Food & Infertility
I got married in 2016, and soon after, my husband and I decided to get pregnant. Four years later, we were still in the same spot – trying to get pregnant. Yes, I was 35-39. Yes, I was Type 1 Diabetic. But I had always had a regular period, I was healthy and active, as was my husband. It was a trying time on me (Why me? Why am I such a failure? Will we be okay if we don’t have kids? Is there something even deeper wrong with me?). And it was trying on our marriage (for example, forcing sex at a particular time when your in-laws are visiting or you are just back from church – is frustrating, annoying, angering and so not easy to do!).
By year four, my husband was a bit resigned to having kids at all (although supportive if we wanted to keep trying), so it fell on me to explore alternatives. Adoption, Surrogates, Clomid, Conceiving techniques, Hysterosalpingographie (terribly painful…both to have and to say!), IUI’s. While I had a great Endocrinologist and Fertility team, considering diet or my overall gut-health was NEVER presented as something to think about.
Successful Birth and New Perspectives
In the end, a year and a half later, after several failed IUI’s and one failed IVF (thankfully it was just 1 fail), our baby girl landed in our arms. It was all worth it, of course. But, I often wonder if the path could have been different, had I known a bit more about gut health, food sensitivities and its relation to infertility.
Fast forward 5 years, and I’ve gotten to dive into functional medicine, as I watched my identical twin sister completely heal her panic attacks by changing her diet (more on this in a later article!) and as Heather and I launched our baking mix company….eat G.A.N.G.S.T.E.R.
What I have learned is that every aspect of your health is impacted by food. And if you are someone with auto-immune issues, be it IBS, diabetes, arthritis, eczema, acne, anxiety, Crohn’s, Graves, Lupus…you name it…you are particularly susceptible to food sensitivities and challenges with your gut health.
The following is a list formed by Dr. Mark Hyman (omg, if you haven’t read his stuff, DO!). This is not to say that you shouldn’t explore IVF or other alternatives to getting pregnant. I did it, and I’m thrilled with my result! But, this list may allow you to take a different approach to your health – or supplement with what you are already doing – so that you can achieve the miracle of having a child.
Mark Hyman suggests the following 7 Strategies for addressing or correcting your hormones and infertility (for both men and women!). For his full article, visit here.
Take away processed and sugary foods and replace them with a low-sugar diet that includes plenty of good fats and lean animal protein. In my practice, I’ve found a high-fat, low-sugar diet is the best solution to reverse infertility. (This would have been great for me to focus on, being that I am Type 1 diabetic!)
The right nutrients benefit both men and women by increasing sperm count and otherwise decreasing infertility risk. One study found nutrients like L-carnitine, vitamins C and E, N-acetylcysteine, zinc, and coenzyme Q10 could increase male fertility four-fold. Other good nutrients to reduce infertility include vitamin D, fish oil, and B vitamins.
Fix your gut.
Researchers are discovering the wide-ranging roles gut microbes and optimal gut health contribute to obesity, PCOS, hormonal imbalances, and much more. Tend your inner garden with gut-supporting foods like fermented foods, as well as fiber and probiotics. If you suspect gut issues like leaky gut or IBS, work with a Functional Medicine practitioner to correct them.
Studies show increased physical activity and other lifestyle modifications become a first-line approach to managing PCOS. Consistent exercise can have profound effects on balancing hormones, reducing sugar cravings, and otherwise improving fertility.
Among many other problems, prolonged, unremitting stress may lead to insulin resistance, diminished sex drive, and infertility.
Get sufficient sleep.
Studies show sleep disturbances diminish women’s health and wellbeing and can contribute to infertility. Those are among the reasons why you want to aim for eight hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.
Reduce your environmental toxin exposure.
Studies show environmental chemicals can knock hormones out of balance and contribute to infertility. Become more aware about how these chemicals impact you. For instance, if you drink bottled water, choose glass or clear, hard, durable plastic containers (versus soft, opaque, thin, easily bendable plastic). Soft plastics tend to release toxic chemicals, including phthalates and bisphenol A, which have been linked to hormonal disorders and infertility.
I share all of this because I know how difficult infertility is. And had I known about Functional medicine, really, anything at all, I might have begun to explore things differently. Now that I know the impact of foods and environment on my health, I focus on it, not for infertility anymore, but for my overall abundant health.