More and more couples are starting families later in life and thus the number of people experiencing infertility has gone up significantly over the last two decades. People can have trouble having their first child, but equally heartbreaking is the inability to conceive or carry a second or third child. Naturopathic physicians are in a unique position to help couples uncover the cause of their infertility and enhance their health to increase the chances of becoming and staying pregnant. Depending on the cause, treatment strategies can incorporate healthy options like lifestyle changes and natural medicines to enhance male and female fertility. There are five things you should consider if you are trying to conceive.
Don’t wait to get help. Medical workup for infertility usually begins after a year of unsuccessfully “trying.” But for women who are over 35 it is recommended to start investigations after 6 months, or sooner if they are approaching 40. Anyone with very irregular cycles shouldn’t wait at all. With my patients, I usually start with a thorough history and physical exam to look for clues. Then I recommend comprehensive lab work to look for the cause. Gynecologists can do imaging to help find anatomical issues.
Don’t forget the guy. Almost half the time, infertility is due to the “male factor”. Semen analysis can identify issues. For male infertility, once we rule out anatomical problems, there are science-backed lifestyle factors and natural medicines to improve sperm quality and quantity. For instance, the herb Ashwagandha was shown in a placebo-controlled study to increase sperm count by 167% and to increase sperm motility by 57% in three months.
If a woman isn’t cycling regularly, she may not be ovulating, or may not be able to support a pregnancy. Hormone imbalance can be caused by many issues, including excess stress, weight loss, over-exercising, toxin exposure and more. In addition, PCOS is a pituitary disorder that causes excess androgens (“male” hormones). Menstruation can be less frequent or non-existent and ovulation is sporadic. Naturopathic medicine has excellent strategies to address these types of hormone issues safely and effectively. For instance, Chaste tree helps balance the pituitary gland while N-acetyl cysteine can safely enhance ovulation. Most conventional medicines for PCOS and irregular menstruation are contraindicated in pregnancy, so they are not helpful for women trying to conceive.
Heavy or painful periods can be a clue. Endometriosis can cause very painful periods and can affect fertility. Fibroid tumours are a common cause of heavy periods and can affect conception or increase miscarriages. Naturopathic physicians seek to address the underlying causes of these issues in safe ways (see my blog article and video about endometriosis).
Remember to check for autoimmune conditions. Low thyroid can affect other hormones, anti-sperm antibodies can prevent conception, and autoimmune blood clotting disorders like anti-phospholipid syndrome can be a cause of recurrent miscarriages.
For couples who want to take an active role in enhancing their fertility, there are ways to narrow down any issues and use safe naturopathic strategies to get on track. There’s nothing more satisfying as a doctor than helping a couple to get pregnant, and providing them adjunctive naturopathic medical care during pregnancy and beyond.