Herbs and advice to help with fertility
Step 1: Nutrition
This is by far the most important step. In modern times, many people are undernourished, despite being overweight. The body simply will not allow conception to occur or a pregnancy to continue if it doesn’t have the basic foundation it needs to sustain a pregnancy. Many women turn to a low-fat, high fiber diet in an attempt to increase health and lose weight. Weight loss has been shown to increase fertility, but losing weight in this way is rarely effective for increasing fertility because it deprives the body of the necessary proteins and fats necessary for hormone production.
Some nutritional ways to help optimize fertility:
- Remove processed grains, other processed foods, sugars and starches from the diet. Obtain more nutrient dense carbohydrates from vegetables, some fruits and starchy sources like sweet potatoes and squash.
- Increase healthy fats in the dietespecially from sources like coconuts, coconut oil, olives and olive oil, butter, grass-fed meats, eggs, avocado and nuts.
- Get enough protein especially from grass fed meats, eggs, and nuts. This is also important during pregnancy as adequate protein can help minimize the risk of certain pregnancy complications.
- Eat a lot of vegetables, especially green leafy varieties like lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard, chard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and similar veggies.
- Drink enough water- hydration is important for so many functions within the body, including fertility.
- Get insulin levels under control- even if you don’t have Type II diabetes, a high carbohydrate diet often goes hand-in-hand with some level of insulin resistance. Optimizing dietary factors with the above methods will help make your body more sensitive to insulin, which will help production of other hormones and proper function of the body.
For some women, nutrition alone can be enough to support the body for fertility. It is very important to continue these things once pregnant, and not stop giving yourself proper nutrition, which is even more vital for the growth of an unborn child. Of course, pregnancy is not a license to revert to a bad diet!
Step 2: Lifestyle Factors
Any doctor, or even a Google search, should reveal that habits like smoking, drug use, and high caffeine intake can severely impair fertility. There are many other lifestyle factors that contribute as well:
- Lack of sleep
- Exposure to harmful chemicals
- Lack of exercise (or too much exercise)
- High stress levels
- Certain medications or supplements
Most lifestyle factors are also easy to fix with a little effort. The most common lifestyle factors that can increase fertility are:
- Getting enough sleep– Sleep plays a vital role in production of many hormones. Studies have shown that women with low melatonin and serotonin levels have a shorter luteal phase (time between ovulation and menstruation) and consequently have a lower chance of conceiving. Lack of sleep also impairs the body’s ability to properly regulate adrenaline, cortisol and insulin, making conception very difficult. Make sleep a priority and get enough to feel rested, not just awake. This may mean taking a nap during the day or going to bed a few hours earlier. A completely dark sleep environment may also help melatonin levels and sleep.
- Minimize exposure to harmful chemicals- this should be a book in itself, but most women notice improvement from limiting exposure to household chemicals, plastic water bottles and conventional cosmetic and beauty products.
- Get the right amount of exercise– Getting adequate exercise is important for fertility, but too much can have the opposite effect. Most women do well with several hours of recreational activity a week (walking, fun sports, or swimming) and a few weight training sessions. Too much moderate/intensive exercise will keep the body from ovulation if done regularly. While weight loss can greatly help fertility, having too little body fat (below 15-18%) can make the body go into an anovulatory state.
- Limit Stress- Easier said than done, especially for anyone who is going through the emotions of fertility difficulties. You’ve probably been told that if you can relax, you will get pregnant. While this is certainly not true for everyone, reducing stress is a good idea. Often, the ideas above will help with many of the physical causes of stress, leaving you more time to (hopefully) relax.
- Check with your doctor to see if any medications you are taking could impair fertility. Steroids and antidepressants have been known to do so, as well as any other hormone containing or affecting medications.
Step 3: Supplements & Herbs
While diet and lifestyle alone often reverse infertility, some women notice better or faster results with the aid of natural supplements and herbs. The single most important supplement that I’ve seen help women increase fertility, is Cod Liver Oil, which is also excellent for a developing baby and a healthy pregnancy.
These herbs are also often recommended to help increase fertility:
- Red Raspberry Leaf– A well know fertility herb that is also good during pregnancy. It has a high nutrient profile and is especially high in calcium and is a uterine tonic. It is available in capsuleform, but makes an excellent hot or cold tea.
- Nettle Leaf– Has a very high mineral content. It contains lots of chlorophyll and is nourishing to the adrenals and kidneys. It helps reduce stress and is a powerful uterine tonic. Once pregnant, it is great for getting enough nutrients during pregnancy and has a high vitamin K content to prevent hemorrhage. I add nettle leaf to a tea that I drink before and during pregnancy.
- Dandelion– Contains vitamins A and C as well as trace minerals. The root is beneficial to the liver and the leaf is mildly diuretic. Can help cleanse the body and remove toxins.
- Alfalfa- Has vitamins A, D, E and K and 8 digestive enzymes. Contains trace minerals and vitamin K and is often added to commercial vitamins because of its high vitamin profile.
- Red Clover– Has a very high vitamin content and contains almost every trace mineral. It has been known to help balance hormones and restore fertility.
- Maca– A hormone balancing herb that is known throughout the world for its fertility and vitality promoting properties. Good for both men and women to increase fertility, though women should only take between menses and ovulation and discontinue to make sure it is not taken during pregnancy. It is a very potent herb that often has very noticeable effects on fertility. It comes in powder form or capsule form.
- Vitex/Chaste Tree Berry– Nourishes the pituitary gland and helps lengthen the luteal phase. It lowers prolactin and raises progesterone. For some women, this alone will increase fertility.
IMPORTANT: Do not take any of these herbs in combination with fertility drugs, hormone treatments, or hormonal birth control! As with any herbs, supplements, or medication, consult a doctor or health care professional about your specific case and do your own research!
Vitamins that promote fertility:
- Vitamin D- Vitamin D deficiency is very common in America, especially during the winter, and can be very detrimental to overall health. Recent studies link inadequate vitamin D with infertility and miscarriage. Have your levels checked to find out how much you need.
- Vitamin C– A potent antioxidant, vitamin C is good for both male and female infertility. Aim for at least 2,000 mg a day pre-conception.
- Folate– Folate (not folic acid) is well known as a necessary vitamin in early pregnancy to prevent complications, but it is most beneficial when taken for several month before the pregnancy as well as during. It helps cell division and promotes ovulation. Some natural doctors recommend taking up to 5,000 micrograms a day and women hoping to get pregnant should take at least 2,000 micrograms a day. It is important to note that many people have trouble using the synthetic form, folic acid, and do better with folate or methylfolate (this post explains more).
- Zinc- Very important for cell division including sperm production and ovulation. Best when taken in combination with b-vitamins.
- Selenium– Helps protect the body from free radicals and protects sperm and egg. Known to help cell division and might prevent miscarriage.
- B-Vitamins– Deficiency of b-vitamins is common in anyone who consumes large amounts of processed foods, grains or sugars. Optimizing b vitamin levels can increase lutenizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone to improve fertility.