Recent technological advances in infertility are accompanied by high costs to the couple. For some, the simpler and less expensive naturopathic approach to infertility, which includes the following considerations, can be an effective first step.
1. Kick the Habit
Although we all know that smoking isn’t good for you, there’s yet another reason to avoid or kick the habit: decreased fertility. Both women’s and men’s reproductive systems appear to be affected by cigarette smoke–whether inhaled directly or as secondhand smoke. Many harmful substances found in cigarette smoke including nicotine, carbon monoxide and carcinogenic and mutagenic compounds. Panayiotis Zavos, PhD, University of Kentucky, says: “The argument against smoking holds true for anyone wishing to conceive, but it is particularly imperative for individuals (male or female) having difficulty in conceiving.” (1)
In England, researchers report that smoking diminishes fertilization in women by two-thirds. A study by the University of Bristol and St. George’s Hospital Medical School revealed that cotinine, the main by-product of nicotine, is a long-lasting substance that concentrates in the follicular fluid of the ovaries (2) and affects conception.
Women who smoke harmed their ovaries, according to a University of Iowa study. Cigarette smoke decreased the number of eggs a woman produces each month. This may be partially due to the higher levels of male hormones such as androgen and testosterone found in smoking women. Smoking also tends to decrease estrogen, the hormone responsible for producing fertile mucus and making the cervix more receptive to sperm (3).
Smoking also interferes with reproduction because of its effect on nutrients. For example, vitamin C levels decrease 20 to 40 percent in men who smoke one pack of cigarettes per day. When vitamin C drops, a man’s sperm are not only more sluggish, but they tend to clump together. Less vitamin C also results in more abnormally formed sperm and fewer sperm overall.
A Galveston, Texas research team decided to test the effect of vitamin C supplementation on male smokers. On average, the subjects’ semen contained 43 percent less ascorbic acid (vitamin C) than what is generally found in healthy young adults. However, when two of the test groups received either 200 mg or 1000 mg tablets of vitamin C each day, these levels improved within the first week. The supplemented men showed weekly recovery in sperm health. Most impressive, however, was the substantial sperm health improvement the 1,000 mg group exhibited over the men taking only 200 mg of vitamin C. Overall, the men taking more vitamin C experienced an average improvement of 40 percent in six different sperm qualities. Those taking 200 mg improved by 15 percent. There was no change in the placebo group (4).
Nicotine and its by-products can hurt reproductive tissues. If the vitamin C depleted due to smoking isn’t replaced, this nutrient can’t do its job and repair the damage. Of course, men should quit smoking rather than try to compensate for the harm smoking does to their reproductive systems.
2. Dump your Diet
Debates rage on about the safety and effectiveness of weight loss diets. When considering the pros and cons of dieting, you need to include fertility.
Recent evidence indicates it’s not only fat, but where fat’s distributed on the body that influences fertility. A Dutch research group studied 500 women who came to their clinic for artificial insemination. They discovered women whose hips were larger than their waist were more likely to get pregnant than women whose waists were wider. This abnormal fat distribution is associated with a masculizing effect on the body and may be responsible for decreased fertility. The researchers point out, however, that a woman of normal weight is more fertile than one who is either too fat or too thin (5).
German researchers took 25 sedentary women and observed the effects of dieting on their menstrual cycles. Of the women who lost more than two pounds per week, 10 developed disturbances in the luteal, or second, half of their cycles. Another five experienced impaired follicular development. A follicle is a sac within the ovary which houses the egg during its growth. One explanation for these changes is the decrease in the hormone, prolactin that occurred while these women were dieting. Lower prolactin was also correlated with decreased estrogen levels (6). All of these reproductive disturbances could compromise fertility.
Men are not excluded from the effects dieting has on fertility. Scientists at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital recruited a group of overweight men to test the impact of fasting on reproductive function. After these men fasted for six to seven days, their plasma testosterone fell by one-third. This hormone returned to its original level once the men began eating normally for several days. The researchers speculated that fasting has a direct impact on men’s testicles. Lack of food, they think, may inhibit hormone formation or reduce a testicle’s response to hormones (7).
3. Timing is Everything
Animals display distinct seasonal changes in their reproductive abilities. Interestingly, the same is true for people. Although the seasons have a minimal impact on modern societal activities, our bodies still respond to changes in the seasons. It is well documented that men’s semen quality and count varies throughout the year reaching its peak as winter ends and spring begins (February to March). A British study illustrated a similar trend in women. Several women were seen at Jessop Hospital in Sheffield for artificial insemination. This is important to mention because it clarifies that frequency of intercourse and rate of ovulation did not influence conception. Researchers found that conception, using insemination, was more common from early winter to early spring (October to March). The most fruitful month was November.
Although investigators couldn’t offer a concrete reason why this was so, they said it is possible that the pituitary or pineal glands are more active during these times. The endometrial layer lining the uterus may also be more receptive during winter. Or it may be that, for some unknown reason, a woman’s eggs are more fertile in November (8).
These findings should not surprise anyone. Nature is cyclical. Not only does a woman’s fertility peak during a particular period each year, but also at a specific time each month. The egg lives a short 24 hours during a menstrual cycle. Using natural family planning methods to observe and chart cervical mucus, basal body temperature and other fertility signs, a couple can pinpoint when conception will most likely occur.
- Zavos PM. Cigarette smoking and human reproduction: effects on female and male fecundity. Infertility 1989;12: 35-46.
- Rosevear SK et al. Smoking and decreased fertilisation rates in vitro. The Lancet 1992; 340: 1195-96.
- Van Voorhis BJ, Syrop CH, Hammitt DG, Dunn, MS, Snyder GD. Effects of smoking on ovulation induction for assisted reproductive techniques. Fertility and Sterility. 1992; 58(5): 981-85.
- Dawson EB, Harris WA, Teter MC, Powell, LC. Effect of ascorbic acid supplementation on the sperm quality of smokers. Fertility and Sterility 1992; 58(5): 1034-39.
- British Medical Journal 1993; 306:484-7.
- Pirke KM, Tuschl RJ. Prolactin concentrations during menstrual cycles disturbed by weight reducing diets or exercise. Infertility 1988; 11: 185-192.
- Kyung NH et al. Effect of carbohydrate supplementation on reproductive hormones during fasting in men. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1985; 60(5): 827-35.
- Paraskevaides EC, Pennington GW, Naik S. Seasonal distribution in conceptions achieved by artificial insemination by donor. British Medical Journal 1988; 297: 1309-10.