With my fertility clients there is one question I can almost guarantee I’m going to be asked in the first consultation – “How long do you think it will take me to get pregnant?”
Many have been trying for a while. Watching their friends make announcements on Facebook. Seeing the bump parade at local cafes, the supermarket, even work.
You can understand why it is such a painful topic.
Obviously we cannot cram weeks of fertility sessions into a single blog article! However what we can do right now is outline the key stumbling blocks in fertility, and then narrow in on one to see how nutrition can support a healthy outcome!
There are several factors which need to be in place for health conception.
- Healthy genetics
- Healthy Eggs
- Healthy sperm
- Regular Ovulation
- Sperm able to penetrate egg
- Healthy cell division
- Implantation with strong blood supply
And that is all before we even before we can call our fertilised cell an embryo!
I think you can tell by now that there are lots of things we need for healthy conception. So it is no wonder it can take a while to get pregnant!
The key place to start to get the most out of your conception journey, and get you there the quickest, is to make sure you are ovulating regularly.
So what are some of the main factors which can interfere with ovulation?
Let’s go through each one, and look at how your lifestyle can affect them.
You will have probably heard many people saying – “age is just a number”. It might seem like this is not the case when it comes to fertility. There seems to be a very specific age for when we are fertile or not.
As we reach the age of being less fertile, our egg supply decreases, and ovulation becomes more and more irregular.
However there are a few things we are starting to understand when it comes to age and fertility. Chronological age (the number of calendar years you’ve been alive) is not the same as reproductive aging. Whilst there is a rough age range women are most fertile, science is showing us that we can actually impact the longevity of our fertility, and health of our eggs.
The other incredible advancement in female fertility, is that it was previously thought women were born with all the eggs they will ever have. However there is a growing body of research to suggest that this is not actually the case. That we may, in fact, produce new eggs too.
The question now is how do we make sure that our reproductive age is young and healthy?
Most reproductive aging happens through a process of DNA damage. This is where the genetic material of your cells, primarily egg cells in this case, are damaged. As this happens it makes the eggs less viable, and so they die off. The progression towards menopause begins, and the ability to ovulate regularly, releasing healthy eggs, decreases.
What we want to do is to make sure that this DNA damage is reduced, or better still reversed.
This is where the role of antioxidants is very important. Antioxidants are like street sweepers. They come in and clean up all the graffiti and rubbish.
If you think about it, if we have more people who litter and graffiti, than we do street sweepers, then our streets will become damaged and dirty. If we have more street sweepers – the antioxidants – than the street will be nice and clean and healthy.
The aim here is two-fold. Employ more street sweepers, and get rid of the bad guys littering and putting graffiti over everything.
So who are our bad guys? These are also known to cause ‘free radicals’ and they include;
- Alcohol (which also affects your skin)
- Red meat
- Highly processed foods
- Simple sugars such as white bread, pasta, biscuits, cake etc
- Saturated fats
- Over-exercising (this is why rest days are important!)
- Mental stress
We want to decrease these things in our lives. Then we want to increase the street cleaners – our antioxidants.
- Vitamin D (seafood, sunlight)
- Vitamin E (seeds, nuts, and legumes)
- Co-enzyme Q10, or CoQ10
- B-group Vitamins (legumes, fish, mushrooms, avocado, capsicum)
- Vitamin C (capsicum, broccoli, strawberries, kiwifruit, citrus fruit, cauliflower)
- Omega 3 fatty acids (fish, nuts, seeds, avocado)
- Vitamin A (sweet potato, carrots, mango, melon, pumpkin, apricot, broccoli, tomato)
- Zinc (nuts, peas, seafood, wholegrains, oats)
- Copper (wholegrains, nuts, legumes, dark leafy veg)
- Selenium (nuts, fish, wholegrains)
If your cycles vary more than 2 – 3 days per month, for example one month is a 28 day menstrual cycle, and the next month is a 34 day cycle, the chances are it is due to a hormone imbalance.
This affects fertility by making it difficult to pinpoint your fertile window (the 5 – 6 days of the month you are most likely to conceive), it also means that you may ovulate at a time which is not conducive to implantation in the uterus. Meaning you may have a fertilised egg, but its house is not ready, so it cannot survive.
The best way to regulate hormones for conception is to look at the types of foods you are consuming.
We want more slow release carbohydrates, and less fast release. So more complex sugars, and less simple, refined sugars. You may have heard about this in relation to Glycemic Index (GI). Low GI foods help to regulate blood sugar levels, and our hormones. High GI foods do the opposite – disrupt our blood sugar levels, and our hormone production.
High GI foods to minimise include;
- White bread
- White sugar
- Sugary cereals
- Fruit juice
- Highly processed foods
Low GI foods which you can eat plenty of include;
- Most fruits and vegetables (as long as they are not juiced)
- Minimally processed grains
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds
Reproductive related conditions i.e. polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis
These conditions can make conception harder partly because they can cause a hormone imbalance. You can read above for ideas on how to re-balance hormones, particularly with PCOS.
Re-balancing hormones may also help with weight loss, which has been shown to improve fertility outcomes in women with PCOS.
Here are some factors which have shown improvement in ovulation for women with reproductive related conditions;
- Moderate exercise i.e. brisk walking, jogging or bodyweight training on most days of the week
- Low GI diet
- Gradual weight loss without major calorie restriction (if overweight or obese)
- Decreasing stress (B-group vitamins can help!)
- Getting a good night’s sleep (7 – 9 uninterrupted hours per night)
- Increase omega 3 fatty acid intake
- Increase selenium, magnesium, chromium, vitamin D, and calcium
If you pick just one or two things from these lists to help increase your chances of healthy ovulation, you are making a fantastic step in the right direction. A mistake many women make, is to think that they have to implement everything now. Even a couple of changes, reducing foods which cause damage, and increasing some of the nutrients which help, can increase the chances of a timely and healthy conception.
Happy baby making!