The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports 12% of women aged 15 to 44 have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. That’s one in eight women! The definition of infertility involves the inability to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex, or 6 months if over the age of 35. Please note it’s not just a woman’s issue. In fact, it’s been shown that about 1/3rd of the issue of infertility lies with the woman, 1/3rd with the man, and 1/3rd as a combination of both. And although there are multiple structural or physiological reasons for infertility, and why it’s critical to work with a credentialed medical practitioner, there is still a reported 1/3rd that goes unexplained. That’s where lifestyle factors come into play.
So let’s dive into the 3 lifestyle factors that have an impact on your fertility:
It has an enormous impact on whether or not your body will be ready to conceive. To put it in very simple terms we have two modes of our nervous system: stressed and not-stressed. Being in stressed mode means that you are constantly in fight-or-flight response. This is survival mode for our bodies and if you are in the fight-or-flight mode, you can’t be in the feed-and-breed mode. Being in fight-or-flight mode TURNS OFF reproductive activities.
Let’s talk stress for a moment. Stressors come in many shapes and sizes – it can be emotional, nutritional, chemical, physical, environmental, or even underlying infections. Plus, the devastation of not getting pregnant adds to the body’s stress load.
How does stress impact our fertility? It’s hormonal. Our major stress hormone, cortisol, activates the stress response by releasing glucose, our bodies fuel to fight or flight. In response, insulin is released to help drive the glucose into our cells that don’t really need it. We’re not running away or fighting anything in reality. Too much insulin is toxic to the ovaries. Also, under stress, the body steals progesterone, which is our pregnancy hormone that helps us get and stay pregnant, to make cortisol. So we make less of our pregnancy supporting hormone, progesterone. Another hormone system affected is the thyroid. Too much cortisol slows down the thyroid, which impacts the ability to ovulate, and unless you are trying to get pregnant you will never know this is an issue as you still menstruate monthly.
So what can you do? For starters, hit the pause button in life and take time to relax. Carve out time each day to do something you truly enjoy and that fills your cup. Train your brain, which is much harder than training your body – meditation, deep breathing, visualization, progressive relaxation, or journaling work great. Nourish your body with anti-inflammatory whole foods. Exercise but not too hard or too long.
2. Food Sensitivities
This is one of the potential ‘stressors’ and a critical lifestyle factor to master. Food is Medicine, however it can also be Poison and prevent you from achieving your weight and wellness goals, including getting pregnant. Sensitivities are much different from allergies. You know you have a food allergy when it results in a quick response of anaphylactic airways. Food sensitivities, on the flip side, are more subtle and delayed (up to 72 hours later, in fact), so it’s hard to pinpoint the culprit/s. Plus, our response to food sensitivities can seem unrelated to our food since the response oftentimes occurs outside of the gut: headache, joint pain, skin rashes or hives, sinus congestion, or brain fog.
How does this impact fertility you ask? Repeated intake of these nutritional stressors trigger the immune system to attack. Our immunity sees these nutritional antigens as ‘foreign invaders’ in the body and it begins to attack, which results in low-grade inflammation within the body. This chronic inflammatory response can trigger early pregnancy loss since a woman’s immune system needs to determine friend vs foe when an embryo is produced. The body may say “I’m not going to protect this pregnancy because of the influx of inflammatory signals coming in”.
So what can you do? Start with an anti-inflammatory diet that removes the biggest food culprits like gluten, cow dairy, soy, corn, and peanut. There are a variety of programs out there, that all vary a bit, so make sure to work with a credentialed nutritionist to help guide you through this process and assure you are getting the adequate nutrients needed for a safe and productive pregnancy.
3. Environmental Toxins
You may have heard the old adage ‘You are what you eat’. Well, you are also ‘what you absorb’ with our skin being the largest organ in the body. An Environmental Working Group study found just under 300 different chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of newborns. Something we don’t often think about is the ability to transfer chemicals direct to baby via the placenta and why ‘clean living’ is critical for a safe and sustainable pregnancy. These toxins have been shown to increase inflammation, decrease immunity, impair fertility, and result in complications of pregnancy including birth defects.
Where are these toxins coming from? One source is a class of estrogen mimickers called xenoestrogens, which bind to our estrogen receptors and disrupt the fragile hormonal balance needed for fertility. You find these in all plastics, even those marked BPA-free, and personal products like cosmetics, skin care, and hair care. There are also heavy metals and chemicals found in carpeting, fabrics, cleaning supplies, garden and lawn products, and non-stick pan coverings. Now it’s clear to understand how 100% of Americans are toxic – we are surrounded by them.
So where do you start? You can start by ditching the plastics in bottles, glasses, and storage containers. Opt for glass or stainless. Sway out Teflon pans for ceramic, stainless, or cast iron. Seek out safer, chemical free, personal and cleaning products or DIY.
As you can see, there are many lifestyle factors that can impact your ability to get and stay pregnant. The good news is you have control over each and every one of these. Determine which factor is a priority in your lifestyle that you are willing to tackle and start there first. I’m here to help. Let’s strategize together, get the right resources in place, and increase your odds for a successful pregnancy.