11 Ways to Improve Your Fertility
Science knows it takes a healthy man and a healthy woman to make a healthy baby, but some couples conceive effortlessly while others struggle despite their strong health. Experts agree that fertility is still largely a mystery. “We have hints—factors like when your mom went through menopause and how regular your cycles are—but they don’t tell us everything. So much of it depends on the individual,” Dr. Sarah Berga, Chair of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in N.C., told Health.com. In fact, fertility can be affected by many factors, more than most people realize, which involves not only genetics but also lifestyle.
Here are 11 lifestyle changes to increase you and your partner’s fertility health:
1. Go to sleep!
Women who consistently get seven to eight hours of rest a night and maintain a routine, going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, boost fertility results by at least 53 percent, especially among women undergoing IVF treatments. Interestingly, they were 25 percent more likely to become pregnant than those who snooze nine hours or more but without a consistent sleep schedule, according to a South Korean study.
2. Turn off the screens at night.
It’s widely known that artificial light from electronics like smartphones and tablets stress sleep cycles, which is one reason to put them away. However, the fake light also harms fertility and fetal development, according to research published in Fertility and Sterility. The exposure suppresses melatonin production, a natural hormone that puts people to sleep and helps women ovulate. Artificial light can also affect a fetus’s internal clock, which can have long-term effects.
3. Brush and floss your teeth.
Take care of your oral hygiene—brush and floss every day, and go to your biannual dental exam! Women who needed fertility treatments suffered from higher rates of gum bleeding and inflammation than those who conceived naturally, according to a study published in the Journal of Periodontology. In fact, gum disease can add two months to the length of time it takes to conceive compared to women with strong oral health.
4. Alleviate your stress.
One in six couples experience difficulty conceiving. If you’re having trouble, give yourself a spa or yoga day, take a vacation or a weekend getaway, and attempt to lower your stress. As long as you’re having sex two to four times a week, your fertile window (the days in your cycle you are most fertile) last 5 to 8 days, and begins up to 5 days prior to actual ovulation.
Stress effects fertility in a variety of ways. For one, stress reduces your sex drive, but if your stress level is high enough, it can even prevent the ovulation process altogether. In fact, women with high amounts of alpha-amylase, a stress hormone, have a 29 percent lower chance of conceiving and face twice as much risk for infertility, according to research published in Human Reproduction. One study showed that women with infertility issues felt as anxious and depressed as those diagnosed with things like cancer and hypertension. If you are stressing about becoming pregnant, for example, integrate stress management techniques into your routine, and consider seeking advice from a counselor or support group.
5. Be careful with the sex lube.
Water-based lubricant can slow sperm’s swimming ability by 60 to 100 percent within an hour of sex, which reduces their chances of reaching the egg. Instead, choose a lube like Pre-Seed, a sperm-friendly lubricant that’s available over the counter, and proven to be “fertility-friendly.”
6. Don’t watch too much television or keep your phone near your crotch.
Stay away from the tube, especially if you’re a dude. Men who watch more than 20 hours of TV a week showed a 44 percent lower sperm count than those who watch almost none, reports a 2013 Harvard study. Likewise, men who store their phones on their belts or in their pants pockets have lower sperm counts. The reason may be related to electromagnetic waves, according to an Environmental Working Group study, but may also be due to heightened scrotal temperatures, which have also been linked to male infertility. Therefore, avoid prolonged exposure to hot laptops and phones, or baths and saunas.
7. Watch the scale.
Weight can be a huge obstacle to conception. In fact, 12 percent of infertility cases are related to weight according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. For women, being over- or underweight can affect estrogen levels, which interferes with normal menstruation and ovulation. For men, it can affect the testosterone level, which affects their sperm count and concentration. Don’t panic if your BMI is too low, or too high, but review the options with your healthcare provider.
8. Watch the cholesterol.
According to a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, high cholesterol in women prolongs the time it takes to conceive. When the male and female partners have high cholesterol, couples struggle even longer to get pregnant. The results from this study remained true even after adjusting for age and BMI.
9. Pay attention to what you eat.
If you’re not eating the right foods, and vitamins and minerals, you could be messing with your body’s ability to make reproductive hormones such like progesterone, insulin, and testosterone. For example, low glycemic-index foods like brown rice, whole grain pasta, and dark bread lower infertility risk according to a 2009 Harvard study; furthermore, whole milk intake makes women 50 percent less likely to experience infertility, according to a 2007 Harvard study. Women must also eat up to 400 micrograms of folic acid a day so the body can create plenty of red blood cells, which are crucial for expecting mothers; folic acid is in foods like sunflower seeds, spinach, eggs, and grains. For men, tomatoes have an antioxidant compound, lycopene, that increases sperm count by 70 percent, according to a report by Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic. Meanwhile, you should avoid junk food and artificial drinks like soda. A 2012 study found that women who drink two or more sodas a day, for example, have about a 16 percent lower fertility rate than women who don’t drink soda at all.
10. Stop drinking. Quit smoking.
Alcohol not only suppresses libido and sexual stimulation in women and men, but also, impacts sperm quality by preventing the body from absorbing zinc. A 2014 study showed healthy young men who drank five or more drinks a week had 33 percent lower sperm count, and 51 percent less “normally shaped” sperm than those who drank less than that. Similarly, smoking is tied to 13 percent of infertility cases, and for men, it leads to lower sperm count and concentration, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In addition, women exposed to secondhand smoke for six or more hours a day were 36 percent more likely to have trouble conceiving, but after staying away from smoke for about a year, their fertility levels returned to normal, reports a study published in Tobacco Control.
11. Minimize your phthalate and other endocrine disruptor exposure.
Phthalates, a group of synthetic chemicals used in some plastics and cosmetics, harm people’s baby-making abilities according to a study presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. The study found that women with high levels of phthalates in their bodies were twice as likely to suffer implantation failure during IVF, and previous studies have shown that phthalates harm a man’s fertility. Endocrine disruptors mess with the endocrine system that manages hormones. They can be found in plastics, but also, chemicals found in everyday household products like cleaning supplies and food packaging. Studies show that the quality and amount of sperm can be affected by chemical exposure even in trace quantities.
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