Contrary to what the word sounds like, infertility does not mean that you CAN'T get pregnant. Infertility is typically defined as not getting pregnant within a year of trying. A really sad truth is that about 6 million women struggle with getting pregnant in the United States. With this massive number of women facing issues with fertility everyday, the question begs to be answered: what causes infertility in the first place?
Today, we're diving in to what we know about infertility so that you can naturally shift your body in the best possible way to conceive. We will be diving into the research and science, so get ready to take some notes!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. The strategies and information that I'm sharing below are based off of studies, reviews and my individual client cases. Each person is unique and therefore your health approach is unique as well. The information below is meant to inform you, not treat you. But feel free to share this with your doctor as well to aid in your individual journey!
The Physiology of Fertility
To reduce fertility to a few key points would be a vast oversimplification. The human body is a complex system that we have yet to fully grasp and understand. But there are some key factors that we DO know have an impact on fertility.
Have you ever heard the advice "just don't stress about it"? This is sort of true to some extent but it goes beyond the emotional stressors that we were originally referring to. Stress on the body in various forms (obesity, excessive or too little exercise, poor diet) has consistently been linked to issues with fertility.
Another massive contributing factor is food scarcity (or energy/calorie restriction). In fact, a review on infertility stated:
When energy is scarce the mechanisms that partition energy favor the processes that ensure the survival of the individuals over those promoting growth and reproduction.
What this means is that if you're following a low calorie diet protocol and therefore allowing the body to assume food is not ample and available, it switches into survival mode to ensure YOUR survival and shuts off the ability for you to become pregnant. It saves your resources for YOU and no one else.
Exercising for Fertility
Exercise can either help your chances of getting pregnant, or hurt them. It's somewhat "dose dependent" which means that the amount of benefit it has depends on how much you're doing it. Working out moderately absolutely has a positive effect on fertility and female hormone profiles. BUT it has also been found that taking this to slightly more extremes and exercising consistently to exhaustion (i.e. daily HIIT training) can very much so hurt your chances.
Again, the review on infertility causes states:
On the other hand, women that exercise to exhaustion have 2.3–3 fold increased risk of infertility.
The review further goes on to state that previously we assumed that a low body fat percentage was what drove women to lose their period. However, more recently, researchers are finding that instead it's the increased exercise paired with the reduced calorie intake (i.e. dieting/calorie counting) that causes this issue.
Insulin, Carbs + Fertility
We've talked a LOT about insulin and the effect it has on our body and health on my blog and YouTube channel. But if you're new here and you haven't already witnessed one of my Nutrition Nerd rants on the topic, let's dive into it. Insulin is the storing hormone that's mostly stimulated by carbohydrate rich foods. The more carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates and sugars) you consume, the more insulin your body will release. When it comes to weight loss, we want to keep insulin low so that we can tap into fat burning mechanisms. And for fertility, we actually have a similar goal.
Consistently high levels of insulin can lead to insulin resistance (IR). IR has been strongly correlated with PCOS (another concern for infertility) as well as infertility itself. The review I discuss in this article presents multiple vey interesting pathways on how insulin increases androgen ("male") hormones and impacts fertility negatively. If you're interested in the VERY in-depth hormonal pathways, it's worth the read HERE.
If you don't plan on reading the review, your main takeaway should be to improve your insulin sensitivity in order to improve female reproductive health.
What Can You Do?
I only shared a few key components of infertility today, but taking action steps toward adjusting these are massive leaps in the right direction. In fact, if you're working with a doctor or nutritionist on natural means to prepare your body for pregnancy, I recommend you send them the link to this article so that you can work together throughout this processes! Below are some of the strategies that I have used with my clients based off of this information in order to better prepare them for pregnancy.
1. Reduce emotional stress:
Stress on the body will shift you into fight or flight mode and signal to your body that the environment you're in is not a safe one for pregnancy. Reducing emotional stressors will help to signal to your body that the environment is safe.
In order to bring your body back to a state of balance and reduce stress, checkout my videos on natural Hormone Balance HERE.
2. Reduce physical stress:
Both too little and too much exercise can lead to issues with fertility. However from my clients, I have seen that more often than not the issue is too much exercise.
Take a look at your current workout schedule. Try and keep HIIT (high intensity interval training) down to 2 days per week and swap out some of your training days for long walks to bring stress levels down.
3. Include a daily leisurely walk:
Even on days when you have a workout or training scheduled, try to fit in a stress reducing walk, even if it's just for 15 minutes. If you can walk outside in a park or natural setting, this has been found to further decrease serum cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
You can get the details on common walking mistakes that I see HERE.
4. Incorporate proper Nutrient Timing to stabilize blood glucose levels:
Proper Nutrient Timing is a tool that the AENpeeps use within the Complete Intermittent Fasting Bundle. Even if you aren't using Intermittent Fasting, proper Nutrient Timing is still extremely useful for boosting satiety and reducing sugar cravings that can cause your blood glucose (and insulin) levels to skyrocket.
You can check out the Complete Intermittent Fasting Bundle HERE.
5. Stop counting/restricting calories and focus on satiety instead:
This isn't to say to eat all the desserts and candy that you want. Quite on the contrary. Using the tools from the previous tip, you can focus on satiety as a means of when to stop eating instead of a calorie tracker app. This helps you to eat the amount of food that your body truly needs while feeling satisfied and not hungry from your meals. But it is very important that you're eating the right things, so make sure to check back in for tip number 4 on how to properly eat until satiated.
Autumn Elle Nutrition