I never set out to study and help others with fertility issues, but life has a funny way of bringing things full circle. To be completely open and honest, I do not have children, and that is what lead me down this path. The first cervical cancer diagnosis at 19, followed by surgeries and more diagnoses over three years, left me reeling with the realization that my lifelong dream of being a mother may not come to fruition. At that time, my research began simply centered around cancer: what, why, and how. This quickly led to the rabbit hole of research of female hormones and the endocrine system and ultimately left me staring at a harsh reality and a big decision. Throughout the diagnoses, there was one common denominator: Me. It was time to change everything I had ever known to a new healing lifestyle. With that said, I am not a doctor, and this should not be considered medical advice. But I am a woman who intimately knows the pain of an uncertain future, the loneliness, and the loss of self-worth that comes with losing what is supposed to be a natural part of womanhood.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex. The current official statistics on fertility range quite a bit, but it is widely accepted that at least one out of four couples struggle to get pregnant or have a successful pregnancy. This is quite alarming and begs the question of why. And that is where this gets tricky because there are so many factors to consider in today’s world. My hope is that this brief overview of what affects fertility may be a starting point on the journey of healing and family planning. I do say “family planning” because, ideally, these are considered and worked on before trying to conceive. A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have; therefore, everyday decisions will affect the outcome every day of her life. You would not plant a garden in a barren, depleted, toxic field. You would first work to revitalize the soil before planting the seed, and fertility should not be approached differently. It is human life at stake, after all.
Trauma and Stress
Whether in childhood or recently, trauma is an established factor in the menstrual cycle and fertility health. Recent studies of over 70,000 women have shown at least 13% of those who experienced abuse in some form struggled with infertility. Further research is still needed to pinpoint the exact mechanisms at play with this psychosomatic situation, but general counseling is a great place to start healing.
Stress can come in many forms, and none are less important than others. Elevated alpha-amylase levels, a stress marker enzyme found in saliva, have been found in at least 29% of women struggling with infertility. Mindfulness, meditation, a new hobby, and counseling are shown to decrease this enzyme.
We started above with the mental/emotional side of infertility causes, and the gut is known as the second brain, so it only makes sense to address this next. Again, many factors are at play with gut health. The gut does not merely digest food; the gut influences the health of every bodily system. It is responsible for your immune system’s proper function, how you think and feel, and hormone synthesis and excretion. Women with recurrent pregnancy loss or infertility have been found to have a much higher prevalence of undiagnosed gut disorders, including abnormal permeability, bacterial overgrowth, Celiac disease, and other food sensitivities and inflammation. A comprehensive stool analysis, food sensitivity, and serum antibodies test are a great place to start addressing these issues.
Yet another multifaceted consideration: Toxins. These come in many forms: from textiles to antibiotics, vaccines, birth control, mold, pesticides, plastic, personal care products, and chemicals in water/air/food. That can seem overwhelming! In today’s generally toxic world, all we can do is be informed and make informed decisions. If you know you want to have a family, it is more than worth doing your best every day to limit your exposure. Simple tricks such as choosing glass over plastic, using jojoba oil over the newest trendy moisturizer or a menstrual cup over pesticide-soaked tampons, not hanging around cigarette smoke, eating organic food and drinking filtered water, wearing organic clothes not drenched in flame retardants (at minimum, your undies should be organic!), using nontoxic cleaning supplies, and testing your home for radon can drastically improve your fertility. I always highly recommend at least weekly detox baths, as well. Specifically, watch out for and avoid mold, pesticides, phthalates, PFC’s, BPA’s, Glycol Ethers, and dioxins.
Stealth infections are bacterial or viral infections that reside within the cells and can hide from the immune system. These can include Epstein Barr Virus, Lyme Disease, Streptococcus, and Borrelia Burgdorferi. These hidden microbes can lead to persistent immune problems that result in autoimmunity, damage to cell membranes, and disorders of the central and peripheral nervous systems. This literally makes for an uninhabitable environment for growing a baby. Proper nutrition, supplementation, reducing systemic inflammation, supporting energy production, and breaking down biofilms to enable the immune system to attack stealth pathogens is critical.
It is not uncommon to hear or even say, “It’s genetic.” But emerging research has shown we should definitely question this. Epigenetics refers to the modification of gene expression, but not changes in the gene itself. Yes, we are born with specific genes. No, those genes do not always express themselves. Basically, our environment frequently “turns on or off” genes. This recognition is revolutionizing the medical field. One particular focus has been on the MTHFR gene. No, this isn’t a cuss word. Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase is quite the mouthful! Put merely, MTHFR mutation in the enzyme that converts folate to the usable form of 5-methyltetrahyrdafolate affects hundreds of chemical reactions within the body. These impact the bodies ability to absorb and utilize folate and other B vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids, maintain proper methylation, production of essential neurotransmitters, ability to make and maintain DNA/RNA/SAMe, the formation of red and white blood cells, energy production, ability to detoxify, antioxidant production, stress and inflammation response and many more! This goes to show how the environmental factors listed above impact our genes and DNA.
Hormones are best thought of as a chemical communication system used by the body to regulate growth, reproduction, and other processes. The endocrine system is a complex network of glands that produce, store, and release hormones. These include the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, adrenal glands, and the pancreas. Hormone imbalance is often referred to as specific conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, anovulation, or endometriosis. However, just addressing these as a condition instead of the underlying causes and hormone imbalance locations misses the boat. “Hormone imbalance” is typically the RESULT of the other considerations mentioned above. Never stop at the explanation of “Oh, it’s just a hormone imbalance.” Always question WHY hormone balance is off, starting with taking a long hard look at all the above factors. Fertility, or the lack thereof, should have a fully systemic approach as it will likely have a multisystemic answer.
Erin Crawford is Relentless Forever’s integrated nutritional coach. Her specialization is nutrition with an emphasis on fertility in helping women maximize their ability for a successful pregnancy. She is currently taking on clients from all backgrounds. Message the site if you are interested in working with her on your nutrition and your fertility.