Both men and women describe infertility as heartbreaking, more stressful than losing a job or getting divorced. Across the United States, approximately 7.5 million women age 15 to 44 have an impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term; about 5 million men have a fertility problem.
Most male infertility is due to low sperm counts, poor sperm quality or sperm mobility. Other problems are similar to those women face, such as structural issues with the reproductive organs, anatomical conditions, hormone imbalances, genetic factors, and environmental toxins. “When it comes to uncovering the root cause of infertility,” says women’s health expert Dr. Judith Thompson, N.D. “a common misconception is that it’s hormone levels and if we adjust the hormones enough, a couple can get pregnant.” In reality, several interrelated factors influence fertility.
In assessing infertility, naturopathic physicians evaluate a patient’s overall well-being: the effect of stress on hormone levels, diet and exercise habits, exposure to environmental toxins, the function of the endocrine, digestive, and immune systems and the unique design of a person’s reproductive anatomy and physiology. They evaluate the man’s sperm and test for hormone imbalances in men and women, as well as thyroid function, vitamin levels, and metabolic function. They then work with patients to correct imbalances and create an optimal environment for conception and pregnancy.
Five Ways to Enhance Fertility:
1.) Nourish your endocrine system. Support the ovaries or testes, thyroid, and adrenal glands by eating organic, whole foods including nuts, seeds, fish, and avocados, as well as foods high in vitamin C. Oysters, rich in zinc, enhance male fertility and bolster a woman’s immune system. Avoid GMO containing foods, as well as soy, which may have a negative effect on reproductive function in certain individuals. “It is important to avoid foods that are stressful to the body,” says Dr. Thompson. “One of the biggest culprits is coffee. It dehydrates and depletes vital nutrients from the body. It puts the body into a higher alert mode, which decreases the body’s ability to become pregnant.”
2.) Make wise lifestyle choices. Forego high intensity exercises like hot yoga, Crossfit, marathon running, and triathlons. “Intense exercise puts the body into high stress mode. It sends the body the message that there is a lot of demand for resources and it is not a desirable time for pregnancy,” says Dr. Thompson. Opt for slow yoga, walking, swimming, and bicycling. Don’t smoke, as it decreases oxygen to tissues and affects the placenta. Avoid alcohol. Make time to meditate because it relaxes all nerve signals and allows the body to function better.
3.) Use quality nutritional supplements. The herb Aletris farinosa (aka True Unicorn) supports a toned uterus and minimizes possibility of miscarriage. Calcium-d-glucarate helps maintain a healthy estrogen and progesterone balance, increasing chances of pregnancy. Other supplements, including pre-natal vitamins, may be recommended by your health practitioner.
4.) Establish strong emotional supports. Stress, anxiety and fluctuating emotions: they increase cortisol production, which can affect the ability to become pregnant and also interfere with a baby’s development. Seek out a counselor who specializes in fertility issues, a fertility support group, or a faith-based group to help you manage difficult emotions.
5.) Working with fertility is about getting to know yourself and your needs – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, while healing the things that need healing and nurturing the parts that need nurturing.
You’ve likely never heard of Calcium-D-Glucarate (CDG), a salt-based substance produced naturally by humans and animals and found in many fruits and vegetables. It’s most abundant in oranges, grapefruit, and cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and cabbage.
When treating infertility, natural medicine physicians will use CDG to facilitate liver detoxification, a process directly linked to estrogen metabolism. According to Judith Thompson, ND, this is especially relevant for women who have conditions such as PCOS or endometriosis in which metabolism may be impaired due to a buildup of estrogen levels. In response to this “excess estrogen” the body perceives progesterone levels to be low and may respond by “thinking” it doesn’t have enough progesterone to maintain a pregnancy. Other medical conditions (e.g., damage to ovaries, ovulation problems) are associated with excess estrogen and thus can hinder pregnancy.
By supplementing with Calcium-D-Glucarate, the ratio of progesterone and estrogen can be brought into balance through optimal detoxification. There are no known contraindications, but CDG can affect how the liver metabolizes other medications. Therefore, it should be used under the careful supervision of a qualified health practitioner.
Women’s Fertility Herb: True Unicorn
Stargrass, Blazing Star, True Unicorn… quite magical names for this wildflower with its tall, sturdy round stem from which a cluster of tiny, white urn-shaped flowers blossom. True Unicorn has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to support women’s reproductive health, including menstrual disorders and infertility. In native cultures, the herb was given to women with a history of miscarriage.
True Unicorn is most commonly used with women who have a “weak uterus,” meaning they have very light menstrual flows or have anemia. This herb helps to tone and strengthen the uterus before pregnancy and is good for balancing hormones. It has been used to help women get pregnant and to help maintain healthy pregnancy. However, it has estrogenic properties and is not used during the course of pregnancy.
When used by qualified practitioners, only very small doses are prescribed. Since there have not been any published human clinical trials on Aletris farinosa, clinicians base their recommendations on case studies and the long history of use in traditional medicine.
Folate is essential for fertility; it helps line a woman’s womb with nutrients that nourish the womb and increase the chance for sperm survival. And Brussel sprouts are high in this critical element. Additionally, they contain phytonutrients that help optimize estrogen metabolism and support the body’s detoxification process. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, which is good for the body, as inflammation can interfere with many physiological processes, including conception.
Research shows that a deficiency of folate during pregnancy has been linked to birth defects – without folate, the fetus’ nervous system cells do not divide properly. Consuming whole foods that are naturally rich in folate can help reduce the risk of miscarriage and birth defects. In addition to Brussel sprouts, consider these other foods rich in folate: dark leafy greens, papaya, lentils, avocado and beets.
Eat Your Sprouts: Shopping and Cooking Tips
Brussels sprouts are available year-round but the peak-growing season is from autumn through early spring. If possible to buy sprouts still attached to the stalk for optimal freshness. Brussels sprouts should be firm, compact and vivid green. Avoid those with holes in their leaves or you may find insects crawling inside the sprout. To prepare sprouts, remove stems and leaves; wash well under fresh water and soak in a bowl to remove any debris that may be stuck within the ball. However you choose to cook sprouts, cut an X shape into the bottom for even heating throughout.
Crispy Brussels Sprouts & 7 Ways to Love ‘Em!
Before you frown at the thought of biting into a bitter Brussels sprout, try these exquisitely seasoned sprouts. Seasoned with aromatic Harissa Spice Blend and coconut oil, these roasted sprouts are a mouth-watering surprise with almost caramelized bottoms and crispy on-the-outside, tender on-the-inside texture. Don’t miss the seven alternative ways to season and/or dip ’em!
2 pounds of Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved, outer leaves removed (6 cups prepped)
2 tablespoons of organic sunflower oil
1 tablespoon of organic olive oil
1 teaspoon of dry Harissa spice blend (paprika, caraway, chili pepper, cayenne pepper, coriander, cumin, garlic, peppermint, sea salt)
3/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
With a paring knife, trim off the ends of the sprouts and slice in half lengthwise. Remove any loose outer leaves. Place the prepped sprouts into a large bowl.
Add the sunflower oil onto the sprouts in the bowl and stir or toss with hands until thoroughly coated. Add the Harissa spice and salt. Stir until combined.
Spread the Brussels sprouts onto the prepared baking sheet in a uniform layer. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper.
Roast the sprouts for 20 minutes, then flip with spatula, and continue roasting for another 5-15 minutes until browned to your liking. If you prefer very crisp sprouts, you can “overcook” these until very brown, but not blackened. Smaller sprouts will brown faster than larger ones.
Drizzle with olive oil and quickly toss to coat. This infuses with flavor and moistens them a bit after roasting. Sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds if you have some on hand. Taste and add another tiny pinch of salt, if desired, and serve immediately – the hotter the better.
Seasoning and Dipping Alternatives for Crispy Sprouts
Drizzle with pomegranate molasses or balsamic reduction with pomegranate arils (very festive!) – you can skip the Harissa seasoning here.
Garlic infused – try minced garlic cloves, garlic-infused oil, garlic salt
Teriyaki sauce – pairs well with sesame seeds
Barbecue sauce (sprinkled on or used for dipping)
Coconut curry sauce or your favourite curry powder
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (or flavor of your choice)
Ground toasted nuts or seeds like pecans or sesame seeds.
Kegels and Pelvic Floor Weakness
You’ve likely heard about the importance of Kegel exercises – aka training of pelvic floor muscles, which include the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. Important for both men and women, especially when trying to conceive.
Kegel Exercises help increase blood flow to the pelvic region which can nourish the tissue with hormones; increase blood flow to ovaries and uterus, enhancing likelihood of release of an egg; support healthy development of the uterine lining/ placenta should pregnancy occur; bring nutrient rich blood to the prostate and promote healthy sperm production; enhance sexual pleasure.
Typical causes of weak pelvic muscles include being overweight, certain surgical procedures, the aging process, excessive strain during exercise pregnancy and vaginal delivery.
Common signs of pelvic weakness:
Leaking a few drops of urine when you laugh, sneeze, or cough.
Continuing to “dribble” after you’ve left the toilet (men).
Never feel like you can “hold it” and often rush to the bathroom. .
How to Perform Kegel Exercises
Find the right muscles: Women can do this by stopping urination in midstream.
Men need to tense the muscles that prevent passing gas or stopping the flow of urine. Once you’ve identified the muscles, you can do the exercises in any position, although it may be easiest to do them lying down at first.
Contract the muscles slowly. Hold for five seconds; slowly release for a count of five. Repeat five times. Work up to ten times, five sets per day.
Tighten only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Breathe freely during the exercises.
If you’re having trouble finding or contracting the pelvic floor muscles, make an appointment with your physician for evaluation and education.
Infertility and Natural Medicine Infertility and Natural Medicine
CDC.com “Infertility.” Key Statistics from the national Survey of Family Growth (date 2011-2013) https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/infertility.htm Resolve: The National Infertility Association. http://www.resolve.org/about/fast-facts-about-fertility.html Reproductive Medicine Associates of NJ. Infertility in America: 2015 Survey and Report. http://www.rmanj.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/RMANJ_Infertility-In-America-SurveyReport-_04152015.pdf
Patisaul, Heather B., and Wendy Jefferson. “The Pros and Cons of Phytoestrogens.” Frontiers in neuroendocrinology 31.4 (2010): 400–419. PMC. Web. 9 July 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/ University of Maryland Medical Center. “Infertility in Men.” http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/infertility-in-men NIH. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “How common is male infertility and what are its causes.” https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menshealth/conditioninfo/Pages/infertility.aspx
Renter, E. “Three Winter Foods to Increase Fertility” naturalsociety.com Accessed 3 June 2017: http://naturalsociety.com/winter-foods-increased-fertility/ World’s Healthiest Foods: Brussels Sprouts. Accessed 3 June 2017: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=10
Wilson, D. R. et al., “Pre-conceptional Vitamin/Folic Acid Supplementation 2007: The Use of Folic Acid in Combination With a Multivitamin Supplement for the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects and Other Congenital Anomalies.” J. Obstetrics & Gyn Canada, (2007) 29:12; 1003-1013. Available via https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1701-2163(16)32685-8 Twight, J.M., et al., “Preconception Folic Acid Use Modulates Estradiol and Follicular Responses to Ovarian Stimulation.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. (2011) Feb;96(2):E322-9. Accessed 3 June 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21123447
Crispy Brussels Sprouts & Seven Ways to Love ‘Em!
Recipe Adapted from: Oh! She Glows. http://ohsheglows.com/2015/11/21/mouth-watering-crispy-brussels-sprouts-plus-7-ways-to-flavour-them/
“Gut Metabolism of Glucaric Acid,” Alternative Med Review (Monograph, 2002) 7:4, 336-339. http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/7/4/336.pdf
Dwivedi C, Heck WJ, Downie AA, et al. “Effect of calcium glucarate on beta-glucuronidase activity and glucarate content of certain vegetables and fruits”. Biochem Med Metab Biol 1990;43:83-92. Accessed 5 June 2017: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2346674
Women’s Fertility Herb: True Unicorn (Aletris farinosa)
Natural Center for Homeopathy: Aletris farinosa. Accessed 4 June 2017: http://www.homeopathycenter.org/remedy/aletris-farinosa-0
Butler, C. L. and Costello, C. H. (1944), Pharmacological Studies. I. Aletris farinos. J. Pharm. Sci., 33: 177–183. doi:10.1002/jps.3030330605 Accessed 15 June 2017: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jps.3030330605/abstract Drugs.com. Aletris. Accessed 4 June 2017: https://www.drugs.com/npp/aletris.html Wildflower.org Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Plant Database: Aletris farinosa. Accessed 4 June 2017: https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ALFA2
Pelvic Muscle Training
MayoClinic Online. “Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women.” Accessed 5 June 2017: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/womens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises/art-20045283 “Kegel exercises for men: Understand the benefits.” Accessed 5 June 2017: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/mens-health/in-depth/kegel-exercises-for-men/art-20045074 Healthline.com “Kegel Exercises” Accessed 5 June 2017: http://www.healthline.com/health/kegel-exercises#purpose2