Photo credit: Lindy Rojas Photography
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prospert you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”‘ Jeremiah 29:11
We just announced that we are pregnant with our third baby! Pregnancy is such a blessing and it’s so fun to share the whole experience with other people.
(Update: Baby #3 was born July 2014!)
But right when I clicked “publish” for our little announcement, my heart immediately sank for all the women and men out there who are crushed by infertility. The most recent data from the CDC shows that 6.7 million women struggle with fertility issues- either the inability to conceive or bring a baby to full term
We all know at least one person- or are one of these people- who is dealing with this most heartbreaking struggle in life. Couples are typically very self-concious about sharing this problem, too, so it could be that someone very close to you is struggling with infertility and you don’t even know it. You yourself could very well be dealing with a kind of shame or embarrassment as you read this because you are struggling to get pregnant or stay pregnant…and you should know that it is NOTHING to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
I can’t imagine hoping month after month to see those two lines on a pregnancy test and having that moment of absolute disappointment every time. Even more, I can’t imagine the pain and trauma of successfully getting pregnant but losing the baby through miscarriage time and time again. So let me stop right now and ask you to lift up a prayer with me for yourself, for those you know, and those you don’t know…that all who are going through a frustrating and painful struggle with infertility would be filled with comfort and peace; and that, Lord willing, they might become parents in some way in the near future if that is what God’s plan is for them.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can successfully enhance your fertility naturally. (That is unless pregnancy has been medially completely ruled out as an option…although many women have become pregnant even though their doctors said it was impossible.) A simple Google search will produce plenty of “mainstream” steps that both the man and woman should take to ensure healthy fertility and reproduction, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and having a lot of sex. This is decent advice, but there are more specific things I recommend to enhance both a man and woman’s fertility. These steps may be the key for those dealing with infertility, but also important information for anyone desiring to get pregnant who wants to ensure the healthiest conception, pregnancy and birth possible.
1. Eat a Fertility Diet
There is a major difference between eating a “healthy” diet, and eating a diet that contributes to healthy fertility. If you’ve heard of the traditional foods diet, then you have probably heard of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Dr. Weston Price was a dentist who spent many years during the 1920’s-1930’s researching primitive cultures around the world that were untouched by modern industry and still consuming their ancestral diets. He published his research in his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. One common thread of every culture he observed- which spanned from the Arctic to the Pacific Islands, from the heart of Africa to the Swiss Alps- was that they put extra emphasis on the foods reproducing men and women consumed. Healthy reproduction was extremely important to these types of communities because they not only needed to reproduce to continue existing as a culture, but they needed to do whatever they could to ensure that the next generations would be strong and healthy contributors to the community. Depending on location, such “fertility foods” were fish eggs, the highest-quality (raw) dairy from exclusively grass-fed animals, moose livers, spider crabs, and iodine-rich ashes from certain plants. Such foods were added to typical traditional diets that were already rich in liver and other organ meats, bones and skin, fats, seafood and the local plant foods. (source)
What we can learn from Dr. Price’s research, and the continued research done by the Weston A. Price Foundation based on his hypotheses, is that a traditional foods diet is ideal for optimal health and reproductive wellness, which is not the mainstream idea of a “healthy” diet. A traditional food diet emphasizes fats- particularly saturated fats from organic, pasture raised animals and wild seafood. It also emphasizes organ meats, homemade bone broths, raw dairy, and cultured foods like lacto-fermented or salt-fermented vegetables and fruits, yogurt and kefir. These are the kinds of foods that are the best source of naturally-occuring fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. They also provide natural pro-biotics, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that modern Western diets completely lack (unless they are fortified with synthetic vitamins and nutrients- which most modern food products are).
What we are being told by the mainstream dietary gurus today is that a “healthy” diet is low in saturated fats, low in salt, and made up of mostly plant foods. Unfortunately this is out-dated, disproven and unscientific advice that is costing us our health and our ability to reproduce. What we know from the actual science about animal foods is that there is no evidence that animal foods lead to heart disease or other common degenerative diseases, and that these kinds of foods actually contain the most valuable nutrients needed for fertility and reproductive health. A plant-based diet is not ideal for fertility (or pregnancy, or lactation, or childhood nutrition). Although plants provide wonderful nutrition and are often an important part of a healthy diet, they will not provide you with the necessary amount of fertility-enhancing nutrients and cofactors you need to get pregnant and stay pregnant. (Cofactors are nutrients, enzymes, vitamins and minerals that are necessary for the absorption or use of other nutrients by the body).
*Because of the amount I have to report on this topic- vegetarianism and health/reproduction- I plan to work on an entire series devoted to the subject. For now, you can visit this article about vegetarianism to learn more about this topic and how it relates to fertility.
Here are the basic guidelines to eating a traditional foods fertility diet:
- Eat a traditional foods diet following these dietary guidelines and dangers.
- Eat a traditional foods diet specifically designed for reproduction, like this one here with my meal-planning tips and recipe ideas. Here are our recipes that are particularly beneficial for fertility, pregnancy and lactation.
- Emphasize extra shellfish, fatty/oily fish and animal fats from organic sources- especially if you have been eating a low-fat, plant-based diet.
- Make sure the father is consuming this diet, too!
2. Eat Fat and Cholesterol
This point should be under point #1, but it is such an important element of fertility that it deserves its own point in this post. Of course we live in a world that tells us to limit and avoid fat and cholesterol at all costs. Most of us follow this advice- or at least try to- because we have been brainwashed to believe that cholesterol is “evil”. The truth is that cholesterol is an integral part of every cell of our body and is needed for almost every bodily function. Your body is going to produce the cholesterol it needs whether it comes from your food or your own body’s production of it. It’s estimated that the average body produces 85 percent of the cholesterol it needs on its own, then gets the remaining 15 percent from food.
You can learn more about the “cholesterol myth” here to understand why cholesterol does NOT cause heart disease, because if I start writing about it now I won’t stop. In this article, the Weston Price Foundation states that “a fair percentage of our infertility epidemic can be laid at the doorstep of the diet-heart hypothesis”. What you need to know is that cholesterol is necessary for all areas of health, including reproduction. Every sex hormone in the body is made from cholesterol.
If your body isn’t producing the cholesterol it needs to support proper sex hormone health, then you should consider adding naturally cholesterol-rich foods to your diet like caviar, cod liver oil, egg yolks (preferably from pasture-raised hens), cold-water fish and shellfish, butter and high fat dairy (preferably from pasture-raised animals). This study showed that consumption of high fat dairy and cream decreased infertility in women.
3. Take the Right Supplements
Even though the fertility diet will provide you with the nutrients you need for a healthy conception and pregnancy, you will probably need to supplement…especially if fish guts and moose livers don’t sound very appetizing no matter how you cook it.
The first supplement that I recommend every person truly needs is extra virgin cod liver oil to be exact. This supplement is actually a food but comes in either a capsule or flavored gel form to make consuming it more tolerable. This cod liver oil offers nature’s most potent source of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as the widest range of essential fatty acids. The essential need for these nutrients continue to be discovered by the latest scientific research for everything from immunity to cardiovascular health to reproductive health. You can learn more about why cod liver oil is so great here and purchase the cod liver oil we use and recommend here.
This cod liver oil blend is one of the 3 Supplements I Recommend Everyone Take Every Day. On top of those basic daily recommendations, there are many other basic health supplements I recommend for pregnancy and lactation that will also benefit fertility. It’s always good to start taking the supplements you would take during pregnancy while trying to get pregnant. It would be very beneficial to be taking all of the ones listed on these links before you try to conceive! I want to focus more on fertility-enhancing supplements in this post, though.
*The following information is for educational purposes only and you should discuss taking these supplements with a licensed healthcare professional who is educated on this information before taking them.
For fertility, I would recommend having your thyroid levels checked by your doctor or other licensed healthcare practitioner. A hyper or hypo-functioning thyroid, or even a thyroid-related diagnosis like poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), could be the reason you can’t get pregnant. The supplement you may need to take in this situation is actually a glandular thyroid supplement (meaning a supplement made of the thyroid gland of an animal) and possibly a thyroid supporting “adaptogen”, which means a blend of natural ingredients like herbs and plants that help support the optimal function of a specific organ. Because of my own symptoms of hypothyroidism, my doctor and I agreed that I should take a glandular thyroid supplement, but I didn’t want to take a synthetic version like “Synthroid” or the typical pig thyroid (“Amour Thyroid”), which are the medical prescription options. You can purchase grassfed beef thyroid supplements here, which is what I take myself. The best part of this particular product (besides the fact that it is from pasture-raised animals) is that it comes in combination with desiccated grass-fed beef liver, which is a wonderful additional supplement for fertility and pregnancy. In addition to the actual glandular supplement, there are other supplements that can support the thyroid like iodine or this nutrient blend to support thyroid health.
Another fertility supplement I recommend may surprise you, and is another glandular supplement…bovine (cow) ovary or orchic (testicles). While it is not well researched, many practitioners in the holistic health world use ovary gland supplement for women and orchid gland supplement for men to enhance fertility. Traditional cultures have been safely consuming the organs of animals for centuries, but make sure that any organ supplements you consume are made using the whole gland, not a concentrated extract which would change the biochemical balance and turn it into more of a “drug”. Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time researching these particular glandular supplements with very few results. Since there is no scientific research behind their use for fertility, the information available is just anecdotal. Although, as long as your healthcare professional approves of you taking this “food” supplement, it could be something your body responds to and could be worth trying. You can purchase grassed bovine ovary gland capsules and orchid (testicles) here.
4. Understand Your Cycle Like A Pro
I recently read a report about fertility that was kind of shocking. Apparently most women don’t even know the basics of reproductive health and believe many myths about getting pregnant. Most surprisingly to me was that apparently only about 10% of women understand how ovulation and the menstrual cycle work. Honestly, though, when I think about it, the only reason I know about these things is because of my intense nutritional education journey that coincidentally started before I had children, not because my junior high or high school taught me anything I needed to know about this topic.
When I started studying nutrition and jumping into the “real food” world, I finally realized why my birth control pills made my a total psychopath. My body couldn’t handle the hormones…and neither could my husband. Since Fertility Awareness or “Natural Family Planning” was my only option to avoid pregnancy besides condoms or diaphragms, I discovered an amazing book and workbook that taught me all about charting my cycle, as well as everything I needed to know about the female reproductive system. The book even discusses how to address medical problems that cause reproductive health problems and infertility.
It’s really important that every woman- beginning at age 13- understand their cycles like pros! When you properly chart your cycle you will know exactly when you are fertile, if your ovulation cycle is normal and healthy, or if your cycle is not normal and you are not actually ovulating. Charting your cycles gives you a great advantage in understanding your overall health and will give you reliable clues about what’s actually going on inside your body. When you do it right you can rely on charting to either avoid pregnancy or- even better- to get pregnant!
5. Maintain a “Fertility Weight”
I might get in trouble for this one, so please know that I am making up this term, “Fertility Weight”, and am not claiming some official medical term here. What do I consider to be a “Fertility Weight”? Well, in simple terms, not too heavy and not too light. I found at least two published studies confirming that an ideal Body Mass Index (20-25%) improved fertility, while infertility rates increased with underweight (BMI under 20%) and overweight (BMI over 25%) women (source 1, source 2).
Your weight- or more specifically, your percentage of body fat- may be a major contributor to your inability to conceive or maintain a healthy pregnancy. You could be too thin or too overweight. Let’s take a deeper look into reasons why either situation could be causing infertility.
Too Little Body Fat:
Our culture prizes bone-thin women so much that we forget that women with curvy figures were prized in many traditional cultures because they represented fertility and the blessing of reproduction. If you’ve ever taken an art history class you know what I’m talking about. This doesn’t mean that very thin women can’t get pregnant and have healthy babies. There is a vast difference between a woman who is naturally very thin while eating a nutrient-dense diet with a normal amount of calories and a woman who has to eat a restrictive, low calorie diet and participate in excessive exercise to stay very thin.
Most women know that if they are too skinny or have too little body fat that they will not have a menstrual cycle, which means they won’t ovulate, which means no baby. (We often hear of super muscular athletes who haven’t had periods in years.) But just because you have a period- or some version of a period- doesn’t mean you are having a regular healthy cycle (see the last point about understanding your cycle). A healthy amount of body fat is necessary to maintain healthy hormone levels, including your sex/reproductive hormones.
If you think you need to gain a little weight, do this by eating the amount of calories your body needs with a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. Do NOT just start eating junk food or you’ll make your fertility problems worse- or not have the nutrition in your body that you need to produce a robust, healthy baby. I have to emphasize again that a vegan or vegetarian diet could be your problem here as well. These diets could not only be depriving your body of the fertility nutrients your body needs (as mentioned above in point #1 and #2), but preventing you from eating enough nutrient-dense calories needed to maintain a healthy “fertility weight”, which would be the body fat percentage your body needs to support healthy sex/reproductive hormone production, healthy menstrual cycles, and a healthy pregnancy.
Too Much Body Fat:
While it is more rare to read about the need to gain weight in order to conceive, plenty of “mainstream” medical articles emphasize the link of obesity and infertility. It doesn’t appear to be the body fat that itself is interfering with fertility but the health issues that are typically associated with excessive body weight, mainly irregular periods and anovulatory cycles which are a result of a hormone disorder like hypothyroidism or Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (source). Some research studies claim that excessive weight is the cause of such health problems and others show that the health problems are contributing to or causing the excessive weight. Either way, excessive weight and hormone disruption go hand in hand. Whether losing weight to help these problems is the answer, or addressing these problems to help you lose weight is the answer, the bottom line is you should eat a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet that will help you maintain a proper body weight and address hormone-related health problems. Daily physical activity will also help you lose excess weight and improve your fertility (source).
6. Eliminate Toxins: Drugs, Chemicals and Radiation
This point needs its own complete blog post- or even a few different posts. There is just way too much information to share on how different forms of environmental toxins affect fertility. I truly believe that environmental toxin exposure over the last century is largely to blame for our current infertility crisis. The kind of toxins I’m referring to include anything in our environment that damages the body- including things we choose to consume or live with. The kinds of things that fall into this category include cigarettes, alcohol, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, toxins and drugs in our food like pesticides on produce (non-organic) or antibiotics and hormones in our meat, toxic chemicals in our home cleaning and body care products, polluted air from vehicles and industrial machinery, chemical products in the industrial workplace like solvents, glue, resin, etc., and radiation including cancer therapy, cellular towers, wi-fi, cellular/mobile phones and other wireless devices. I’m serious, folks, this stuff is ever-present and scientifically proven to be a legitimate threat to human reproduction.
The long-term and immediate health effects of most common chemicals and invasive technology regularly exposed to humans has not been studied or properly tested. Until that happens, we should use the research we do have to make judgement calls on related things. For instance, the studies on cell phone use and electro-magnetic field exposure was done on men only, showing that it damages sperm. That doesn’t mean cell phones and EMF exposure is totally safe for women and children, it just means there is no study to prove that it is dangerous (yet). Or consider if only certain pesticides have been studied and proven dangerous to human health (particularly reproductive health- like DDT). Does that mean all unstudied pesticides (even the ones “considered safe by the FDA” even though they haven’t been properly studied) are totally safe? Some people take the “innocent until proven guilty” approach to most environmental toxins and invasive technologies. I take the “guilty until proven innocent” approach…and I’m pretty skeptical of who “proves” things are innocent.
I’ll list just a few references here that will show you from a scientific perspective how these kinds of toxins decrease fertility. Again, there are SO many references I could share on this topic, but I’ll just stick to a few to prove this point.
- Smoking and Infertility: Studies confirm the sperm of men who smoke are less fertile
- Report by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine : Smoking Linked to Infertility in Men and Women
Pharmaceutical and Recreational Drugs
While many prescription and over the counter drugs can lead to birth defects or miscarriage when taken during pregnancy (which, in my opinion, should be a reason not to take them before pregnancy), there are drugs that are known to affect fertility as well (source):
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); long-term use or a high dosage of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin
- Neuroleptic medicines are antipsychotic medicines often used to treat psychosis
- Chemotherapy – Medicines used for chemotherapy (treatment for cancer) can sometimes cause ovarian failure, which means your ovaries will no longer be able to function properly. Ovarian failure can be permanent.
- Spironolactone – this is a type of medicine used to treat fluid retention
According to this publication from Harvard Medical School, research shows that recreational drugs like marijuana and cocaine may reduce sperm count and increase the percentage of defective sperm.
Toxins in Food (chemical pesticides)
- Study links pesticide exposure in men to decreased fertility
- Most pesticides and other environmental chemical toxins are considered to be “endocrine disruptors”, meaning they negatively affect hormonal balance. This study concludes that exposure to endocrine disrupters can significantly impair fertility.
- The book Our Stolen Future gives a complete overview of the scientific literature on environmental pollutants, endocrine disrupters, and how our fertility is being threatened.
- GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are becoming more of a concern to a growing percentage of the population. Studies are continuing to be conducted on GMO’s, but this report discusses the link between genetically modified food (soy) and infertility, as well as resources and commentary on legitimate concerns we should have about all kinds of GMO’s.
Toxins in the Workplace and the Home
It is vital that we remove common chemical products from our homes because of their negative effects on fertility as well as the health of our children, pets, and adults. These toxins also get flushed down toilets or drains, sprayed into the air, and eventually run off into our water supplies and atmosphere, which is damaging to human health as well as our environment.
If you are desiring to remove toxins from your home, I recommend using Essential Oils! These amazingly potent and effective oils are not only good for you health, but good for the home. Click here to learn about the oils I use and how to get your own!
Studies on common toxins and fertility:
- Exposure to environmental toxins affect fertility
- Toxic Environmental Exposure Could Cause Reproductive Harm Across Generations
Radiation (from chemotherapy to cell phones)
- This study shows radiation may have a profound effect on reproductive function in men and women (referring to radiation therapy for cancer, etc.)
- Male Infertility Linked to Cell Phone and EMF Exposure
- Effects of Mobile Phone Use on Male Fertility
- Dr. Mercola warns about cell phone use and wi-fi exposure
7. Get Nutritional Therapy or Professional Holistic Care
You may have tried all of the things on this list so far with little to no success. It may be time to get a more personalized approach from a certified or licensed professional in the natural/holistic health world. I have tremendous success with my Nutritional Therapy clients both with fertility and with hormone-related health problems because of our training in an individualized and whole-body approach to health. I currently offer online/telephone consultations and local in-person consultations (Mission Viejo, CA), so please contact me if you’d like to set up an appointment.
You can also search for a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) near you by clicking here. To find other natural care practitioners- such as acupuncturists, chiropractors or naturopathic physicians- with experience in treating infertility, I recommend finding an experienced and highly recommended licensed midwife near you to see who they recommend. Not all chiropractors, acupuncturists or naturopaths specialize in reproduction and fertility. Do your best to find ones who do specialize in reproductive health and come highly recommended by people you trust.
I offer my prayers to you and your family as you continue trying to get pregnant. Be open to God’s plans for you as a parent…maybe it’s not going to happen the way you want, but God knows what is best for you and your family.