Infertility is a growing epidemic, with one in six couples being infertile and these numbers are likely to continue growing, which is devastating. When our body enters ‘survival mode’, our reproductive organs are one of the last it thinks about, putting forward the most important organs in order to just keep surviving. Energy and nutrients are shunted away from your reproductive system, ensuring you do not get pregnant when you are in such a state. When the body is not fit to fall pregnant, it won’t, and we need to thank it for that. Our body enters survival mode when it is under stress, whether this be emotional stress or physical stress. This may occur when there is an illness, too much inflammation, where one is severely deficient in vital vitamins and minerals, too much toxicity in the body and much more. Therefore, if you are a male or female that is infertile, it is absolutely crucial for you to consider the following information, and start to allow your body to function as it should. These are just some of the factors that need to be considered, though a fantastic place to start.
Importance of reducing toxin exposure and detoxing
Let’s face it; we live in a toxic world. It is a sad fact that each generation is being born with a higher prevalence of more illness including asthma, autoimmune diseases, allergies, autism and the list goes on. If we are going to reproduce, we want to produce children that will thrive in this world, and live a fulfilled life free from illness. Although there are many things we cannot control, there are certainly some things we can. It is crucial for you to start detoxing your home, fridge and pantry, freeing your body of chemicals, and therefore reducing the exposure to your baby.
In pregnancy, toxins are directly exposed to your child. Pregnant women that are carrying a toxin load, unfortunately the placental-fetal barrier does not offer a reliable barrier to many toxicants including heavy metals, as these pass through the umbilical cord and is exposed to the fetus. These toxins impair the development of the child and put them at higher risks of disease. Therefore it is imperative for a mother to detox many months before conceiving. This may include eating an organic diet, drinking filtered water, switching to glass containers over plastic, and avoiding inflammatory foods. Moreover, our fat cells hold many toxins, therefore something like the 4 Phase Fat Elimination Protocol may be beneficial at least 6 months before pregnancy to reduce your toxic load. It is crucial for you to know, however, that you must not conceive during the protocol, as it may expose the fetus to an abundance of toxins as you detox.
Unexplained infertility and your diet
Unexplained infertility is on the rise and many couples are faced with tremendous challenges in trying to conceive naturally. So many women are being told they will never be able to conceive a child without some serious medical attention or intervention, and many are left without a single explanation for their infertility. What the medical profession fails to understand is that diet plays a huge role in infertility and fertility, just as it plays a role in other challenges to our health and well-being. Whether you’re currently trying to conceive or struggling with unexplained infertility, paying a little extra attention to the food you eat won’t hurt.
Gluten and infertility
The incidence of gluten intolerance or celiac disease is higher in women experiencing unexplained infertility than among the general population. Gluten intolerance is not only related to unexplained infertility, but also to recurrent miscarriage. Additionally, gluten intolerance can contribute to low sperm count and low motility in men.
Sugar and infertility
Sugar is inflammatory, mostly because our bodies aren’t designed to consume the quantities most of us are currently consuming in our western diet. Consuming sugar creates a vicious cycle when it comes to hormonal and reproductive systems. When you consume sugar and refined carbohydrates it causes your blood sugar to spike, which then causes your body to produce insulin, and when your body is constantly exposed to higher levels of insulin, this can lead to insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance can be to blame for issues with ovulation, maturation of the egg and implantation of the embryo into the uterine lining. What’s more, these women are at a far higher risk of miscarriage than the average. Many women who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have insulin resistance.
Sugar and gluten deplete vitamin and mineral stores
This can be a massive fertility factor. Our hormones require specific amounts of vitamins and minerals to be well fuelled and functioning optimally. The pill severely depletes our vitamin and mineral stores, as does sugar and gluten. Intolerance to gluten also contributes to nutrient malabsorption in important micronutrients like iron, zinc, selenium, Vit D, calcium and folic acid. When our stores are low, the entire health of our body is compromised which can contribute to hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, regular headaches or migraines, lowered immunity, increased infection (which can be a factor in miscarriage too), increased anxiety, depression… the list goes on. Most women with infertility issues who eliminate gluten, sugar and refined carbohydrates out of their diet will notice substantial changes and improvements in their fertility, and in some instances total recovery.
Low fat dairy products and infertility
Unfortunately there’s still a big push for women to consume low-fat dairy products and to steer clear of butter, cream and whole milk. However fat, including butterfat, is an important source of fat soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, K) which are the very nutrients that are essential for the reproductive process. A recent study of over 18,000 women found that low-fat dairy products may actually increase the risk of anovulatory infertility, while full-fat dairy products actually decrease the risk of infertility. Similarly the same researchers found that women who followed a “fertility diet” that included high fat dairy products experienced more favourable outcomes than those who did not.
Genetically modified foods (GMF’s), glyphosate and infertility
There is minor research indicating that GMFs are impacting the embryo and reproductive related tumours, however, further research is needed. There is a stronger indication between GMF’s and its impact on endometriosis. Moreover, females aren’t the only ones we need to worry about! The health of the male sperm is of course very important when conceiving, and genetically modified corn has been linked strongly to infertility in males.
Gut health and infertility
For thousands of years, people have been fermenting as a means of preserving foods, which you can read more here. Nowadays, we don’t have this need because of fridges, freezers and some pretty nasty preservatives and additives in food which extend the shelf life of food and drinks. Whilst the fridge is certainly a handy invention, we are no longer getting the numerous health benefits or receiving the enzymes or pre-biotics and probiotics (healthy bacteria) of these fermented foods. Our guts are designed to be lined with healthy bacteria, and micro-organisms that act as a defence. These help shape our immune systems and ensure our guts are working well. But without vital gut flora, our healthy and body will suffer severely. The gut is the pilot of our health. When our gut is happy – the rest of our body just works, this includes our hormones and our fertility.
Our recommendations are to eliminate gluten for 4-8 months 100% (no cheating!!!). You should also eliminate low-fat and skim dairy products and switch to full-fat, high quality dairy with as little processing as possible (if tolerated). Eliminate all processed sugar and refined carbohydrates and stick to a real foods diet rich in clean (spray free) fruit, vegetables, grass-fed meat. Organic meat and eggs, quality fats such as avocado, ghee or grass-fed butter, coconut oil, Inca Inchi Oil, olive oil etc. Nuts, seeds, fresh seafood, lots of leafy greens, fresh herbs and spices. You should also begin introducing homemade fermented foods into your diet to begin replenishing and balancing your gut flora and hormones.
You may also need to find an enlightened practitioner who can help you with these changes and who recommend other fertility promoting interventions such as specific supplements or other lifestyle changes.
With love and compassion, we wish you all the best for you and your family to come!
Sheridan Williamson and Jordan Pie
Changing Habits Nutritionists
- Pellicano et al. 2007. ‘Women and celiac disease: association with unexplained infertility’. Minerva Medica.
- Tursi et al. 2008. ‘Effect of gluten-free diet on pregnancy outcome in celiac disease patients with with recurrent miscarriage’. Digestive Diseases and Sciences.
- Stazi et al. 2005. ‘Reproductive aspects of celiac disease’.
- Chavarro et al. 2007. ‘A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility. Human Reproduction’.
- Chavorro et al. 2009. ‘A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility’. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.