A Story about overcoming infertility challenges
Two years ago, Jenny was diagnosed with diminished ovarian reserve. It is a condition in which the ovary loses its normal reproductive potential, compromising fertility.
Both Rob and Jenny are just 32 years old. And, they have a lot riding on an upcoming in-vitro-fertilization (IVF) procedure.
At the time, doctors suggested a procedure for harvesting her remaining eggs, so that someday, they would be able to have a baby through IVF.
Rob and Jenny came to see me recently in an effort to incorporate holistic nutrition with the medical approach suggested by their doctors.
Jenny is taking birth control pills, which her doctor told her would help “regulate her cycle”. But she has been experiencing some unpleasant side effects, such as bloating, moodiness and trouble sleeping.
She is conscientious about her diet, and takes the supplements recommended by the fertility clinic prior to the IVF transfer.
But, with just one month until their big day, Rob and Jenny want to make sure they are doing everything right.
After all, the couple’s dream of having a baby and starting their family is on the line.
Fertility Procedures are Becoming Commonplace
If Rob and Jenny’s story sounds familiar, or if you have struggled to get pregnant naturally, you're not alone.
There are many different causes of infertility. This blog post addresses specifically the four hidden reasons affecting many women today.
In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting or staying pregnant.
For the woman, getting pregnant relies on the ovaries releasing healthy eggs.
The reproductive tract must allow an egg to pass into the fallopian tubes and join with sperm for fertilization. The fertilized egg must travel to the uterus and implant in the lining.
(Quick definition: Infertility is clinically defined as not being able to get pregnant despite having frequent, unprotected sex for at least one year. Often, one or more complications in the scenario described above may be present for various reasons.)
Infertility is something that, at first glance, just doesn’t make much sense.
Why in the world - in this age full of technology and medical advancements - are infertility rates on the rise?
In my nutrition practice, I have recently seen more women in their 20’s and 30’s having difficulty conceiving with no known cause.
One theory: Our bodies are quite amazing, and infertility may in fact be a protective mechanism of the body.
Until the underlying causes are addressed, it may continue to be difficult to conceive.
OK, on to the list of the four hidden reasons why many women are experiencing fertility problems...
1. Health in Crisis: Disease-Associated Infertility
While not exactly a hidden cause of infertility among women, it’s important to recognize that strong links have been found between the rise of infertility in women of childbearing age with the increasing prevalence of other health complications, such as diabetes and obesity.
It is not surprising that hormonal imbalances associated with these diseases are undoubtedly a contributing factor to infertility issues.
Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have trouble getting pregnant
When a woman receives a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), one of the first things she may be told is that getting pregnant will be a challenge.
Indeed, PCOS is a leading cause of infertility and is a common hormonal disorder, Among women who have trouble getting pregnant, it’s estimated that half have PCOS.
Contrary to the name, cysts do not cause PCOS. Cysts are simply a symptom of the metabolic and hormonal storm that’s going on in the body.
The cysts are egg follicles that were not released when ovulation was meant to occur.
Rather than being released, they remain ‘stuck’ on the ovary and appear as cysts.
Up to 25% of ‘normal’ woman have poly (many) cystic ovaries. However, to have a true PCOS diagnosis, you also need to have the high levels of androgens.
The ovaries produce hormones, which are chemicals that control functions in the body. One of the hormones that the ovaries make is estrogen, a hormone predominantly found in women.
But the ovaries also make androgens, which are sometimes called "male hormones" because men's bodies make more of them than women's bodies do.
(Fun fact: Men and women need certain levels of both hormones for normal health.)
In a woman with PCOS, the hormones are out of balance.
So, a woman with PCOS may have higher-than-normal levels of androgens and may have lower-than-normal levels of estrogen.
Essentially, the cause of PCOS is high androgen levels.
And, subsequently, most of the symptoms of PCOS are caused by higher-than-normal levels of androgens.
High levels of androgens can:
- interfere with signals from the brain that normally result in ovulation, so that ovulation does not occur regularly
- cause the ovarian follicles (small, fluid-filled cysts within the ovaries in which eggs grow and mature) to enlarge, forming cysts
- produce other symptoms of PCOS, including excess hair growth and acne
Inflammation and insulin resistance are the biggest contributors to PCOS.
Insulin is our storage hormone. When we eat, our body detects a rise in blood sugar.
When blood sugar is high for prolonged periods of time, our body doesn’t like it.
This is because it can lead to damage in the cells of our brain, liver, pancreas, heart, and eyes. Therefore, the body stores excess blood sugar in muscle and liver cells for later use.
Insulin is the hormone that tells the cells to open up and let glucose in. It’s excreted by the pancreas and binds to a receptor on the cell. This works in a similar way to a key opening a lock.
When the key has been used too much, or there is chronic low-grade inflammation, the lock starts to get a bit worn and clogged up. The key no longer fits. This is insulin resistance.
High insulin levels stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens. They also reduce the amount of Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG) in the blood.
SHBG is like a sponge for excess hormones.
If levels of SHBG are low, then the levels of hormones in the blood will be much higher.
Inflammation occurs when your immune system is chronically activated. Studies have now shown that inflammation can cause insulin resistance.
It may also have to be present for insulin resistance to occur in the first place.
Many things can cause inflammation, including:
- Eating foods that you’re intolerant to
- Poor gut health
- High stress hormones – such as the adrenal hormone Cortisol
- Environmental toxins
Inflammation has been shown to increase androgens and impair ovulation, even without insulin resistance.
If you get recurrent infections or are sick all the time, this could be an indicator that you have chronic inflammation.
Other signs of inflammation include: seasonal allergies, asthma, sore joints, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or skin problems like eczema.
Undiagnosed (AKA Subclinical) Hashimoto’s or Hypothyroidism Can Cause Infertility
Autoimmune thyroid disease is very common in women of childbearing age.
It can lead to either an overactive (Graves’ disease, hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, hypothyroidism).
Autoimmune thyroid disease occurs when the body makes antibodies that attack the thyroid.
This is characterized by positive thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin antibodies. It is also most commonly associated with an increased risk of developing hypothyroidism.
Hashimoto’s is the name of the autoimmune disease, while hypothyroidism is a thyroid condition that can develop because of it.
Not everyone with Hashimoto’s disease will develop hypothyroidism, but it is the most common cause.
If you have an underactive thyroid, or too little thyroid hormone in your blood due to an issue like Hashimoto’s, the body is unable to function normally.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism often include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, mood swings and irregular periods causing infertility.
Autoimmune thyroid disease has been shown to be more common in women seeking treatment for infertility.
The significance of thyroid issues for women hoping to conceive is important because often times the disease is overlooked, undiagnosed, or untreated. This is usually due to incomplete testing with blood labs and “inconclusive” results.
Women with positive TPO antibodies have been shown to have an increased risk of pregnancy complications, including miscarriage and preterm labor.
When the thyroid is functioning at a lower than normal level, it will impact other functions of the body - pregnancy is no exception.
Evidence is still inconclusive regarding first trimester miscarriages.
However, a Chinese study in 2014 found that women with both early/mild hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity have a greater risk of miscarriage between weeks 4 and 8.
I believe that Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism are conditions that should be tested for, addressed and treated as quickly as possible.
Especially so, if a woman is experiencing fertility concerns, and especially during pregnancy, to reduce the risk of miscarriage.
If you have a thyroid disorder and is seeking the right nutrition to support your thyroid and fertility, you can check out my 4-week Hashimoto's Fertility Meal Plan to help you take charge of your hormones, your menstrual health and tackle fertility!
2. Planet in Crisis: Toxin-Associated Infertility
With rising infertility rates, very few experts in reproductive health are pointing to negative factors such as environmental toxin exposure.
But we should be examining the health of our environment as a powerful contributor to decreased fertility.
Exposure to environmental toxins has proven to be a major contributor to infertility on a global scale.
Everywhere we turn there are more chemicals and technological improvements that have negative consequences on health.
Electro-Magnetic Frequency (EMF)
More people on earth now own and use a cellular device than ever before in history. And, researchers believe this change in our surrounding environment may be contributing to increases in male infertility.
EMF radiation is a form of energy emitted by all electronic devices, and this energy has been found to interfere with our body’s cells.
EMF radiation can cause a cellular stress response, which can lead to more concerns, including DNA fragmentation and free radical damage. Other biological effects include cell death (apoptosis) and changes in cell membranes.
This type of damage occurs in both males and females.
A study found that people living close to cell phone base stations had “significantly higher” concentrations of alpha-amylase (a marker of stress) in their bodies.
At the same time, higher levels of stress, as measured by alpha-amylase, have been linked to an increased risk of infertility in women.
So, if we put two and two together, increased exposure to cell phone radiation leads to higher stress, which compromises a woman’s fertility.
A new report by the non-profit Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University finds people in nearly every state are exposed to unhealthy drinking water.
According to the researchers, 43 states have locations, including drinking water sites, contaminated with Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals.
The CDC says these chemicals have been linked to health issues that include birth defects, cancers and infertility.
Recently, research on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan showed the actual impact on fertility after lead contamination in the city's drinking water.
The results: fertility rates dropped by 12 percent and fetal deaths rose by 58 percent.
A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, “Toxic Truth: Lead and Fertility,” confirms a connection between effects of lead exposure and fertility.
For the first time, they provided causal evidence of the effects of lead exposure on fertility for large portions of the U.S. population, both male and female.
They even found that increased levels of lead in the air increased the probability of a person seeking treatment for infertility.
Another example of a pervasive environmental pollutant is the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA).
The chemical BPA, which makes plastic hard and clear, has been used in many consumer products such as reusable water bottles.
It also is found in epoxy resins, that form a protective lining inside metal food and beverage cans.
This chemical has been shown to compromise the quality of a woman’s eggs retrieved for in vitro fertilization (IVF).
A small-scale University of California, San Francisco-led study has found the first human evidence of a relationship between BPA and fertility.
It showed that when exposed to bisphenol A (BPA), the percentage of eggs that fertilized normally declined by 50 percent.
3. Ethics in Crisis: Pharmaceutical-Associated Infertility
Pharmaceutical drugs that are prescribed to help manage and treat certain illnesses and diseases can sometimes have a negative effect on both male and female fertility.
If you are trying to conceive, it is important to speak with your health-care provider about the possible effects that your prescribed medication may have on your fertility.
Prescription drugs including hormonal contraceptives (birth control pills), steroids, high blood pressure medication, and antidepressants can all negatively affect the reproductive system.
The most common side effect of these medications is loss of libido, however, some of these medications can also lead to:
- lowered sperm count
- erectile dysfunction
- menstrual irregularities
- nutrient deficiencies that may result in hormonal imbalances
Birth Control Pills
Birth control is commonly prescribed for preventing pregnancy and to control acne.
The pills are also prescribed for a variety of fertility issues. This includes endometriosis, PCOS, ovarian cysts, pain associated with fertility issues, PMS, and irregular menstrual cycles etc.
An abundance of case reports and research suggests that taking the Pill can negatively impact long-term fertility.
1. Menstrual cycle disruption
Normally, a female’s menstrual cycle is influenced by the ebb and flow of various hormones in the body.
Each month, these hormones encourage the lining to grow and thicken to prepare it for the possibility of receiving a fertilized egg cell.
When fertilization does not occur, the uterine lining is shed in the form of menstrual flow. When you take the pill, you introduce synthetic hormones into your system.
These artificial hormones in the pill suppress the pituitary glands to inhibit ovulation or the release of the egg from the ovary. They also prevent the uterine lining from growing.
These hormonal changes caused by the pill can significantly affect the regularity of your menstrual cycle. When your uterine lining doesn’t thicken, there is very little to shed, so you bleed less than usual.
On the other hand, when you’re on the placebo week, there are no hormones in the pill, so you get your period.
If you are on the pill, chances are you will experience irregular bleeding, bleeding between periods, or no period at all.
2. Hormone imbalance
Synthetic hormone-containing birth control may provide symptom relief.
However, it does not address the underlying imbalance that is fueling or contributing to the fertility issue being dealt with.
What the Pill is doing is introducing synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone to the body. These synthetic forms then prevent the body’s natural, beneficial hormones from bonding to hormone receptor sites.
Introducing synthetic hormones into the body may further exacerbate hormone imbalance by overloading it.
3. Disrupted ovulation
The synthetic hormones contained in birth control regulate release and timing of specific hormones in the body to prevent ovulation.
This is not how the normal release of hormones plays out in a naturally occurring menstrual cycle.
It is necessary to ovulate a mature, healthy follicle (egg) in order to achieve natural pregnancy.
The Pill prevents the maturation of a follicle for ovulation, one of the ovaries most important jobs.
Over time, the ovaries may “forget” how to do their job on their own. Just because they haven’t been signaled with the right hormones at the correct time in the menstrual cycle.
4. Cervical mucus changes
The Pill has been shown to change cervical mucus so that sperm cannot reach the egg.
Healthy cervical mucus is important for conception because it helps sperm travel through the vagina and the cervix to meet and fertilize an egg.
5. Changes the uterine lining
The Pill changes the uterine lining to make it unreceptive to the implantation of a fertilized egg.
It controls the body’s estrogen and progesterone levels with synthetic hormones. And, it also prevents the proper levels of progesterone to build a healthy uterine lining for implantation.
Many women begin taking the pill at a very young age and don’t stop until they want to begin trying to conceive.
The Pill doesn’t cause infertility but impacts long-term fertility by silencing a woman’s biological clock.
In other cases, women ignore or forget they are dealing with a fertility issue because the symptoms have gone away.
The bottom line is: women trying to control the symptoms of a fertility issue by taking the Pill are not addressing the underlying imbalance that is fueling or contributing to the fertility issue.
Instead, they are using a synthetic medication to control the symptoms of the problem while simultaneously allowing the body to defy nature.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine
In 2006, Gardasil, sometimes referred to as the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Gardasil is administered in three shots over the course of six months, to protect against HPV infection and its complications, including cervical cancers in women.
The vaccine is also marketed as offering protection against genital warts, as well as cancers of the anus, vulva and vagina.
Gardasil is given to males as well as females between the ages of 9 and 20.
A study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health examined the childbearing capacity of women who received the HPV vaccine and those who didn’t.
Study results suggest the following:
- Females who received the HPV shot were less likely to have ever been pregnant than women in the same age group who did not receive the shot.
- The birth rate had declined in America in recent years - from 118 per 1,000 in 2007, to 105 in 2015 for the population cohort aged 25 to 29.
Opponents of the vaccine, including physicians, pose valid questions about the safety, risks, benefits and aggressive marketing of Gardasil.
Between 2006 and 2014, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) cited 48 cases of ovarian damage associated with autoimmune reactions in HPV vaccine recipients.
VAERS also catalogued other reproductive issues including: spontaneous abortion (256 cases), amenorrhea (172 cases), and irregular menstruation (172 cases). These are all likely under-reported symptoms following administration of the vaccine.
One way to better understand the risk/benefit analysis of all medication (including vaccines) is to thoroughly review materials produced directly by the manufacturer.
I have personally read the patient insert which accompanies the Gardasil vaccine.
My concerns with some of the ingredients in Gardasil:
- Aluminum: experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin and the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant. Experimental research shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications. This may thus have profound and widespread adverse health consequences.
- Polysorbate 80 (also known as polyoxyethylene-sorbitan-20 mono-oleate, or Tween 80) has been shown in rat studies to accelerate the maturation of the female rats. It also damages the vagina and womb lining, cause significant hormonal changes, severe ovary deformities. And, it ultimately renders the young female rats infertile.
- L-histidine: an essential amino acid necessary for protein synthesis (creation of protein) and various other functions in cells and tissues. It also acts as a precursor (foundation) for histamine. High histamine in the body may produce an allergic reaction, inflammation, changes in blood clotting, gastrointestinal disturbances, heart palpitations, fainting, changes in blood pressure, neurological problems and more.
The best advice about the HPV vaccine comes from Dr. Kelly Brogan. She encourages parents to inform themselves on the safety of the vaccine before subjecting their children to the injections.
4. Lives in Crisis: Stress-Associated Infertility
Today, researchers have data that suggests preconception stress plays a role in infertility. The study findings appear online in the journal Human Reproduction.
Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and colleagues found that stress and infertility are related.
The findings showed that women with high levels of alpha-amylase - a biomarker of stress - are 29 percent less likely to get pregnant each month.
Also, these women are more than twice as likely to meet the clinical definition of infertility. i.e. They remained not pregnant despite 12 months of regular unprotected intercourse) compared to women with low levels of this protein enzyme.
Researchers tracked 501 American women ages 18 to 40 years who were free from known fertility problems and had just started trying to conceive.
The researchers followed them for 12 months or until they became pregnant as part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study.
Saliva samples were collected from participants the morning following enrollment. And, samples were also collected again the morning following the first day of their first study-observed menstrual cycle.
Specimens were available for 373 women and were measured for the presence of salivary alpha-amylase and cortisol, two biomarkers of stress.
The researchers showed that stress is associated with a greater than two-fold increased risk of infertility among women.
This results should encourage women experiencing difficulty getting pregnant to consider managing their stress using stress reduction techniques.
However, as indicated above, stress is not the only or most important factor involved in a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
Rob and Jenny’s Health Discoveries…
Rob and Jenny, whom I mentioned at the beginning, have been looking deeper into their own risk factors for infertility and eliminating them one at a time.
Here are a few facts about Jenny’s health history that she believes may have played a role in her diminished ovarian reserve:
- When Jenny was 20 years old she received a course of 3 HPV vaccinations in a 6-month period.
- At 21, Jenny was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. A genetic test revealed Jenny is compound heterozygous for the MTHFR genetic variation, which is associated with increased risk of blood clots.
- In her late 20s, Jenny was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and began taking Levothyroxine. Until recently, she did not know her hypothyroidism was the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s.
Nutrition & Lifestyle Can Help
Here’s the thing, Jenny has always been pretty careful about her eating. She likes fruits and veggies and tries to consume adequate protein.
She admits she has a sweet tooth and likes her coffee but recently she is cutting back on both. Jenny has taken a women’s one-a-day multivitamin from the drug store for nearly a decade.
Aside from the history above, Jenny hasn’t had too many issues with her health.
Infertility came as a bit of a surprise.
When Rob and Jenny came to see me, they wanted to know about the comprehensive nutrition and lifestyle options that would support their plans for IVF transfer.
Together, we thoughtfully embarked on a holistic nutrition plan for optimal fertility:
- Spectracell micronutrient testing showed us that Jenny had nutrient deficiencies, and specific nutritional needs to support her MTHFR status. With additional methylfolate, b-complex vitamins, carnitine and antioxidants, Jenny is feeling stronger and more energetic than ever. SAMPLE Spectracell Micronutrient TEST REPORT
- Food Inflammation Testing (FIT testing) revealed hidden inflammation from frequent foods in Jenny’s diet. Following elimination of the inflammatory foods, Jenny’s digestive system is feeling much better. It has less gas and bloating, fewer aches and pains in her joints and more energy throughout the day. SAMPLE FIT TEST REPORT
- Avoidance of common food, household and skincare chemicals is helping both Rob and Jenny reduce their toxic load. This is important for helping Jenny’s thyroid be more productive (remember, she has Hashimoto’s). Through daily detox practices, both Rob and Jenny have enjoyed fewer complaints of dry/itchy skin, seasonal allergies, fatigue after meals and digestive disturbances.
- Rob installed a whole-house Aquasana water filtration system in their home. Pure, clean water has given them the peace of mind that the common chemical residues found in municipal tap is not a threat to them or their future family.
- Rob and Jenny put EMF radiation reduction devices on their laptops, cell phones and ipads.
- Finally, they have begun a morning yoga routine together. It incorporates both movement and meditation - for reducing stress and getting more exercise.
You Have the Power To Resolve Your Fertility Challenges
Here’s the good news: some of the things a woman can do to help resolve fertility issues involve making major lifestyle choices.
A woman can focus on what is within her control, such as: nutrition, sleep, managing stress, and chemical exposure.
We each hold tremendous power over our own health and fertility status by choosing healthy lifestyle habits.
The above information hopefully gets you on a path towards resolving your fertility concerns.
But, if this leaves you feeling like additional support is right for you, please consider my Happy & Healthy Adult Program.
I can help you uncover your root cause and get you on a path towards greater health and achieving all your goals and dreams.