Fertility for Men and Women: An East West Approach
Problems posed today are very different to those decades ago. While we have all this technology, the ability for couples to actually get pregnant, due to environmental, health or age issues, is becoming ever more complicated. As couples today are often opting to start in the baby making business much later than some decades ago, these issues have become very current challenges and at an individual level I recommend to my patients to help fertility by treating themselves to some very important nutrients. Adequate amounts of nutrients, exercise and lifestyle are all important to ensure equilibrium and flourishing fertility.
Exercise and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is present in certain processes involved in the development of sperm and ovary cells. It also affects levels of hormones in the body. Since we can create our own Vitamin D with sun exposure, how much should we be getting? Ideal exposure is 20% of the body’s surface, for 30 minutes per day. Most people only expose 5% of the body (hands and feet) in cold months, which clearly is not enough, so the warmer months are an ideal time to naturally increase the dose.1.
From a Chinese medicine point of view exercise is essential to maintain proper circulation. For fertility the recommended exercise is walking, and not over-exercising. A 30 minute walk is the perfect way to top up on Vitamin D. Check your Vitamin D levels and supplement where necessary.
Essential Supplements: Vitamin E and Vitamin C
Certain vitamins are essential for healthy sperm. Vitamin E for example can help improve sperm mobility and quality and may reduce the breakdown of DNA in sperm. Foods high in Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, papaya and dark leafy greens.
Women too can benefit from Vitamin E. It is said that it can increase cervical mucous as well as prevent egg defects. In general it helps to keep eggs healthy, which decreases the risk for birth defects and miscarriage.2
Vitamin C is known to improve hormonal levels and sperm health. According to a study published in Fertility and Sterility “A moderate amount of supplemental Vitamin C improves hormone levels and increases fertility. It has been shown to be most effective for luteal phase defects.” The luteal phase is the phase that begins at mid-cycle. It stimulates the mature egg to burst from the follicle, known as your ovulation.3
Great sources of Vitamin C are red peppers, broccoli, cranberry, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cherries, strawberries and spinach.
Men can easily damage sperm by becoming overheated through exercise and especially by wearing tight exercise shorts. Men too should be careful of excess cycling or overheating in hot baths. Women on the other hand should avoid cold environments. Cold causes a stagnation in the body and it is essential for the uterus to stay warm. Women should make sure that there lower back and lower belly are protected and not exposed to the cold.
Getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep is important for fertility. Sleep is related to cortisol and blood sugar metabolism. In Chinese medicine 11pm to 3am is the time of the Gall Bladder and Liver. This is the time for the birth of Yang energy which creates energy as well as a time for the body to detoxify and create blood. From a western point of view sleep will help balance adrenal and hormonal functions.
Nutrition and Oxidative Damage
The by-product from the use of oxygen is free radicals. These free radicals need to be eliminated from the body as they cause damage to your DNA and to reproductive organ tissue. Without Lipoic Acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin E free radicals cannot be recycled.4 Lipoic acid has also been used to help sperm quality and motility.
Foods high in lipoic acid are potatoes, spinach and red meat.
Cigarettes are also known to contain many toxins that act like a free radical and can also cause DNA damage. It has also been linked to ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. Furthermore regular coffee and alcohol intake increases stress on the body from oxidants, damages DNA, will contribute to poor development of the embryo and increases the risk of miscarriage.5 It is therefore essential to avoid these substances to improve your fertility.
By taking certain products into your body you are either nourishing or hindering your ability to become a parent. Take all facets of your life into consideration. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu.
5. Agarwal A, Aponte- Mellado A et all, “The effects of oxidative stress on female reproduction: a review” – Reproductive biology and endocrinology, 2012, 10:49