How lifestyle changes can help increase levels of fertility
Throughout our lives, we are always advised to have everything in moderation, have a well-balanced diet and a regular exercise routine for general health. But did you know that these same lifestyle choices are even more important when trying to conceive?
Although we can tweak our lifestyle choices to have a positive effect on our fertility, the most important determinant for women is age. A woman is born with all of her eggs, with the quantity and quality reducing with age. The majority of women will be most fertile in their 20’s and have comparatively good chances of becoming pregnant up to the age of 35. A woman's fertility starts to decline after 35 and even more significantly after 40, with a 2 in 5 chance of conceiving naturally.
Whilst we are unable to control our age, we can take steps in the right direction to give ourselves the best chances to conceive.
Diet and natural fertility boosters
A well-balanced diet including at least 5 portions of fresh fruit and vegetables and an average fluid intake of 1.5 - 3 litres daily will help our bodies support a healthy immune system, obtain glowing skin, and maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI). A healthy BMI should be between 18-25. (Although if fertility treatments are required, clinics like this to be less than 34).
Although it can be tempting to just binge on so-called superfoods and powders that you don’t really enjoy, a diet that includes all food groups and allows you to ‘eat the rainbow' as they say, will give you lots of energy and are great for fertility health.
Eating a balanced diet is not about calorie counting as not all calories are equal, but it is more about what nutritional values food has to offer, i.e vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
A few examples are:
- Avocado: Rich in monounsaturated fats and a great source of folate, potassium, magnesium, omega 3, vitamins C, E, K and B6.
- Beans: A great source of protein that is high in fibre, vitamin B, folate and iron.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, brazil and hazelnuts are all sources of omega 3, folate, vitamin E, zinc and selenium.
- Broccoli: This powerhouse is rich in vitamin C, B vitamins, calcium, iron and zinc. An essential addition to the plate for all hoping to conceive.
- Asparagus: Full of vital fertility-boosting nutrients such as folic acid, and may help regulate ovulation.
- Beetroot: Contains nitric acid, which helps increase the blood flow to the uterus and ovaries.
There are many resources available for dietary advice, please ensure that these are from a reputable site.
Supplements & Vitamins
Ante-natal supplements / vitamins are a great resource to take alongside a nutritionally rich diet, ideally taken 1-3 months prior to conception or treatment. There are many preconception multivitamins available or separate supplements.
A few examples are:
- Folic Acid: This essential supplement reduces the risk of your baby developing spina bifida, a neural tube defect that is potentially fatal. The dose for most women is 400mcg per day. However, for women with a BMI over 30 or with a particular medical condition/ history, a higher dose is usually required and prescribed by a doctor.
- Vitamin D: Another essential vitamin, which regulates the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body that are needed to keep our bones, muscles and teeth healthy. Studies have shown that women with good levels of vitamin D have better pregnancy rates than those with low levels. The recommended daily dose of vitamin D is 10mcg, a dose of more than 1000mcg could be harmful.
- Coenzyme Q10: CoQ10 is a biomolecule that exists naturally in the body and is present in every cell. It acts as a potent antioxidant but the levels diminish with age, as does the bodies’ ability to convert it into its active form, ubiquinol. Taking Co-Q10 supplements, have been shown to improve egg and sperm quality, and pregnancy rates. The average dose for CoQ10 is 200mg three times a day.
- DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone): DHEA is a hormone naturally produced in the adrenal gland, helping to produce other hormones and convert cholesterol into testosterone and oestradiol. DHEA levels peak in early adulthood then slowly decline.
Alongside a balanced diet, a regular exercise routine is useful to help maintain a healthy BMI. This not only makes you feel physically great but is also good for your mental health.
It is best to choose a form of exercise that suits your lifestyle and of course, one that you enjoy. The strength, stamina and flexibility gained from exercising during the preconception period, will also be beneficial during the antenatal, birth, and postnatal period.
Whichever form of exercise your body is already used to, when trying to conceive it has been advised to tone it down to avoid any undue stress on the body.
A lifestyle that is continuously filled with daily stresses can have a negative impact on the immune system and fertility. It is imperative to make an honest assessment about the source of the stresses, i.e work, environment, and their levels to enable you to find the best ways to reduce or cope better with it. As it is not always practical to make big changes to our lives, look for stress reducing practices such as meditation/ breathing techniques, yoga, going for walks or catching up with friends.
It is often underestimated how lack of sleep affects our bodies.
Having 7-8 hours sleep a night allows the body to repair itself, maintain a healthy immune system, as well as for us to be as mentally and physically alert as we can be.
An irregular or disturbed sleep pattern, can not only make us a bit cranky but can affect the endocrine system, potentially leading to an imbalance of hormones. An American study showed that women who had low quality sleep, had lower rates of fertility than those who got adequate rest.
It has been well documented that excessive alcohol consumption, regular smoking and taking recreational drugs are not great for our general health but they also have a detrimental effect on fertility. Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can cause hormonal imbalances in the reproductive system, whilst the toxins inhaled from smoking affect fertility by damaging the reproductive organs, eggs and sperm.
Studies have shown that there is an increase risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and of underweight babies in women who smoke, drink and take recreational drugs during pregnancy.
The odd glass of wine can help take the edge off a stressful day or time, but when trying to conceive it may be best to reduce this to once or twice a week. Everything in moderation! Besides, these days there are some really good non-alcoholic alternatives’ and most places serve great mocktails.
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