Infertility must be one of the most heartbreaking things that any couple could ever go through. It is very emotionally draining, and it can put a real strain on a relationship. In addition, the options for treating infertility are so numerous, that it can be confusing and overwhelming. The cost for therapies can be prohibitive as well, increasing stress levels even more. Below we will look at the facts behind the causes of infertility and discuss some of the options and solutions as well.
The focus of this article will be from a natural medicine perspective. There are options available to folks that I am not going to delve into because I do not believe they are safe or wise choices. I am referring mainly to fertility drugs. The dangers of these medications are well documented, both to the parents and the children. Many have been linked to reproductive cancers and other conditions in the parents, and developmental problems with the babies. I personally would not be comfortable taking such risks with my life and the lives of others, and I will not recommend these drugs to others. Now that I have set the stage, let’s get started.
What is Infertility?
Infertility is defined as the inability of a man and a woman to conceive a child through intercourse after trying on a regular basis for one full year. Therapies to overcome this problem may focus on the man, the woman, or both. If neither partner has ever conceived, it is called “primary infertility.” If either or both has conceived in the past, the infertility is known as “secondary.”
How common is infertility? Well, according to statistics, 20% of all couples are infertile at any given time. This figure has increased over the last 30 years or so. The explanation for this is not certain, but theories abound. It is commonly attributed to sociological changes in our society, such as the trend for folks to marry later and often put off having children. It is a known fact that infertility increases with age. Other factors may be that the increased frequency of premarital sex and sex with multiple partners has led to a greater incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s). STD’s can cause many problems, including pelvic inflammatory disease and scarring that can make conception difficult or impossible. STD’s can also negatively affect the production of healthy sperm in males. Abortion is also an issue. In many cases, women who have aborted a baby can have complications that make subsequent pregnancies problematic. Researchers also believe that the use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception can cause a greater risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, leading to problems with conception.
Infertility is an equal opportunity condition. In general, the problem is attributed to the man about 40% of the time, to the woman about 40% of the time, and the “blame” is shared about 20% of the time.
What Are the Main Causes of Infertility?
Let’s take a look at the most common male factors first. They are all related to the condition of the sperm. The number of sperm and their health is critical to a successful conception:
- Sperm Count: This is a test whereby a sample of semen is taken and analyzed in the lab. The number of sperm produced is determined. A normal sperm count is over 20 million per ml of semen. A count of 5-20 million is subfertile. Anything less than 5 million is considered infertile.
- Sperm motility is also examined. They are examined to determine if they are structurally able to “swim” normally.
- It is normal for up to 25% of sperm in a given sample to be “abnormal”. Anything more than that can cause fertility problems.
- The amount of semen is also looked at. Either too much or too little can cause problems.
If an abnormality with the sperm is found, it may be attributed to many factors: damage from an STD (either past or present), structural abnormalities in the male reproductive organs, or an endocrine imbalance. Some suggested therapies include:
- Treating any current infections from an STD.
- Having intercourse less often so that the sperm count has a chance to build up
- Timing intercourse so that the woman is ovulating. This will make better use of the available healthy sperm.
- In some cases, it has been determined that a woman is allergic to the man’s sperm, and actually develops an antibody against it. One suggested therapy is for the couple to have intercourse for 30 days using a condom. This may lower the woman’s resistance to the man’s sperm.
When considering possible causes of infertility from the female perspective, the place to begin is with ovulation. Ovulation can be confirmed using a monthly chart to record daily body temperature. A woman’s temperature is slightly higher at time of ovulation. If this seems to be working properly, the next step is a test to validate the findings. A hormone called “luteinizing hormone” (LH) is released into the urine just prior to ovulation. If LH is found, ovulation has successfully occurred.
There are surgical options for both males and females to attempt correction of physiological problems such as blocked fallopian tubes, fibroid tumors, or structural abnormalities that prevent either gender from successfully causing a pregnancy. Most of these are quite invasive, and the results are not as good as one might hope for taking such risks. (ANY surgery is risky, especially when you are put under with anesthesia. It is the closest thing to death besides the real thing, and many mistakes are made every year. I would be extremely careful about decisions regarding surgery.) They are also not generally covered by health insurance, and can be very pricey. Let’s take a look at some of the non-invasive or minimally invasive options available for couples:
- Artificial Insemination: This is a procedure that involves collecting the semen and placing it, by means of a syringe, into the woman’s cervix to coincide with ovulation. From here it may have an easier journey into the fallopian tubes where fertilization occurs. Sometimes, when the man’s sperm is weak or low in number, multiple samples of sperm are inserted into the cervix together to increase the chances of conception.
- In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): The eggs and sperm are removed from the couple’s bodies, and fertilized in a petri dish in the lab. The embryo is then inserted into the uterus. Children who are conceived this way are referred to as “test-tube babies.” This procedure is very expensive, and the success rate is only a mere 20%.
- Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) is another option whereby a single sperm is injected into an egg to stimulate fertilization. This is a variation of IVF, so the expense is even greater and the chances of success still very poor.
- Gamete Interfallopian Transfer (GIFT) involves placing sperm and eggs directly into the fallopian tubes. Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT) is a variation of GIFT where the embryo is fertilized in vitro, and then inserted into the fallopian tubes. Both GIFT and ZIFT require a minimally invasive incision into the abdomen.
What About Natural Solutions to Infertility?
There are many natural options that can be used to attempt to help the body increase its own chances of successful conception.
Couples should begin by re-evaluating their lifestyle. Studies have shown that such habits as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine decrease the chances of getting pregnant. Another no-no is tight-fitting underwear for the men. This creates a less than friendly atmosphere for healthy sperm production. Ditch the briefs guys, and go with boxer shorts. It is also highly recommended that couples avoid saunas, steam rooms, or whirlpools. High temperatures in these environments will kill sperm.
Follow common-sense, eating a healthy diet that is heavy on nutrient-rich foods like fresh, organic fruits, vegetables and healthy fats. Stay away from junk food, refined sugar, pre-packaged and processed foods. Get plenty of sleep and regular exercise. Drink ample amounts of pure, clean water every day. Deal with stress through relaxation, EFT, walks in nature, sunshine and massage, or a warm bath with magnesium oil. This kind of living produces optimal health, and it gives all of the body’s systems a chance to perform at their best, including the reproductive system.
There are also quite a few herbal and nutritional supplements that historically have proven to help with infertility:
- Vitamin E (non-synthetic; mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols) can help prevent reproductive damage in both genders. It increases sperm count and sperm motility. It can aid in balancing hormones in women.
- Natural Progesterone Cream – bio-identical to the progesterone that you body makes. Low progesterone levels have been found to cause infertility and miscarriage
- Serrapeptase – may help to disolve fibroids and cysts
- Iodine Therapy – helps with thyroid issues (hormonal imbalance) and cysts. Can also aid in balancing hormones.
- Vitamin C prevents reproductive damage in men and women. It also may increase sperm count
- Folic acid has shown itself to increase fertility in infertile women
- Adequate B-complex is necessary for fertility
- Beta-carotene may increase sperm count and motility
- Selenium stimulates sperm count and motility. It also decreased the percentage of abnormal sperm in infertile men
- Arginine also increases sperm count and motility
- Ashwaganda increases sperm count and semen quality
- Chasteberry (Vitex) balances hormones in both men and women
- False unicorn balances hormones in women
- Ginseng is great for men: increases sperm count, testosterone levels, and sexual desire
- Ladies mantle aids hormonal balance in women
- Licorice balances estrogen and testosterone levels
- Pomegranate supports and strengthens the reproductive system in women
- Myrrh aids infertility in women
- Pine bark improves sperm structure and performance
- Pygeum helps men who have too little semen
- Nettle is great for women, supporting the hormones and uterus
- Saw palmetto increases testosterone and strengthens the male reproductive system.
- Red clover supports the uterus and calms the nerves, and helps keep female hormones in balance
- Raspberry leaf supports the mucous membranes of the uterus
- Rehmannia combats infertility
- Shatavari fights infertility and balances hormones in men and women. Also may increase sperm count
Armed with all this information, the chances of overcoming infertility are good. Statistics tell us that only about 50% of all couples who seek help for infertility ever experience a successful pregnancy. However, there is a good chance that most of these couples were not counseled about the importance of getting their body healthy. And remember, no one has to be a statistic.
Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH is a Naturopathic Physician, Clinical Nutritionist, Holistic Health Practitioner and Clinical Herbalist in Houston, TX and Founder / CEO of Oasis Advanced Wellness. Under her leadership, Oasis Advanced Wellness is known and respected as one of the leading companies in providing safe, non-toxic, hi-tech natural health and wellness solutions along with cutting-edge health programs. Dr. Lanphier is the author of five health and wellness e-books including Optimum Health Strategies…Doing What Works. Lanphier is Editor and contributor to the worldwide Free E-newsletter Advanced Health & Wellness We invite you to visit us at Oasis Advanced Wellness, the PMS-Progesterone-Menopause Resource Center, the Acne Resource Center, the Skin Care Resource Center, the Glyconutrient Resource Center, the Allergy-Asthma-Sinus Relief Resource Center and www.oasisserene.com