Author: Tina Taylor
Simple steps you can take which support your overall health, at the same time improving your chances of conception, a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby. Of course, there are no guarantees, however by taking steps to reduce risks we support optimal outcomes wherever possible. As always it is always best to assess and personalise your plan with your team of health professionals.
Reduce stress levels
Do you consider yourself stressed? You are certainly not alone, there’s a lot going on these days. Even positive or anticipated events can be just as stressful, it all adds to the load.
How does stress affect fertility?
Perceived or actual stress activates our HPA axis (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) to release cortisol, a stress hormone secreted via the adrenals. This then interacts with the HPO axis (Hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis), and stress can delay ovulation and interfere with hormonal balance, which can then dysregulate our hormones, affecting cycle regularity. In men stress can decrease sperm count. In women, chemical alternations occur in uterine and vaginal secretions. These secretions facilitate the movement of sperm and release enzymes in a process known as ‘capacitation’ (allows sperm to penetrate and fertilize ovum), and they also release two enzymes in the sperm that enable breakthrough of the egg coating. Without this process, sperm is literally ‘banging its head against a brick wall’!
So, what can you do about it…naturally?
- Try to remove the stressors, if possible (or reduce them)
- Seek counselling (yes this really helps)
- Try to meditate, and do yoga (yes, this really works too!)
- Exercise a few times a week
- Get enough sleep, go to bed by 10pm, try to get about 8 hours each night
- Consider mindfulness techniques, e.g. free ‘Smiling Mind’ app, or plenty of others available.
- Consult with a Naturopath for a bespoke prescription of herbs and nutrients to help regulate your bodies response to stress and help put the other suggestions into practice.
Important Nutrients, what they do and where to find them:
Support yourself with good nutrition, and nutrients or herbs that support your nervous system (seek professional advice, not all forms of nutrients or herbs are the same quality). Where possible focus on getting these nutrients from your food, and support healthy digestion to absorb our macro and micro nutrients.
- A healthy, nutrient dense, whole foods diet is always the best foundation for health, and healthy fertility.
- Eat adequate protein at each meal, and don’t be afraid of good fats.
- In some cases, it can be a good option to increase certain nutrients (in their correct or absorbable/active form) to boost fertility and reduce risk, always consult a health professional.
Folinic Acid or methylated forms of folate:
Actions: Need doubles during pregnancy, required for healthy foetal development, and to prevent neural tube defects by 80% (400-500mcg per day). Defects occur in the first 22 to 28 days of pregnancy, so ideally take for 3 months prior. Decreases risk of miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, high BP. This nutrient is reduced with the Oral Contraceptive Pill. However, vegetarians and vegans are less likely to be deficient in Folic acid, and more likely to be low in Vitamin B12
Found in: leafy greens, barley, beans, eggs, endives, lentils, liver and organ meats, sprouts, soybeans.
Actions: Necessary for the activation of folic acid, needed for healthy DNA and nervous system tissue. Reduced with the Oral Contraceptive Pill.
Found in: Meat, organ meats, egg yolk, milk, salmon, sardines, Swiss cheese.
Actions: Low zinc status is associated with labour complications, low birth weight and early delivery. Needed for healthy sperm count in men, and egg health in women.
Found in: Beef, capsicum, egg yolks, ginger, liver, milk, lamb, oysters, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, seafood, whole grains.
Essential Fatty Acids:
Action: Need healthy amounts prior to conception for brain and liver development and placental growth. Also needed to support mammary gland and uterine growth. Needed for central nervous system development, which begins a few weeks into conception, at 40 days brainwaves are recordable.
Found in: Omega-3 found in cod liver oil, salmon, cod, sardines, smaller amounts in walnuts and linseed oil, some in sea algae and seaweed.
Action: Essential for healthy thyroid function (and therefore fertility), and for developing nervous tissue and the brain in the foetus.
Found in: Seaweed, asparagus, cod, dairy, garlic, iodized salt, lima beans, mushrooms, sunflower seeds. Note – slightly cook goitrogenic foods, as these decrease iodine (these are the cruciferous vegetables).
Actions: Very important in lead up to and during pregnancy. Necessary for development of bones and teeth in foetus, helps to maintain blood pressure in pregnancy, and maternal health of muscles, nerves, teeth.
Found in: Almonds, broccoli, bone meal, buckwheat, eggs and dairy, leafy greens, molasses, sardines, turnips, soybeans.
Actions: Needed with calcium and Vit D for healthy bones, teeth and nervous system for Mum and baby, helps prevent muscle cramps, and keep blood pressure normal, great for stress.
Found in: Almonds, cod, cashews, eggs, figs, kelp, leafy greens, mineral water, parsnips, molasses.
Actions: Very important for cellular differentiation and growth, development of vertebrae, spinal cord, ears eyes, heart and limbs. Increased demand during pregnancy, so ensure adequate amounts in the lead up. Deficiency in men associated with low sperm count and motility, and infertility in both genders.
Found in: Apricots, barley grass, butter, carrots, egg yolk, fish liver oils, leafy greens, hard and cream cheese, liver, spinach, sweet potatoes.
Actions: An antioxidant and important for healthy membrane in ovaries, helps iron absorption, supports normal sperm, supports the adrenals and helps regulate the stress response.
Found in many fresh fruit and vegetables (eat at least 2 cups per day of fresh, local, in season veggies0
Go organic where possible, this will decrease the chemical burden on the liver, and the body. As a bonus, organic F&V are often higher in phytochemicals/antioxidants.
- Check out the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’ lists:
- Avoid artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, again decrease the chemical burden and further issues.
- Try the ‘Chemical Maze’ app to help identify additives that are an issue.
- Avoid chemical cleaners in the home. Try Norwex or Enjo products, or vinegar, water, tea tree/eucalyptus make-your-own products
- If painting a new nursery, use low or zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints and finishes
Get a health check for both of you:
If you are planning conception see your GP remembering there are usually two people involved here, ask for a full health check. Then see a Naturopath or Nutritionist so all your bases are covered and get you on the right track, with evidence-based advice. We offer a special Couples Preconception consultation.
Enjoy the process!
- Don’t get stressed about not getting stressed.
- Enjoy eating, and remember it is what we do 90% of the time that is important.
- Think about ways to improve your lifestyle if you need to (i.e. things you actually enjoy doing)