One in six UK couples have difficulty conceiving a baby within one year of trying (having sex every two to three days) if the woman is under 40. In addition, of those couples who do not conceive in the first year about half will do so in the second year of trying for a baby.
Fortunately, now there is a much greater help and acknowledgement of the challenges both emotionally and physically couples face if there are unable to conceive.
Now with the help of IVF, Donor Sperm, Artificial Insemination, Fertility Drugs, Donor Eggs, Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection there is array of medical options available to assist the couple who are have difficulties conceiving.
Although, there is a lot more help and options available for couples with fertility problems it can be still a challenging time. Several studies have demonstrated that Acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increase blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the endocrine (hormonal) system.
In fact when used in conjunction with western fertility treatments (as mentioned above), acupuncture increases conception rates by 26 percent. When combining with IUI with Acupuncture, 65.5 percent of the test group were able to conceive compared with 39.4 percent of the control group who received no acupuncture.
For the couples who have difficulty conceiving around one third are due to female fertility problems, one third to male fertility and the remaining third is due to unexplained unknown factors!
Firstly, I will discuss female infertility and it’s known causes and lifestyle factors and what can be done and then male infertility and again what can be done.
Most cases of female infertility are caused by problems with ovulation. Without ovulation, there are no eggs to be fertilised. Some signs that a woman is not ovulating normally include irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Ovulation problems are often caused by Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem which can interfere with normal ovulation. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility (classic signs of PCOS are excessive hair growth, acne and being overweight).
Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is another cause of ovulation problems. POI occurs when a woman’s ovaries stop working normally before she is 40. POI is not the same as early menopause.
Less common causes of fertility problems in women include:
Blocked fallopian tubes due to pelvic inflammatory disease can cause scarring of the uterus & Fallopian tubes & Uterus), endometriosis or surgery (scar tissue can form) for an ectopic pregnancy
Physical & other problems with the uterus such as polyps, fibroids (non-cancerous clumps of tissue on the walls of the uterus), t-shaped uterus, thin endometrium lining is less than 6 mm which can make conception and healthy pregnancy challenging.
What things increase a woman’s risk of infertility?
Age (egg quality decreases with age)
Smoking (increase risk of ectopic pregnancy, greater risk of cervical cancer, premature aging of the ovaries, decrease in the number of eggs)
Excess alcohol use (binge drinking of more than 4 drinks in one session is particularly damaging)
Stress (leads to release of hormone Cortisol which upsets the Pituitary balance which is key in reproductive)
Athletic training (regular long distance running can affect hormone balance which can affect ovulation).
Being quite overweight or underweight (women with anorexia nervosa often do not ovulate).
Sexually transmitted infections
Health problems that can cause hormonal changes as mentioned above, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, primary ovarian insufficiency, other chronic health problems uncontrolled diabetes, chronic kidney disease,
A side effect from some medications such as Chemotherapy, street drugs such as Cannabis and Cocaine can also affect the ability to ovulate.
Rare genetic problems that affect the ovaries.
As we can see from the above there are many factors that can affect a woman’s ability to conceive. The good news is there are many things women and men ( see below on Male Infertility) can do to enhance their fertility.
Lifestyle and Fertility.
Getting pregnant is the first part of the story, the next step is maintain a healthy pregnancy.
Both you & your partner are equally important here. Making lifestyle changes in order to get pregnant can be challenging for some but making improvements will improve not only your health, it will give you more energy and increase your ability to conceive.
Diet & Weight
Eat healthy fats. Eliminating trans fats and using more vegetables (unsaturated) oils is good not only for fertility but avoiding heart diseases, damage to blood vessels and improving insulin sensitivity. Nuts, vegetables oils, fish like salmons and sardines and nuts.
Eat protein from vegetables and a small amount of meat (if you eat meat). Proteins from peas, beans, soy and nuts have been shown to improve fertility.
Carbs are important, but slow carbs are a better choice. Food rich in fiber, such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans are rich in carbohydrates that are digested slowly, improving fertility, controlling blood glucose and insulin levels.
Eat your Iron. Iron rich plants such as beans, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, beats and whole grains are all fertility boosters.
Drink a lot of water (but not icy water as this makes your digestion sluggish and will decrease your energy)
When you eat take your time and chew your food, try to eat when not feeling stressed. Stress affects the how we digest our food.
Sleep and Relaxation
Lack of sleep damages fertility. During the night our body recharges itself (a bit like recharging our mobile phones), not only does the body recharge but the mind does as well. The reality before electricity we humans went to bed shortly after the sun set and we got up with the sun. In fact we know that body’s hormonal levels respond to light & dark in a complex way relying on sleeping and waking cycles to establish hormonal balance. Light pollution can affect egg viability. When the sun goes down or the lights go off and you head to dreamland your body produces Melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.
such as having a healthy nutritious diet, reduce weight gradually if overweight, if underweight then increase intake of protein ideally from vegetables such as peas, beans, soy and nuts, have your ideal body mass index between 20 to 24, stop smoking, reduce stress levels and ideally introduce some ‘me time’ everyday, reduce alcohol consumption, get a good night’s sleep, stop taking street drugs, taking regular exercise has been found to increase fertility, stop taking Ibuprofen & non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as research has shown this medication can interfere with the ovulation & the release of the egg from the follicle and in men can reduce sperm count, stop or reduce caffeine levels (this includes coffee, tea,fizzy drinks, , and consider having acupuncture treatment if you are concerned above your fertility.