By: Kelly Brown, B.Sc., N.D., and Acupuncturist
Infertility is diagnosed after a couple has unsuccessfully tried to conceive for one year. It is a complicated issue because of the multiple diseases and conditions that can affect this process. Female infertility accounts for 35% of cases, male factors account for approximately 18% and 18% of situations are the result of a combination of male and female circumstances. Roughly 10% of cases are undefined. This is an issue that causes a great deal of emotion in people and may result in fear, sadness, depression, guilt and anger.
Naturopathic Doctors can help immensely in the process of addressing infertility, the first step being to determine the cause. Taking herbal supplements or different vitamins and minerals unknowingly can exacerbate infertility if taken incorrectly.
Potential Causes of Male Infertility
-Decreased sperm count
-Ejaculation problems such as premature ejaculation, etc.
-Tight clothing or underwear, hot baths
-Testicular problems, e.g. varicocele (varicose veins in the testicle) and erectile dysfunction
-Stress, medications, lack of sleep, infections, alcohol, tobacco
A fertility specialist should be sought to determine infertility in males where they can complete a semen analysis.
Potential Causes of Female Infertility
-Diseases and Conditions (i.e. Endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome etc.)
-Hormone Imbalance (low or high levels) - Estrogen, Progesterone, Testosterone. Can be caused by polycystic ovary syndrome, high stress, hypothyroidism, etc.
- Alcohol, tobacco, excessive exercise, inadequate diet with extreme weight loss
-Age: changes egg quality and count, as well as chromosomal abnormalities
A naturopathic doctor and fertility specialist can help determine the cause of infertility in females. A variety of tests and evaluations need to be performed to diagnose the root problem. Common laboratory tests are preformed to rule out hypothyroidism and low iron which can be associated with infertility.
Saliva hormone tests are currently the most effective tests used to discover if and why hormones are imbalanced. It has been proven to be more accurate than blood test. This is done on specific days of the female cycle and measures Estradiol (estrogen), progesterone, DHEA, Testosterone, and cortisol (stress hormone). Hormones are complicated and it is always important to determine which ones are out of their normal range and why before taking supplements to alter them.
Multiple other tests can be performed by a Naturopathic Doctor, working alongside a fertility specialist (MD). For example, tests to rule out structural issues, such as a blocked fallopian tube, are important. If this is the case, it would be impossible for the egg to reach the uterus.
Treatment from a Naturopathic Doctor
Supplementation- Supplementing with specific vitamins and minerals can play an important role in increasing male fertility levels. Women may also be prescribed supplements, depending on the cause.
Lifestyle Modifications- Determining if there are lifestyle factors that could be affecting chances of conception. This could include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, stress, clothing choices, etc.
Charting- A naturopathic doctor will talk to females about charting their cycle. This is one of the most important steps in fertility. It will help determine an ovulation timeline (i.e. the time of the month you can get pregnant) and if there are any underlying concerns or disorders. Most women assume they ovulate 1 week after their periods but this is usually not the case.
Acupuncture- Acupuncture can be extremely beneficial in helping normalize and balance hormones, especially alongside herbal supplementation or medication, as it increases their effectiveness. Acupuncture is relaxing, pain free and decreases stress and cortisol to further aid in achieving conception.
Fertility clinics now refer their patients for acupuncture when receiving in vitro fertilization.
Seed Protocol- Eating different seeds during different times of the month can have a huge impact on making sure your hormones are correct. Sounds silly, I know! In regulating cycles, flax should only be eaten during the last phase, called the luteal phase. Different seeds, such as pumpkin and sesame can regulate the beginning phase of the cycle. These seeds have different properties that will influence the production of specific hormones during the menstrual cycle. Seeds alone can help a woman start ovulating who hasn’t ovulated in years!
Herbs- There are many different herbal remedies that can help increase or decrease hormones as needed. This is why it is important to check if specific hormones are out of range and consult a health professional in treatment. Taking a random herbal supplement may not help and may even increase the problem.
This is only a glimpse of what goes on in the process of treating infertility! It might seem overwhelming but once the cause is determined, it can often be reversed. Trying to conceive should be an exciting time but often it becomes overwhelming and stressful. I would suggest seeking support and advice even before starting to try to conceive. Becoming educated about your body and how it functions can lower stress levels during this time. I don’t believe it is necessary to wait 1 year after failing to conceive to have all systems looked at and reviewed. Naturopathic Doctors can begin treatment after the first few months of lack of conception.
This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.