Feathering the Nest
Doctors have non-medical fertility suggestions
By: Donna Olmstead
Getting pregnant seems like one of the most natural things in the world — unless you are one of the millions of couples who want a baby but can’t conceive.
About one in six couples has problems getting pregnant at some point, according to WebMD. That’s an increase from 20 years ago when about 10 percent of couples experienced infertility.
Experts say increasing fertility is about getting back to fitness basics, but fast-paced, high-stressed lifestyles can interfere.
“It’s pretty much what your mother told you,” says Paul Magarelli, a physician who specializes in infertility and an associate professor at the University of New Mexico’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. “Get plenty of rest and exercise and eat your vegetables.”
Magarelli says that before people consider medical alternatives to natural conception, “there are definitely plenty of things to try that only improve their health and don’t cost any money.”
Two Harvard physicians who specialize in nutrition, Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett, recently published their work about a fertility diet.
They found that women who exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, took iron supplements and multivitamins and ate complex carbohydrates, more vegetable than animal protein and healthful fats were 84 percent more likely to have healthy ovulation cycles than women who didn’t. Their book, “The Fertility Diet,” details the diet, the research behind it and how it works.
Another Harvard researcher, Alice Domar, in a 2000 study showed that more than half of 300 women participants who followed a 10- week course of meditation, yoga and positive thinking became pregnant.
The next step
Magarelli says that couples who haven’t become pregnant after months of trying should be examined by doctors. They need to know sperm and eggs are available and that the woman’s fallopian tubes and womb are healthy. If all components of fertility are working, getting healthier can lead to success, Magarelli says.
More than 40 percent of the time men don’t make enough healthy sperm to create an embryo, Magarelli says. “Sperm are exquisitely sensitive to the environment. They are sentinels to the environment like the canary in the mine.”
It takes 90 days for sperm to develop. Any toxins such as alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs can kill sperm. Steroids and other hormones also are detrimental. Keeping testicles cool and healthy is important, too.
“Boxer shorts are better than jockey shorts,” Magarelli says. And he warns men who want to be fathers to stay away from hot tubs and spandex bike shorts. Although bicycling isn’t counterproductive, restrictive clothing can be. Limiting intercourse to once every two or three days improves sperm concentration.
Magarelli recommends an organic diet for men — to avoid meat with hormones. He recommends about 1,000 milligrams daily of vitamin C and 800 international units of vitamin E. He also suggests supplementing with zinc, beta-carotene, selenium, B-12 and a couple of teaspoons daily of deepsea fish oil. L-arginine and l-carnitine, two amino acids, improve circulation in the pelvic area, he adds.
Both men and women need to stay well hydrated for reproductive health. Magarelli recommends drinking enough water until urine is clear.
Women’s reproductive systems are more complicated, Magarelli says. “Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have. Anything they have done since birth can have a negative effect that doesn’t go away.”
A woman’s ability to conceive declines as she ages. At 15 she has a 20 percent to 25 percent chance of getting pregnant every month, at 30 she has a 10 percent chance and by 40 she has a 3 percent to 5 percent chance, he says.
To improve fertility fitness, women need to seek a balance. “Women with no body fat or women who are morbidly obese are not going to win the race for a family,” Magarelli says.
Women who work out too much or become too thin — with less than 18 percent of body fat, according to WebMD — may stop ovulating or have other hormone imbalances.
On the other hand, women who carry too much weight may also stop having a menstrual cycle because the fat tissue generates estrogen and that can signal the ovaries to stop releasing eggs, Magarelli says.
Women who weigh too much can also develop insulin resistance, which interferes with ovarian function, he says.
Women need to stay away from tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, but they also need to limit or avoid caffeine, he says, also recommending five hours of moderate exercise a week.