Maybe you’ve been trying for a year or more to get pregnant and it’s not happening. Maybe you’ve gotten checked out and been given that frustrating non-diagnosis of medically unexplained infertility. They don’t know what’s wrong. You don’t know what’s wrong. What you do know is that you just want to get pregnant!
Once fertility treatment came into its own around twenty years ago, that is where the attention and research money for infertility went. Reproductive medicine has become a major industry — that is to say, the business of getting you pregnant through advanced technologies; there’s not much money or fame to be found in exploring what goes awry in the intricate cascade of minute reproductive processes when one is inexplicably unable to conceive using one’s own human technologies.
I believe a fruitful avenue for considering those intricacies is found in a basic theme running throughout my book Parenting for Peace. It essentially provides the “engine” for the book’s scientific roadmap approach: at every stage and at every level of development, the fundamental question always being asked, at the level of every cell, tissue, organ and beyond is, Do circumstances warrant devoting my energies toward optimal growth, or do I need to protect and defend myself?
These growth-or-protection decisions go on unceasingly in tiny and tremendous ways within your body and psyche, and this growth-v-protection dynamic has deep implications for fertility. Keep in mind a basic principle specifically at work in fertility preparation: Nature is looking for her best possible shot at a healthy new member of the species, and her intelligence (working 24/7 within each of your cells and organs) assuredly registers toxins, sub-par nutrition, stress, and other information as cues that the environment may be unfriendly for a new organism. The ongoing growth-or- protection assessment may come down on the side of “don’t grow” — thus, don’t procreate.
Here are five avenues to explore if you’re struggling with unexplained fertility — and even if you’re not, but just wanting to nourish your own optimal fertility.
Toxin Dump — The growing rate of fertility challenges is a complex phenomenon with myriad interacting causes, but one significant contributing factor is certainly the proliferation of environmental toxins to which we are continuously, invisibly exposed. Flame retardants, pesticides, fertilizers, plastics, and cosmetic and personal care ingredients like phthalates and parabens — they are everywhere and it takes dedication to avoid them and to significantly reduce them in your daily living or working environment. In the most serious cases some of these toxins — such as those mimicking estrogen — can cause structural and functional impairments of the reproductive system.
For example, Bisphenol A (BPA) — a chemical found in hard plastics — has been shown to impair the quality of a woman’s eggs. In addition to not drinking bottled water, there are other easy ways to protect yourself against BPA exposure, such as not storing or heating food in plastic containers; avoiding plastic shower curtains; and steering clear of plastics with the numbers 3, 6 and 7 on the bottom.
Detoxifying your immediate external environment is highly recommended and not that difficult. Both women and men who are trying to conceive are well advised to avoid chemicals, regardless of “proven” evidence of their safety or toxicity, and eliminate them from your home. They are often found in garden products, paint, new carpeting, many kinds of flooring, and furniture laminates. (Just one example: over-the-counter insecticides have been associated with lower testosterone in men, as well as DNA damage and impaired sperm motility.)
For those interested in advanced levels of preparation, it means detoxification of your inner environment, including body-borne stores of heavy metals, chemicals and other toxins. One approach to this — which is simple, but requires a significant commitment of time and money — is replacing dental fillings with mercury-free versions.
Another approach to further preparing a purer reproductive environment, developed by physician Michel Odent, a pioneer in primal health research and the ecology of the womb — is the Accordion Method of pre-conception preparation. It is based on the premise that the majority of the synthetic chemical toxins that pose hazards to conception, embryonic and fetal development accumulate over decades and are stored in adipose (fat) tissues, leading to the potential for a time-bomb effect. The program is designed to facilitate “lipid mobilization” through a series of short, repeated semi-fasting sessions.
Nourishing Fertility — Women trying to conceive want to see to it that they’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids; 400-800 mcg. of folic acid (found in leafy green vegetables, beans, peas and lentils, liver, beets, Brussels sprouts, nutritional yeast, wheat germ, mushrooms, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, bananas, strawberries, and cantaloupe); and enough calcium.
With an eye to the growth-or-protection dynamic, they also want to make sure they’re getting enough healthy calories, period — including fats. When a woman’s percentage of body fat drops below about 22 percent, she stops ovulating and menstruating. Her bodymind’s intelligence perceives that a baby conceived in such circumstances could easily suffer malnutrition.
Along these lines, it’s interesting to note that in Harvard’s massive longitudinal Nurses’ Health Study, it was found that healthy fats are important in preventing infertility due to ovulation problems. According to the authors of The Fertility Diet, “The more low-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the more likely she was to have had trouble getting pregnant. The more full-fat dairy products in a woman’s diet, the less likely she was to have problems getting pregnant.” Fast-burning carbs (white bread, potatoes, sodas) also impaired fertility, but the largest fertility decline was seen in women who ate trans fats (such as those found in margarine, doughnuts, French fries) — an ingredient that is created through the man-made reengineering of natural fat to enhance its shelf life. As the old commercial (ironically for Chiffon margarine) used to exhort, “It isn’t nice to fool Mother Nature.” Indeed.
And make sure that what you’re eating isn’t eating you, or impairing your fertility. For example, gluten has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor, and a contributing factor to unexplained infertility in women with gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease impairs absorption, which can and upset the delicate balance and interplay of nutrients required for successful reproduction — as illustrated in this diagram:
The Invited Invader: Immune Issues — One of the earliest life-and-death tasks each of us performed, as a tiny embryo upon landing and nestling into our mother’s nutrient-rich uterine lining, was to excrete chemicals to placate her immune system so we weren’t gobbled up by white cells who might have (accurately) identified us as a foreigner. The relatively new field of reproductive immunology studies the complex role of the immune system in pregnancy, including unexplained infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss — which is sometimes due to this immune – reproduction rapport going awry.
One recent discovery published in the Journal of Immunology is one that husbands everywhere applauded: “While any exposure to a partner’s semen during sexual activity appears to decrease a woman’s chances for the various immunological disorders that can occur during pregnancy, immunological tolerance could be most quickly established through oral introduction and gastrointestinal absorption of semen.” (Yes gals, that’s wonk-talk for swallowing. Up to a year before conceiving, it confers immunological benefits.)
About Marcy Axness
I’m the author of “Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers,” and also the adoption expert on Mothering’s expert panel. I write and speak around the world on prenatal, child and parent development, and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my new book I’m delighted to be speaking at many wonderful conferences all over the world in the coming months, and I’m happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As a special gift to Mothering readers I’m offering “A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool.”