Essential fatty acids, found in evening primrose oil, flaxseed oil or borage oil, can be taken daily to promote the healthy functioning of the uterus and help regulate hormone production. These essential fatty acids should be taken with vitamin E, which also helps stabilize hormones.
Siberian ginseng is likewise important for balancing the hormones and maintaining uterine health. Like other herbs, Siberian ginseng should be stopped if you get pregnant.
Get supplement dosages and tips in our WholeHealth Chicago Supplement Recommendations for Female infertility.
Don’t smoke and reduce or stop your intake of caffeine. Women who do smoke and consume large volumes of caffeine have more trouble conceiving than nonsmoking women.
Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol affects chromosomes and can interfere with conception.
Bring your weight into the normal range using a sensible diet and an exercise plan. This applies not only to women who are overweight but also to those who are underweight.
Don’t overdo exercise. Frequent hard workouts can interrupt the ovulation process.
Use a home ovulation test to pinpoint the time of ovulation. Couples interested in conceiving should have intercourse as soon as ovulation is indicated. The window of opportunity for conception is on that day and the five days before. Ovulation tests may be more useful in providing information about a woman’s monthly pattern. Temperature testing is unreliable and usually by the time the temperature rises ovulation has occurred.
When to Call a Doctor
A doctor visit is in order any time a woman suspects she may have an infertility problem. In all cases, a good thyroid evaluation is important and can be overlooked even at infertility centers.
From David Edelberg, M.D. at WholeHealth Chicago: Sometimes, there’s just no apparent reason why a woman can’t get pregnant. All the tests are normal, and all the parts are in the right place. But fertility is very complex, and probably more related to nutritional issues than many infertility specialists appreciate. Shortages in the body of each of the vitamins and minerals listed here have been associated with infertility.
How to Take the Supplements
The supplements listed here are no cure for infertility, but taken along with a daily high-potency multivitamin and extra antioxidant vitamins, they do actually cover all the aspects of nutrition and natural hormonal balance that may have been overlooked.
The B vitamins and vitamin E all contribute to a healthy reproductive system. In particular, the folic acid in the B complex helps prevent birth defects. Taking additional supplements, however, may be unnecessary as adequate amounts of each of these may already be in your multivitamin.
The essential fatty acids in evening primrose oil (as a source of omega-6 EFA’s) and flaxseed oil (as a source of omega-3’s) promote healthy uterine function.
Chasteberry balances female hormones because an imbalance of the hormones progesterone and prolactin can inhibit ovulation. And zinc, which is enhanced by copper, plays a key role in helping cells divide properly.
This is not a large number of pills by any means, and you should experience no side effects from this gentle program. Stay at these doses for at least a year. And don’t worry about interactions. There’s no problem of interference with any conventional therapies you may be taking; no problems when used with in vitro fertilization, either.
Moreover, you’ll be getting other health benefits, such as great antioxidant protection and essential fatty acids for healthy skin and hair. Should you become pregnant, you can stop everything and just use your basic multivitamins and antioxidants as a fine prenatal care package.
We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet. Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700 ext. 2001.