Fertility from Nutritional Therapy, Eastern and alternative Western perspective
By Anja Middelveld, L.Ac., NTP
April 18, 2009
An alternative to a Western perspective
Approximately one in every six to ten couples has a problem with fertility. Some sources say that 40% of the problems are related to a male factor and 60% to a female factor. Fertility is never a completely straightforward affair. It involves physical (including nutritional), emotional, and psychological factors. Conventional management of fertility problems generally focuses on the body as a hormonal machine, and in large part ignores nutritional, emotional, psychological factors. Most hormonal treatments are focused on the female hormones, ignoring the male’s hormones after an acceptable sperm count has been established. No attention is paid why abnormal hormonal levels exist in either female or male. Nutritional deficiencies, poor digestion, high stress levels, toxicity can prevent the body from maintaining sufficient hormonal function which will in turn interfere with conception.
Couples who have been unable to conceive should consider period of minimally six months of focus on both partners nutritional, emotional, and psychological factors in order to avoid unnecessary, harmful, expensive, and not a guarantee to successful conception hormonal therapy. This includes for both partners to become fully aware of determining the fertile phase, through recording length of cycle, mucus checks, and basal body temperatures.
1. Knowing your fertile phase of your cycle.
The egg lives anywhere from six to twenty-four hours after ovulation. Sperm viability depends on the presence of fertile mucus. Sperm can live for up to five days in fertile mucus. Therefore, there is about a seven-day period during every cycle when pregnancy could theoretically occur. Couples are often advised to have intercourse every other day during this 7 day period, but a more effective, less stressful experience is to try to have intercourse four times during your most fertile week.
a. MUCUS CHECK
Most women can learn to check for the presence or absence of fertile E-type (estrogen stimulated) mucus by routinely observing their vaginal discharge. The cervix begins secreting E-type mucus about six days prior to ovulation. Fertile mucus is similar in feel and quality to uncooked egg white. G-type mucus (progesterone-stimulated) appears immediately after ovulation. This type of mucus lacks elasticity.
b. BASAL BODY TEMPERATURE
Take your basal body temperature first thing each morning starting on the first day of your menstrual period (considered day 1 of your cycle.). Do this for three cycles, and chart each cycle separately. Ovulation is accompanied by a rise in basal body temperature of about 0.6 to 0.8 degrees, and it occurs somewhere between the time when the temperature begins to rise and the time when it reaches its highest point. The fertile time is usually over at the end of the third day in a row of elevated temperature.
2. An Eastern perspective on fertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a history going back around 5000 years, has the advantage over Western medicine that it focuses on the cause of the disease, rather than covering up the symptoms in the Western approach. The basic premise of TCM is that each person has inherited strengths and weaknesses in their body . Lifestyle choices can either strengthen or weaken these inherited qualities. From an Eastern perspective there might be the following common reasons why a couple cannot conceive:
a. Constitutional weakness: lack of Kidney essence
b. Overwork/stress: leads to Kidney yin and qi deficiency
c. Excessive physical work: depleting Spleen and Ki yang deficiency
d. Excessive sexual activity at a young age: weakens kidneys
e. Invasion of cold: obstructing the uterus
f. Diet: excessive consumption and lack of proper nutrition; leading to blockages and deficiencies.
Treatment is focused on regulating menstruation, nourishing the body post-menstrually, tonifying organs during ovulation, tonifying yang and liver energy pre-menstrual phase. TCM embraces proper diet and nutrition, therefore nutritional therapy can be incorporated with acupuncture treatments to achieve optimal results.
b. Nutritional Therapy perspective
The philosophy was founded on that the health problems of modern society are the result of poor nutritional foundations that do not support good health, i.e. fertility. Nutritional therapists know that health is built on certain biochemical foundations, and that properly prepared, nutrient-dense diet of whole foods will provide the ultimate foundation leading to optimal health, other foundations are proper digestion, blood sugar balance, mineral balance, fatty acid balance, and hydration.
Nutrients affect every hormonal interactions in the body, and adequate levels of them are clearly important in human reproduction. The standard American diet, high in processed foods and low in nutrients, is a setup for suboptimal nutritional at the time of conception. Deficiencies increase if the woman has been on the pill for a long time, or either partner has a history of long-term pharmaceutical or recreational drug use, causing many nutritional deficiencies.
A balanced diet should include: calories should approximately come from : 40% carbohydrates (grains, breads, legumes, fruits, vegetables); 30% protein (free range organic eggs, dairy, meat, fish, nuts); 30%€ fats (high quality oils like; fish oils, animal fats from pastured animals, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, fish ). Particular attention should be paid to high quality protein and fat, as they are essential for production of sex hormones.
We can consume all the right foods in the world, but not receive the benefits from the nutrients if our digestion is not working properly. Some foundations of digestion are:
1. Digestion is a north to south process. What this means that it starts with your brain signaling saliva to assist with digestion as food is being prepared, and ends with elimination through your colon. A series of digestive steps occur between the brain and colon, all equally important to ensure proper digestion.
2. Carbohydrates and proteins mainly get digested by the proper pH in our stomach, and fats need sufficient secretion of bile (stored in gallbladder), while the pancreas releases pancreatic juice and enzymes to further help digestion along .
3. Because digestion is crucial to supplying us with proper absorption of nutrients to enhance fertility, both male and female need to address any digestive issues for increasing their chances to conceive. Depending on the severity of the maldigestion, count on 3-6 months of working on these issues.
c. Blood sugar regulation
In order to have proper energy levels during the day, and particularly for conception we need to ensure that we are providing our body normal glucose levels (between 80 and 100 mg/dL). Unbalanced variations of these levels will put extra stress on our pancreas, liver, and adrenals, therefore adversely effecting digestion, hormonal production/breakdown, and sufficient energy levels. Balanced meals will help give us the right sources of fuel (glucose levels). Americans are inundating their bodies with sugar and refined carbohydrates. Consumption of refined sugars causes severe deficiencies in nutrients, like Zinc (necessary for egg fertilization and sperm production). Long term blood sugar imbalances can lead to diabetes, which decreases your chances to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
e. Fatty Acids
Contrary to popular belief, a fairly high percentage (30% of caloric intake) of fatty acids are required for optimum health. Healthy fatty acid deficiency is epidemic and causes a variety of health issues, including endocrine issues. The endocrine system is largely responsible for the proper hormonal production for conception. A fatty acid deficiency is a major cause of inflammation, which can upset the organs and hormones involved with fertility.
We need fat from different sources to obtain the optimal fatty acid nutrients to balance all its functions. A combination of saturated, mono-unsaturated, polyunsaturated fats are needed. Adulterated fats (like hydrogenated fats, partially hydrogenated fats, highly processed vegetable oils, fried fats) are toxic and interfere with the essential roles fatty acids play within a healthy body.
f. Mineral balance
Minerals compose about 4% of our body. We do not produce minerals, therefore we must obtain them through our food and supplements. A variety of hormones are dependent on calcium and other minerals, like: parathyroid hormone, thyroid hormone, adrenal hormones, sex hormones. Zinc is necessary for prostate health, and often found deficient in couples who are failing to conceive. The best food sources of zinc are : eggs and oysters. Otherwise a zinc supplement is often necessary.
Water is the most important nutrient to the body. Among it’s many functions is to transport nutrients; flushing out of toxins, and empowering the body’s natural healing process. Water cannot be stored in the body, therefore making daily consumption of water essential for a healthy body. Water is the most common nutritional deficiency I the American population. Dehydration will lead to many dysfunctions, ultimately interfering with fertility. Water consumption should be based on the following formula: take your body weight and divide it by 2. This is your optimal fluid ounces of water. If you consume any diuretics like coffee, caffeinated teas, soda, alcoholic beverages, packaged and fresh fruits, consider to eliminate these while trying to conceive (and during pregnancy). If you do consume these add for each 8oz of diuretic beverage, at least 12 oz of additional water.
In order to address the above foundations, a nutritional evaluation of each partner is necessary to optimize their changes of pregnancy.
h. Additional considerations
The endocrine system is all about hormones and hormones are all about communication. Hormones are derived from either cholesterol (therefore needing adequate levels of fatty acids), iodine and tyrosine, amino acids (derived from protein), fatty acids. The coordination, movement, synthesis, and dispersal of hormones is like an orchestra….all the instruments need to play together to achieve harmony. Major players are the thyroid, adrenal, pituitary, sex organs, and parathyroid glands. The endocrine system is dependent on the foundations. Without the foundations a cascade of endocrine imbalances can occur. F.e. blood sugar imbalances cause adrenal fatigue, which in turn causes dysfunction of pituitary and thyroid gland, which then adversely affect the sex hormones.
Detoxification is the way the body repairs itself, an internal cleansing process that takes place continuously. After the foundations are addressed couples should both undergo a detoxification process. Detoxification frees vital cellular and organ activities to function productively and efficiently, therefore increasing changes of natural conception.
In conclusion: natural conception has many aspects for success. Repairing deficiencies and proper functions of each system in the body it will take time and persistence with worthwhile results.
Sources: NTA presentation binder 2008-09
Obstetrics & Gynecology in Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia
Women’s bodies, women’s wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, MD
Recommended reading: Taking Charge of your fertility by Toni Weschler, MD, The Infertility Cure by Randine Leis, Ph.D., Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pritchford