Medical Contribution by Rachana V. Garde, M.D.
The end of the year represents a period of reflection for many people, which leads into the time-honored tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. For infertility patients, they have a greater motivation than most, because making even the smallest lifestyle changes can make a big difference in helping them conceive.
Losing 5% of Your Body Weight Has Been Shown to Increase Chances of Conception
A woman’s BMI (body mass index) is strongly connected to her fertility potential. While not every woman who is underweight or overweight will have difficulty conceiving, there are many that do. In order for a woman’s reproductive system to function correctly, a healthy amount of fat needs to be present. Many underweight women lack the fat needed for reproduction, causing their bodies to ovulate infrequently or not at all. Even a modest weight gain can help restart the reproductive system.
Many overweight women will experience insulin resistance, which makes managing their weight difficult. Unbalanced insulin levels can cause the ovaries to produce excess amounts of male hormones and to stop releasing eggs. In both instances, ovulatory dysfunction caused by weight can make conception challenging.
Don’t forget about the male partner either. Overweight men have been shown to have abnormal semen, which manifests as low sperm count and low sperm motility. They are also at risk for impaired spermatogenesis (the process by which sperm are formed) because of increased scrotal temperatures.
In many women and men with a BMI that is above or below ‘normal’, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes have been shown to make a significant difference in fertility potential. Studies have shown that women losing as little as five to ten percent of body weight can dramatically improve the chances of pregnancy occurring.
- Pulling Down the Moon offers holistic health services to patients trying to conceive, including nutritional counseling and yoga.
You May Not Have to Wait as Long as You Think to Get Answers
We suggest that you come to a fertility specialist if you are struggling to conceive, as a woman’s natural chances of conception decline as she ages. In couples in which the woman is under 35, we recommend that she should have a complete infertility work-up if she has had 12 months of unprotected intercourse without conceiving. Women over 35 should have this evaluation after six months of trying to conceive and women over 40 should see a fertility specialist after three months of trying.
Everyone has known friends who aren’t “actively trying to conceive” but are having unprotected intercourse. When it comes to infertility, that time period should be considered when determining how long conception has been attempted. Additionally, if a woman doesn’t have regular periods, she should seek help sooner since she will likely have difficulty getting pregnant on her own.
We cannot control the effects of aging on fertility, but the sooner a patient meets with a fertility specialist, the better chances they will have for reproductive success.
Smoking Can Lead to Infertility for Both Men and Women
While everyone knows that smoking presents risks to your overall health, many do not realize the effect that it can have on their fertility. Studies have shown that women who smoke have a 54% chance of taking a year or longer to conceive compared to non-smokers. The delay in conception correlates with the daily quantity of cigarettes smoked. The more cigarettes a woman smokes, the more chemicals enter her body, increasing the rate of follicular depletion and reducing estrogen levels in the body.
Smoking cigarettes can also affect a man’s sperm quality. Men who smoke regularly have been found to experience a 22% decrease in sperm count. The shape of the sperm and its resulting ability to penetrate the egg (morphology) and the sperm’s ability to swim in a forward progression (motility) have also been seen to be effected in men who smoke regularly.
Studies have shown though that damage is not necessarily permanent for smokers and that it may be reversed, especially for males. Sperm regenerates every 74 days, enabling sperm generated after smoking has ceased to be unharmed. Smoking cessation is suggested at least two to three months prior to attempting pregnancy to improve overall sperm quality.
- Counseling, education, and encouragement are essential for those that need to kick the habit. Read the Guide to Quitting Smoking.
Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may consider cutting back on alcohol consumption. Alcohol can impact a couple’s ability to conceive more than one might think. Compared to women who consume no alcohol, women who consume a moderate amount (up to five drinks per week) have shown a decrease in fertility. Women who consume 10 alcoholic drinks per week show an even greater decrease in their chances of conceiving in a given cycle. Since there is no confirmed safe threshold of consumption, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends complete abstinence in women planning pregnancy, at the point of conception, and during pregnancy.
Excessive alcohol consumption in men may also impact fertility. Men who consume large quantities of alcoholic drinks (five or more daily) may experience lower testosterone levels and reduced sperm quality and quantity. As with smoking, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed can reverse these side effects since sperm regenerates every 74 days.
Cut Down on Stress by Focusing on Your Own Well-Being
For many women, their stress level may already be high when coming into treatment. To put yourself into the best frame of mind when you begin seeing a fertility specialist, we recommend joining a support group or trying more holistic therapies like yoga, acupuncture, or meditation. While these alternative therapies have not been proven to increase conception rates, it is important to control your stress when you are going through the treatment process. The better that you feel, the easier it will be.
Persistence with treatment does pay off. In women 35 years or younger who didn’t conceive on the first try, 50% of those will become pregnant with another cycle of IVF and another 30% of those remaining will have success on the third cycle, making the cumulative results for women in their IVF cycle to be 75%.
No matter what resolutions you decide to make for 2015, be sure to perform them in a way that’s comfortable for you. Don’t set too many goals at once if you think they’ll be insurmountable. The goal is to put yourself into the best possible state – both mentally and physically – for conception. Your health and well-being is what comes first – the rest will follow.
Happy New Year from Shady Grove Fertility!
If you would like to schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist, please speak with one of our New Patient Liaisons at 877-971-7755.