How to Boost Your Fertility
By Stephanie Deppe, M.D.
Have you been thinking about having a baby? Or maybe you are the one in four women who are struggling to conceive (1). Having gone through my own fertility journey, I know firsthand how challenging and painful that road is to travel. What follows is a brief summary of evidence-based lifestyle changes, key tips, tricks, and supplements that can help you to boost your fertility and have a healthy pregnancy.
Improve your egg quality. Unfortunately, a woman’s fertility naturally declines with age. This is due to hormonal changes and diminishing egg quality, but younger women can also have poor egg quality. Fortunately, however, there are dietary and supplement interventions that can actually help. Supplements for female fertility include vitamin C, vitamin E, CoQ10, and alpha lipoic acid (2,3,4,5). Vitamin E improves uterine thickness, and alpha lipoic acid supports implantation (6,7). Beyond supplementation, it is critical to eat a diet high in vegetables, leafy greens, berries, and other foods that are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants needed to support egg quality and fertility. I highly recommend reading Rebecca Frett’s book, It Starts with the Egg for more information on this topic.
Rule out hormonal imbalances. Women’s hormones naturally fluctuate throughout the cycle. Estrogen rises in the first half of the month until ovulation. Following mid cycle, progesterone continues to rise to a high level where it should stay until menstruation. Hormonal imbalance is a huge factor in female infertility and early pregnancy loss. It is possible to have a hormonal imbalance without experiencing obvious symptoms. It could be that you are ovulating too late or too early in the cycle, or that the second half of the cycle is too short, or that your body doesn’t make enough progesterone to support and maintain implantation. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is another reason that women ovulate irregularly or not at all. See my article on PCOS for further information. A trained functional medicine provider can interpret labs that specifically map hormones throughout the cycle to identify any hormonal imbalances and–if present–make treatment plans to correct these issues.
Make sure you are covering the lifestyle basics. Are you getting adequate sleep? Most people need 7-9 hours per night, and you should awake feeling refreshed. If you don’t, try going to sleep earlier. In the morning, expose your eyes to bright, natural light for 20 minutes first thing in the morning to set your circadian rhythm. If that isn’t an option, use a sun (light therapy) lamp, which is easily found on Amazon. Are you eating well? You should be eating as if you are already pregnant. A pregnancy-friendly diet is rich in whole foods–as discussed above–as well as foods that are high in protein and healthy fats. An ideal diet would include vegetables, leafy greens, fruit in moderation or liberal low-sugar fruit like berries, organic eggs, cold water and wild-caught fish such as salmon, omega-3 fats found in raw nuts, flax and chia seed, avocados, olive oil, lean meat or organic tempeh; red meat in moderation; and plenty of filtered water.
De-stress your life wherever possible. Research has shown an association between emotional stress and difficulty getting pregnant. Unfortunately, this is a rather vicious cycle since infertility can act as a source of stress and perpetuate the problem! Stress activates the hypothalamic pituitary axis. Basically, the brain tells the adrenal glands to release cortisol and adrenaline (ie. the “fight or flight response”), which affects sex hormone levels and ovulation (8). The exact mechanisms behind this relationship are still unclear. That said, don’t let stress discourage you! Instead, try to take control by finding healthy ways to cope with stress. This could include regular exercise, positive relationships, taking on a spiritual or meditative practice, journaling, making less commitments, prioritizing, or therapy. One of my personal favorite strategies for managing stress is Emotional Freedom Technique. I also love the self-hypnosis series from Circle and Bloom, which is specifically focused on fertility. Acupuncture is another great therapy to relieve stress and boost fertility.
Sperm matters, too. Sperm make up half of the equation! If you have a male partner who is trying to conceive with you, he should also be following a healthy lifestyle to optimize sperm health. Eating an antioxidant-rich diet, minimizing exposure to toxins, getting regular exercise (especially strength training), minimizing alcohol, avoiding smoking and marijuana, drinking plenty of filtered water, and taking a high quality multi- vitamin are steps that he can take to improve fertility. Male factor infertility is actually rather common, and so it is wise to have him evaluated if dealing with infertility. In addition, several supplements have been shown to improve male sperm quality, quantity, and motility. These include alpha lipoic acid, L-arginine, vitamin C, CoQ10, and zinc and among others (9,10,11,12,13). Please consult with a physician before starting supplements, especially if you take prescription medications.
To your health,
Infertility | Reproductive Health | CDC [Internet]. www.cdc.gov. 2022. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm#:~:text=Yes.
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