When a couple can’t get pregnant, the cause is often hard to pinpoint. Generally the first stop is at the local GPs office to cross some common causes off the list. In men these include low sperm count and poor sperm motility. In women it may include Polycystic Ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, hormonal imbalances and weight issues. But what happens when you don’t have any of these issues and have left the Doctors baffled? Or maybe you are experiencing one of these blocks to fertility but have no idea what’s caused them.
This is where naturopathic and functional medicine becomes useful as it looks for the root cause of a health issue vs its’ symptoms. And when it comes to the issue of fertility, there are many factors that your local Doctor may not have considered or talked to you about that may resolve your issue.
It is estimated almost 10% of Australian women have some level of Endometriosis. About a third of these women struggle to get pregnant, mainly due to:
- Scarring of the tubes and ovaries, from both endometrial adhesions themselves and the scarring left after surgery;
- Problems with the quality of the egg (this is especially true in the presence of endometriomas which can contaminate eggs and eventually cause ovarian dysfunction);
- Damaged and/or blocked tubes that prevent formed embryos from travelling to the uterus for implantation.
Endometriosis is extremely hard to diagnose without a laparoscopy. Often is is easy to pick with the more the obvious symptoms of severe ovulation/period pain, fatigue and heavy periods (menorraghia). Other indicators may be presence of endometriosis on a deep endometrial ultrasound and high CA-125 and CRP in the blood.
One of the less talked about issues with endometriosis and infertility issues is that a good portion of sufferers have no symptoms at all. Normally they are totally unaware they have the condition until a laparoscopy is performed as a last resort. This often occurs after multiple rounds of IVF which would’ve potentially been unnecessary should the endometriosis been resolved in the first place.
Many women fall pregnant successfully after a laparoscopy is performed to remove the endometriosis. Naturopathic medicine also plays an important part in taming endometriosis symptoms and keep it from growing back post surgery. If you have endometriosis and want to know more about what you can do to treat it naturally please read this post.
PCOS (polycystic Ovary Syndrome) is a condition characterised by polycystic ovaries, insulin resistance, anovulation, inflammation and excess androgens (male hormones). It can be harder for some PCOS patients to get pregnant due to the hormone imbalance associated with the condition that interferes with regular, normal ovulation. women with PCOs also carry an increased risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes and preterm deliveries.
Many women with PCOS however do get pregnant. The condition can be addressed naturopathically via evidence based diets, and natural medicines that restore normal ovulation and increase egg quality by balancing out hormones, resolving insulin resistance and reducing weights. naturopathic medicine also addresses deficiencies that have been shown in the research to increase the risk of developing PCOS (such as with Vitamin D).
A congested liver causes imbalances between progesterone and estrogen, potentially causing a myriad of reproductive symptoms including potential fertility problems. Read more here about how liver congestion affects hormone balance.
Adrenal/ HPA dysfunction & chronic stress
The adrenals are small glands that sit on top of each of our kidneys. They are responsible for releasing the stress hormones (upon instruction from the brain) that allow us to react to emotional stress, injury, environmental toxins and over-exertion. They are also responsible for the production of pregnelolone and DHEA, two androgen hormones used as ingredients for our sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone and testosterone).
So what happens when you get stressed time and time again? Your brain and adrenal glands get tired, you get tired and it becomes a lot harder to conceive as your hormones levels diminish. This is a common condition known as Adrenal Dysfunction. As the emotional, physical or psychological stress then continues, an excessive amount of pregnelolone is shunted down the stress hormone pathway (cortisol’s pathway) in order to support the stress response, leaving progesterone and estrogen level insufficient for conception. NB: environmental stress, such as toxic chemicals from the water and air, can also cause adrenal dysfunction over time.
The MTHFR gene
If you are having trouble falling pregnant you may like to consider getting screened for the MTHFR gene. A defect in this gene is prevalent, affecting 50% of the population mildly and 25% of the population more seriously. The defect itself stops you from activating the vitamin B9 (folate) you absorb from food. Without this activation, a vital biochemical process called methylation is unable to do its job, leading to many health problems including a disruption to the normal breaking down of homocysteine. High homocysteine levels in the body have linked by science to miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, pregnancy associated blood clotting and post partum depression.
It is worth noting though that not everyone with this genetic defect shows high homocysteine levels on a blood test. This result depends on the rest of your genetic make up. Whilst the defect itself is unchangeable, the issue is easily addressed with a daily activated B complex (the word “activated” being key). Also, look out for skyrocket high folate and B12 levels on a blood test (especially if you don’t eat a lot of meat and/or green vegetables). Your local GP won’t pay much attention to it but it is a good indicator you might be carrying some level of the defect.
Most of us in modern day life are exposed daily to an array of environmental and toxic heavy metals. Perhaps you used to socially smoke taking a good hit of arsenic at the same time. Or if you drive or cycle, you are exposed to lead in the traffic air, which is heavy here in Sydney. One of the more common heavy metals that may hinder the conception process is mercury, which primarily comes from amalgam fillings. Even if you had the fillings out years ago, it is likely you are still toxic with mercury Mercury loves to hide in fatty tissues (especially the brain, thyroid and ovaries) and cause havoc in the body (including within female reproductive system). It can also put extra stress on the HPA axis/ adrenal glands. This issue is easily rectified with the help of a good holistic dentist and a naturopathic chelation detox program which involves a specialised diet and supplement protocol.
The less sleep you get the harder it can be to conceive. Sleep deprivation in itself is a stress on the body and may contribute to adrenal fatigue by causing the deregulation of insulin, adrenaline and cortisol (see how adrenal fatigue affects fertility above). The body also produces hormones such as melatonin and serotonin while we sleep. There is some scientific research that shows women low in these hormones have a shorter luteal phase hence a lower chance of conceiving.
The Conception Vessel
The Conception Vessel is an important energy meridian in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It runs from the front of the pubic region, up past the belly button, all the way up to the throat along the midline of the body. It is related to the function of the uterus, assists with healthy menstruation and development of the foetus.
Sometimes, when this energy path is blocked or compromised, a woman can experience a host of inexplicable reproductive issues including difficulties in getting and staying pregnant. Blockages can be caused by:
Physiological conditions such as Pelvic Inflammatory disease, Endometriosis or fibroids.
Issues with or trauma to the central top and bottom teeth, including dental procedures such as root canals.
Using acupuncture, specialised herbs and massage, a skilled Chinese Medicine Practitioner is usually able to unblock any of these possible obstructions alone the Contraception Vessel meridian. Contact me for a referral to the best TCM practitioner for you.
Worrying and obsessing about getting pregnant can stop you from getting pregnant in the first place. It is a common story to hear of a woman finally getting pregnant once she’d freed herself from the idea and let it all go. Another common anecdotal report tells the story of apparently infertile women that give up trying, adopt, only to find themselves accidentally pregnant a little later on. Relaxation is key to conception.
You also can’t argue quantum physics. The Law of Observation implies what you focus on, you get. Science has shown time and time again how negative thought patterns biochemically influence physiological responses. If your thoughts are focused on a fear of not getting pregnant, the body will follow and that is what will likely eventuate. You’re a woman. The genius of nature physiologically designed you to have a baby grow inside. So let go, have some faith, keep having a lot of good sex with your partner (especially around ovulation time) and let your body take care of the rest.