At our practice, we see a lot of women who are trying to conceive (TTC). Some women come for Functional Medicine consultations (lab- and supplement-based), others come for our Optimal Fertility Treatments (acupuncture-based). And while the term “infertility” is a commonly used diagnosis to describe the experience of trying to conceive for 12 consecutive months without success, we really don’t “treat infertility.” More accurately, we optimize fertility. I think that’s an important distinction. We don’t start with the premise that these women are non-fertile. We start with the premise that they have imbalances that are disrupting their reproductive function, and we look for and correct those imbalances to restore fertility.
Some may say it’s just semantics, but I say it’s a crucial choice of mindset, language, and focus. We are not focusing on the “problem.” Certainly, we recognize the problems (anovulation, PCOS, insufficient progesterone, etc) and we’ll use diagnostic labs, diet and lifestyle changes, acupuncture therapy, and supplements to help correct them. However, our focus and our goal is to optimize the woman’s entire wellness infrastructure – mind, body, and spirit – with all it’s complex and interrelated psychological, neural, hormonal, immunal, and gastrointestinal aspects, so that our female clients are able to experience the normal, God-given gift and design of procreation.
So rather than bore you with the phases of the menstrual cycle, LH surges, charting BBTs, and losing weight (specifically fat weight so that your adipose tissues don’t secrete excess estrogen and cause hormonal chaos for you. By the way, we can teach you these things when you come for your consults or visits), I’d like to share with you my basic beliefs about fertility and the path to optimal fertility.
I believe fertility is normal and of God’s design, with the woman who is never able to conceive being the very rare exception. For that very special woman, God’s plan is uniquely & beautifully different, and there’s no sadness or fear in that. Often that plan is filled with other undreamt of joys and experiences – hope and trust are necessary here. But I promise you, peace and fulfillment can be had no matter what the outcome may be. This goes for just about everything in life.
Because fertility is normal and of God’s design, the unprecedented high percentage of women who struggle to conceive in our modern society (I was one of them) indicates that we have strayed far from the normal rhythms of life and nature. These rhythms are essential and beneficial to life, as well as the creation of more life. Everything about life and creating life has an element of rhythm or cycle to it. I’m talking about menstrual cycles, ovulatory cycles, sleep-wake cycles / circadian rhythms, diurnal cortisol patterns, heartbeat rhythms, breathing patterns, hunger and satiety cycles, hair growth cycles, endocrine-related negative feedback cycles, and so on and so forth.
The reality for most of us in 2019 is that we are sorely out of sync with nature’s rhythms. Three common examples are:
- The sun goes down but we don’t shut down because the blue lights from the screens we’re glued to keep us artificially stimulated and disrupt our melatonin production, resulting in sleepless nights.
- We take birth control pills to prevent pregnancy when we’re not yet ready for motherhood, or to control acne or migraines. So for months or years, the pill chemically overrides the natural rhythm of our hormones that prepare our wombs for a baby, effectively shutting down fertility and potentially sabotaging the chances of complete restoration of fertility when motherhood is desired.
- At any given moment we are enduring multiple stressors (financial, marital, social, psychological, biological) so our stress response loses its rhythm of homeostasis → alarm (stress) → adrenaline + cortisol release → adaptation → return to homeostasis. The system loses its resiliency and becomes easily triggered and then lo-and-behold we find ourselves in perpetual fight or flight mode, which is a major fertility zapper because when our minds register that we’re stressed, aka not safe, reproduction shuts down. Of course it shuts down – why make babies when there’s danger? It’s more important to prepare the body for fighting, defending, and fleeing rather than procreating…
Beyond cycles and rhythms, we are individually and as a society out of sync with nature and all that is natural.
- We spend most of our time in temperature-controlled buildings and homes with artificial lights and seldom get natural movement and natural light outdoors in the sun, so our vitamin D levels are low and again, our sleep-wake cycles are disrupted.
- We get dopamine hits (the hormone that governs focus, reward and motivation) from social media and Netflix rather than through how we were biologically designed to feel rewarded and fulfilled: through community and deep, meaningful interactions with real-life human beings.
- We eat foods with ingredients we can’t even pronounce, foods that came out of a factory or industrial kitchen rather than from the soil or the earth. We think pizza and burgers are normal and mixed green salads with fruits and nuts are for the fruity, nutty “earthy” or “extreme” folks.
- We work when we should rest..
- We are awake when we should sleep.
- We are everywhere in our minds when we should be present.
- We are striving and accomplishing when we should be content.
- We eat when we’re not really hungry.
- We skip meals when our bodies require fuel.
- We breathe air full of synthetic pollutants.
- We eat foods sprayed with synthetic glyphosate (globally-used herbicide that’s carcinogenic. To avoid glyphosate as much as is possible, choose organic.)
- We rest on furniture and mattresses sprayed with chemicals (flame-retardants, stain-resisters, color-preservers, etc)
- We microwave foods in xeno-estrogenic plastics
- We use bath and beauty products with hormone-disrupting ingredients (refer to the EWG’s SkinDeep website to understand what you’re exposing yourself to)
- We take antibiotics and pain meds that annihilate our natural (commensal) gut bacteria, resulting in dysbiosis, immune dysregulation, and a medley of associated disorders
And the list soberingly goes on.
One important thing to note here is that fertility itself has its natural window of time – both in a woman’s age (biologically between the ages of approximately 15 and 38) as well as in the time of the month (approximately 3 days prior to ovulation, the day of, and 1 day after ovulation). The women’s movement over the last few decades and the resulting increase in numbers of educated, career-driven women has seen a colossal shift in the stage of life that women begin to desire starting a family. In past generations it was common for our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers to have 3 to 8 children by the time they were 28. But nowadays, it’s common for women to have their first child at 34 or even 38. I personally had my two children at ages 32 and 36, because I was busy building my practice all through my 20s. My business was my baby during my most biologically fertile years. The reality check is that our eggs do have a biological expiration date, roughly between the ages of 38 and 44. At this more mature stage in life, we must balance hope with scientific fact. This is why it is extremely valuable to do Ovarian Reserve Testing (approx $100-$400) – so you know exactly how many viable eggs remain in your ovaries.
Across the board for all women, I believe a return to a more simple, natural state is profoundly beneficial for fertility, and in fact, for any human being who desires better health and an increased sense of wellness. It can start with replacing your morning toast (problems: wheat, gluten, converts to sugar, causes insulin spikes, disrupts hormones, promotes fat storage) with a bowl of fresh berries, nuts, and coconut cream, or making the decision to ditch your laptop and hit the beach. It can look like more hikes in the foothills and less tv in bed. It can look like forgiveness, so you don’t produce cortisol and adrenaline every time you think of that person or that situation (thus preserving your hormonal balance and optimizing your fertility). It can be a commitment to daily prayer and meditation time in the park or in your backyard, under the sun, with natural sunscreen on your face and non-toxic oils on your skin. A return to nature to experience more life. Perhaps a return to God, to experience more of the very One who gives life.
Every woman’s journey is unique. Whether you’re 24 or 34, going through your second round of IVF or your 2nd year of TTC naturally, whether you’re vegan or pescatarian or enjoy grass-fed steaks, whether you work out regularly or haven’t broken a sweat in years – there is hope. There is some good action you can take, or some degree of surrender you can make. Just commit to approaching your fertility journey with wisdom, calm confident action, and peaceful surrender. This is good for your spirit, good for your body, and scientifically beneficial to your hormonal balance and fertility. Have peace through the process.