For individuals and/or couples who are struggling to get pregnant, naturopathic medicine has a lot to offer.
Conventional medicine offers the gold standard in diagnostics, but the treatments offered by conventional docs typically involve expensive drugs and surgical procedures.
In California, one round of IVF (in-vitro fertilization) is likely to cost a person $15,000-24,000, with a success rate of only 4-18% per treatment.
In my office I utilize similar fertility diagnostics to conventional MD’s—but I also offer treatment options that are less invasive and more holistic.
Naturopathic treatments are individually tailored using natural medicines (western botanicals and supplements) and dietary & lifestyle changes. In my practice, I draw on beneficial aspects of modern medicinal practices to complement a natural, therapeutic approach to support conception, pregnancy and birth.
These treatments can be applied prior to utilizing treatments like IVF, or it can eliminate the need for IVF altogether!
Whether you are providing the eggs and sperm for conception, these aspects of reproductive health are influenced by the choices you make a whole three months before they are “utilized” for fertility.
The first and most important step in optimizing fertility is TIMING. Here are a few suggestions to optimize your timing:
- Look for signs of ovulation. These include a change in cervical mucus (stretchy), twinges/cramps near the ovaries (lower sides of your abdomen), mild increase in PMS or libido for 24 hours, and a dip in temperature followed by a steady rise in temperature (typically your temperature after ovulation is a whole 1.0 degree Fahrenheit higher).
- If you are a heterosexual couple, it’s best to start having intercourse on day 7 of your cycle (day 1= bright red blood) and continue every other day for at least a week.
For people who are trying to conceive that are not with a cismale or male gendered body, then the best date for an IUI transfer is within the 24 hour window prior to ovulation.No matter how the sperm is being delivered to your uterus, it’s best to know when you ovulate for best outcomes. On average, most women will ovulate between day 12-14 of their cycle. But not everyone ovulates on day 14, so it’s best to find your rhythm either by charting basal body temperatures or via other signs of ovulation.
- A positive ovulation predictor kit (OPK) means ovulation will occur within the next 24 hours.
- Once released, the egg lives only about 12-24 hours depending on age/quality. You cannot conceive after this window closes, which is why it is best for sperm to be in the uterus prior to ovulation.
- Sperm can live in fertile mucus for 2-5 days (but has been documented up to 7 days).
Although females are more likely to explore the cause of infertility, up to 24% of infertility is due to male factors, and 28% remains unknown, so it really is important to have both partners evaluated.
When couples or individuals come to me for fertility healthcare, the first thing I look for are any medical concerns that may not have been diagnosed yet. I may recommend additional lab testing or imaging to find out if anything was missed.
I’m also looking for lifestyle factors like diet, stress, sleep, exercise, etc.—all which affect fertility.
In my practice I would say that approximately 30% of infertility comes from high stress, whether this is from outside sources (family, health, work) or from the stress of trying to conceive.
Stress plays an important role in reproduction because reproductive hormones are inhibited by stress. This is an important point so I’m going to say it twice—.
Reproductive hormones are inhibited by stress.
Cortisol—the stress hormone‚—can suppress ovulation and reduce sperm count. It can also interfere with implantation of the embryo, and if stress is high enough, it can even be the cause of a miscarriage.
I know this is stressful to hear (sorry for saying “stress” so much), but this is actually good news. Working together, we will come up with a plan to find ways to lower your stress response (I love adaptogenic herbs for this!) all while supporting your fertility.
It’s an important factor that isn’t addressed in conventional medicine and often is such a keystone to your overall wellness and fertility.
Further lifestyle factors are also highly important, such as maintaining a healthy weight, consuming a whole foods diet, moderate exercise, and drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day.
Finally let’s give an overview of labs that should be covered for both individuals. For the female factor we want to look at:
- Baseline labs: liver, kidney, electrolytes, immune function, anemia panel, thyroid panel, and Vitamin D levels
- Baseline uterine and ovary health (via blood work and imaging), including measuring levels of estrogen and progesterone at the appropriate time in their cycle
- Adrenal health (if there has been prolonged stress)
- Undiscovered autoimmunity
- Food allergy testing
- Potentially heavy metal testing, if there is a concern over increased exposure
Supplements I recommend for women include:
- Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3s)
- Multivitamin with folate (Brands I like: Pure Encapsulations, Thorne, Garden of Life (3/day version not 1/day), Designs for Health, and Raw Vitamin Code).
The list of other supplements recommended online (by other practitioners and bloggers) can be quite long and cumbersome, and not all are necessary, safe, or needed for everyone. Since my doctorate is in both conventional and alternative medicine, I am well educated on what each individual needs, or more importantly (sometimes) what they don’t need.
We will discuss all of this in your appointment!
For the Male Factor:
- Baseline labs: liver, kidney, electrolytes, immune function, sperm analysis
- If the sperm analysis comes back less than ideal a hormone panel should be ordered as well
Additional lifestyle factors that are important to consider for men are:
- Stop smoking – smoking damages sperm, decreases count, decreases libido, worsens morphology, slows motility
- Decrease alcohol – more than 2 drinks/day can decrease count and decrease libido
- No drugs/marijuana/steroids – decreases everything
- Keep a healthy weight – excess fat increases estrogen and decreases testosterone which decreases sperm count
- Avoid heat on the boys – no hot tubs/baths/saunas, no laptops on the lap, no cell phones in the front pocket, no biking, no tight underwear
- No lubricants for sex unless specifically for making babies such as pre-seed. KY and other petroleum-based lubricants stop/slow motility and change a healthy pH for sperm.
Supplements for men:
- Fish oil
- Vitamin C
Same advice for men in this category. In general, I do not recommend trying to address fertility issues without the help of a professional (like me!).
One more thing, and it’s important—exercise.
The general rule is that if you are having trouble conceiving, don’t start any new rigorous exercise you haven’t tolerated before. If your workout helps your energy levels, better mood, and brain function, then that’s a great thing. Don’t change it.
BUT if your exercise routine is leaving you exhausted, then this is something you should reduce for the time being. Research shows that female fertility can be adversely affected by increased intensity and duration of exercise. Women with BMI <25 kg/m2 who are attempting to conceive should limit vigorous exercise to fewer than five hours per week.
So, in general for fertility support I am looking for areas of medical concern that should be addressed, treating to relieve these symptoms (or improve lab values), and building foundational health habits.
Ideally, I will work with someone for 3-6 months before they want to conceive, since both the eggs and sperm are made close to 3 months before they are “utilized” for fertility.
It’s important to know that there are additional answers and treatment options for fertility, but equally just as important to relax and be calm about this process. I can treat a lot of the causes of infertility, with enough time and commitment, but the only person who can decrease that detrimental stress hormone is you.
If you’re ready for compassionate, holistic fertility support, book an appointment with me now.