Cultivate a healthy foundation
The body is best able to reproduce when in an optimal state of health. Many lifestyle factors contribute to various aspects of health that play a role in fertility.
Certain nutrients are necessary for synthesizing hormones that play a role in conception. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone require cholesterol for production, so adequate intake of healthy fats is essential. Amino acids are required for sperm production, placing importance on dietary protein intake as well. Antioxidants offer a number of health benefits, and influence sperm quality. A good rule of thumb is to follow a whole foods-based diet rich in a variety of fresh organic vegetables and fruits, quality hormone-free protein, and healthy fats.
Regular movement is crucial for many areas of general health, and can positively affect the cardiovascular system, mood, circulation, sleep, stress, and body composition. Appropriate type, duration, frequency, and intensity of exercise are dependent on the individual. In some cases, exercising to support weight loss can be helpful in balancing hormones related to fertility, but if body fat stores are already low, further weight loss can worsen hormone imbalance and contribute to menstrual cycle deregulation.
Stress can negatively impact many aspects of health, including mood, immune function, digestion, and hormone balance. A delicate connection exists between different hormones in the body, and if the hormones involved in the stress response are out of balance, this can negatively impact hormones related to fertility. Relaxation techniques such as medication, deep breathing, and yoga, in conjunction with proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition can be helpful in managing stress.
Learn the female cycle
Female menstrual cycle patterns can reveal a lot about reproductive health and what is happening on a hormonal level. A typical female cycle is 28-30 days, with Day 1 being the first day of menses, and ovulation occurring around Day 14. However, not everyone falls into this regular pattern. There are several ways to track individual female cycles, and follow the body’s subtle signs of different hormonal fluctuations.
Basal Body Temperature
Body temperature first thing in the morning is relatively consistent during the first part of the cycle. Temperature often dips just prior to ovulation, and then rises after ovulation and remains elevated until menses. The rise in progesterone after ovulation is responsible for the temperature elevation, so tracking temperature is one of the best ways to monitor progesterone patterns in the body.
Cervical Mucus Changes
The quantity and quality of cervical mucus varies throughout the female cycle. Just prior to ovulation, a spike in estrogen facilitates a larger amount of clear, stretchy, “egg-white-looking” discharge, which is most effective in guiding sperm to the egg.
The mid-cycle surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) is responsible for triggering ovulation. Ovulation predictor kits measure urine levels of LH, and when they’re positive, ovulation will typically occur 12-24 hours later.
The best time for intercourse is right before ovulation, so the sperm are ready to meet the egg when it’s released from the ovary. This translates into the period of dropping basal body temperature, “egg-white” cervical mucus secretions, and a positive LH surge. Sperm can live in the vaginal tract for up to 5 days, and to maximize the male’s sperm concentration, it’s best to have intercourse 3 times, every other day leading up to and during ovulation.
Many hormones influence fertility. The key players are different for men and women, and a healthy balance between them is best for achieving and maintaining pregnancy. Some of the central hormones that play a role in conception include:
- Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH): released from the brain to signal the maturation of follicles in the ovaries
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH): released from the brain to signal ovulation
- Estrogen: released from the ovaries to regulate menstrual cycles, influence ovulation, and prepare the uterine lining for implantation
- Progesterone: released from the ovaries to prepare and maintain the uterine lining for implantation
- Thyroid Hormones: play a role in metabolic processes in the body
- Testosterone: involved in sperm production and sexual function
Hormones are best analyzed through a combination of patient symptoms and lab values. If certain hormone levels are out of range, there are many natural ways to restore a healthy balance. The use of certain nutrients, herbs, and hormone-replacement therapies are dependent on each person’s individual needs, so it’s best to seek treatment from a licensed healthcare practitioner who can provide personalized care and effectively monitor treatment.