Fertility rates are at an all-time low and many couples are suffering failed attempts to conceive the child their hearts desire.
Many are resorting to IVF, which has a low success rate and comes with the risks of birth defects, premature delivery, low birth weight and long term health problems for the child. IVF also puts the mom at an increased risk of ovarian failure, blood clots and cancer.
It’s important to know that there are other options for those who wish to conceive.
Natural fertility support focuses on discovering the underlying causes of fertility challenges and restoring balance to the bodies of both parents so conception can occur naturally.
Why Are Infertility Rates On The Rise?
If women don’t have enough estrogen, they won’t ovulate and if they don’t have enough progesterone, they can’t sustain a pregnancy. For men, it’s all about testosterone. When testosterone is low, sperm counts drop. Without these key sex hormones, it is impossible for a couple to conceive and maintain a pregnancy…
But what’s causing hormone levels to be low?
When we think about our reproductive system, we tend to think that problems in this department are isolated to our sex organs. For some couples, this is the case and underlying factors like endometriosis, PCOS and genetic defects should be investigated.
Yet, when it comes to infertility, the problem is often coming from imbalances in other systems or even from influences from outside of the body that cause hormonal imbalance.
When it comes to other bodily systems causing a drop in our hormones, the top culprits are the adrenal glands, the thyroid and the gut.
Adrenals and Infertility
The adrenal glands, commonly referred just as the adrenals, help us to respond to stress. This includes emotional and mental stress as well as physical stress, like unhealthy foods and exposure to toxins.
The adrenals allow us to adapt and overcome these challenges by instigating a temporary inflammatory response and releasing cortisol, a hormone that instigates the physiological changes that enable us to adapt to stress.
Unfortunately, many people are chronically stressed, which can lead to adrenal fatigue, a condition in which our cortisol levels become imbalanced.
This leads to a host of problems because cortisol does a lot more in the body than trigger our stress response. It also regulates our circadian rhythm.
Naturally elevated cortisol levels in the morning help us to wake up and get going. As bedtime approaches, cortisol drops to help us settle in for a good night’s rest.
When cortisol becomes imbalanced, we feel tired during the day and have trouble sleeping at night. This directly diminishes the production of our sex hormones, because estrogen and testosterone are produced while we sleep. If we’re not getting enough sleep, we can’t produce the hormones that support fertility.
Additionally, when we experience prolonged stress, our bodies attempt to sustain sufficient cortisol levels by converting pregnenolone to cortisol. Pregnenolone is the “mother hormone.” It is a precursor to cortisol, progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. When demands for cortisol are high, our bodies divert pregnenolone towards cortisol production instead of maintaining adequate levels of our sex hormones.
For older couples, the adrenals have an even heavier influence on fertility. That’s because as we age, our sex organs naturally produce decreasing amounts of hormones. If our adrenals are healthy, they keep us balanced by producing enough testosterone, estrogen and progesterone to keep us balanced, but if our adrenals are fatigued by long term stress, we won’t be able to maintain sufficient levels to reproduce.
On top of all that, cortisol is directly involved in several aspects of reproduction for both men and women. When stress keeps cortisol high, testosterone levels drop and sperm counts go down. High cortisol also inhibits the production of the hormones the pituitary secretes to trigger the production of estrogen and progesterone in women.
How Does the Thyroid Influence Fertility?
The thyroid is another important hormone-producing gland of the endocrine system. Low thyroid function can directly contribute to fertility challenges in multiple ways.
Imbalances in thyroid hormones can prevent conception by inhibiting ovulation and cause miscarriages by affecting progesterone levels.
The link is undeniable: 76% of women with fertility challenges conceive within 6 months of restoring balance to the thyroid!
To make matters worse, while 1 in 10 women suffers from suboptimal thyroid function, more than half are unaware.
Mainstream practitioners often fail to check thyroid function when evaluating the health of women who are struggling to conceive. Even when they do, women typically do not receive treatment unless they are severely deficient, despite evidence that subclinical hypothyroidism can be sufficient to prevent pregnancy.
Hashimoto’s causes low thyroid function and resulting low fertility. In fact, the link between Hashimoto’s and fertility challenges is so strong that Dr Hugh Taylor, Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, tests every single fertility patient for Hashimoto’s.
Poor gut health and low thyroid function can cyclically reinforce each other, as an unhealthy gut predisposes us to autoimmune diseases and thyroid imbalances perpetuate indigestion and malabsorption.
A further complication is that thyroid treatments are often ineffective when nutrient deficiencies are present, specifically, deficiencies in iron, B12, folate, magnesium, zinc and vitamin D, which are common in young women, especially those with digestive issues. Speaking of digestive issues…
Gut Health And Fertility
Poor gut health not only leads to nutritional deficiencies (which means we don’t have the building blocks we need to create hormones), but it also causes mineral imbalances and fuels inflammation.
Impaired digestive function decreases elimination of harmful xenoestrogens (more about that in a bit) leading to an estrogen dominant hormone imbalance. Estrogen dominance is a serious health threat that hinders fertility and can lead to heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disorders, ovarian cysts, allergies, accelerated aging and several forms of cancer.
Gut bacteria are responsible for converting thyroid hormones to their active form, but when we don’t have a healthy microbiome, our thyroid cannot do its job.
A leaky gut allows harmful toxins to pass into the bloodstream resulting in systemic inflammation and triggering an immune response. It also causes increasing food sensitivities, until the body is reactive to many kinds of foods. This weakens the system and further compounds fertility challenges.
Environmental Factors That Contribute to Infertility
Unfortunately, for couples who struggle to conceive, the internal imbalances are only half of the story. Every single day every single one of us assaulted by countless unavoidable toxins. Many of these toxic compounds directly interfere with our reproductive hormones.
It’s all about those xenoestrogens we mentioned earlier…the ones our guts can’t eliminate if our digestion isn’t up to par. So what exactly are they and how do they get inside our bodies?
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that are known as endocrine disruptors because they mimic or block our hormones, interfering with our hormones’ natural function. They are much stronger than the estrogen we produce and as such contribute to the dangerous state of estrogen dominance.
Xenoestrogens are more abundant than you might realize. In fact, many of the toxic chemicals we already worry about mimic estrogen and fuel hormone disruption, including…
- 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) – Found in sunscreen lotions
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – A food preservative found in potato chips, cereal, baked goods and chewing gum
- BPA – Found in food and beverage containers
- Chlorine – Added to drinking water
- Ethinyl Estradiol – Used in birth control
- FD&C Red No. 3 – A food dye found in candies, cakes, popsicles and other items
- Nonylphenol – Used in laundry detergents
- PCBs – Found in lubricants, paints and adhesives
- Parabens – Commonly used as preservatives in personal care products
- Phthalates – Found in soaps, shampoos, toys and food packaging
- Phenosulf thiazine – A dye found in cosmetics, nail polish, carpets, glues and paints
- Propyl gallate – A preservative found in foods that contain oil and fats
- Glyphosate – the most commonly used herbicide around the world
These xenoestrogens sabotage fertility in multiple ways, like preventing ovulation, disrupting implantation of the embryo, lowering sperm count, decreasing sperm quality and increasing the risk of miscarriages.
Another environmental factor that hinders fertility is exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). EMFs are hard to avoid altogether, as they are emitted by cell phones, computers, microwaves, power lines, X-rays, cell phone towers and aeroplanes, among other sources.
EMF exposure contributes to lowered sperm count and impaired sperm quality.
Heavy metals are also a threat to reproduction, especially cadmium and lead. Cadmium is found in batteries, metal coatings, plastics and cigarette smoke, as well as fish, plants and animals that absorb cadmium from the environment. Lead exposure most often occurs in homes that have lead-based paint, though it is also found in toys, cosmetics and cigarette smoke.
Exposure to heavy metals lowers testosterone in men, decreases sperm motility and decreases reproductive hormone production in women.
Finally, birth control use can be a cause of fertility challenges. Although many people don’t realize it, birth control pills and IUDs completely shut down hormone production in women.
When they discontinue birth control use it can take months or even years for their bodies to resume producing the estrogen and progesterone that is needed to conceive and support a pregnancy.
Overcoming Fertility Challenges
In order to support healthy reproduction, we must remove the causes of infertility and restore normal function of the affected bodily systems.
Heal your adrenals
Getting plenty of sleep is essential to healthy adrenals. Be sure to get 7-9 hours of rest every single night. Remove any avoidable stress from your life and use stress management techniques like meditation, walking in nature and journaling to prevent stress from taking a toll on your health. Intermittent fasting is great in some cases, but if your adrenal glands are not strong, it will further deplete you. Eat a healthy breakfast featuring protein, fibre and fat within an hour of waking and don’t go too long between meals during the day. Support your adrenals with adaptogenic herbs that enhance our capacity to cope with stress and balance hormones.
Heal your thyroid
Have your thyroid hormones tested to discover if this is contributing to your fertility challenges. Make sure your blood work measures levels of TSH, free T4, free T3 and reverse T3, as well as thyroid antibodies called anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin. (Conventional work ups only look at TSH and T4 which may fail to reveal thyroid dysfunction.) Be sure you’re getting enough of the nutrients your thyroid needs: iron, vitamin B12, folate, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D. Incorporate seaweed into your diet to boost your iodine levels.
Heal your gut
Use an elimination diet to identify and remove inflammatory triggers from your diet. Use antiinflammatory foods and herbs to heal current inflammation. Take advantage of diagnostic testing to reveal underlying causes of poor gut health, such as Candida, parasites and mold. Avoid gluten and dairy to reduce your inflammatory load. If you’re constipated, it’s important to restore healthy bowel function which is key for hormonal balance. Enjoy fermented foods to restore a healthy diversity to your microbiome.
Heal environmental toxicity
Identify and eliminate exposures to xenoestrogens, EMFs, and heavy metals. Support detoxification by opening your drainage pathways. Examine your personal care items and ditch any that contain toxic estrogen mimicking chemicals. Avoid preservative-laden processed foods. Invest in a glass or stainless steel water bottle and non-toxic food storage containers. Use a filter for the water you drink and bathe in. Eliminate all sources of EMF from your bedroom. Ditch WiFi and opt for wired technology whenever possible. Stop using a microwave, or at the least, do not stand near it while it is on. Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to cigarettes. Use only cold tap water for cooking and drinking, as this reduces leaching of metals from pipes. If you’ve recently come off birth control, give your body at least 6 months to a year to resume healthy hormone production.
Don’t go at it alone
Take advantage of the advice and guidance of an expert in natural fertility support. Seek a provider of naturopathic, integrative or functional medicine that specializes in reproductive health.
For couples struggling to conceive, it can feel like your body has betrayed you. Many would-be-parents feel frustrated, powerless and alone. If the information in this article has given you hope, pass it on to a friend who can use the encouragement and support.