For the estimated 10-18% of couples affected by infertility, finding the root cause of the problem can be a difficult and lengthy process. That’s because, taken on the whole, fertility problems are just as likely to be caused by female factors as male factors — or a combination of both.
Many of the women and couples who come to see us here at Rodeo Drive Women’s Health Center in Beverly Hills, California, are surprised to learn that their problem isn’t the result of an underlying medical condition like low sperm count or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
In many cases, infertility is the result of lifestyle factors that compromise reproductive health and make pregnancy far less likely.
Fortunately, most of these factors are controllable, meaning they can be altered or reversed simply by making better choices and improving certain daily habits. Read on to learn more about how your lifestyle affects your fertility, and what you can do about it.
More than six million women in the United States — or roughly one in 10 women of reproductive age — experience difficulty becoming pregnant or staying pregnant. For many of these women, infertility is a direct result of being overweight, obese, or significantly underweight.
Being overweight or underweight can make it more difficult to become pregnant because both conditions influence your estrogen levels and disrupt normal ovulation, which is the monthly release of an egg from one of your ovaries.
Regular ovulation requires normal estrogen levels, but being overweight can lead to higher concentrations of circulating estrogen, which acts much like birth control to prevent ovulation. Being underweight, on the other hand, can make it difficult for your body to maintain adequate estrogen levels to support monthly ovulation.
For women on both ends of the spectrum, taking steps toward a healthier weight is often enough to restore normal ovulation and make pregnancy possible.
Although there’s limited research on exactly how a woman’s nutritional status affects her chances of conceiving, there’s plenty of evidence to indicate that eating a nutritious diet supports optimal body functioning and general well-being.
Still, there’s no specific “fertility diet” that you should adapt when you’re trying to conceive. Instead, remember that your body performs best when it’s fueled by the right blend of nutrients, and your reproductive system is no different.
That means choosing whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, and healthy fats, while limiting or eliminating refined grain products and foods that are rich in added sugars, preservatives, or unhealthy fats.
It’s important to note, however, that untreated celiac disease (gluten intolerance) has been shown to interfere with female fertility.
Exercise is an essential part of maintaining a strong, healthy body, but when you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s a good idea to avoid excessive physical activity. That’s because strenuous exercise can interfere with normal ovulation and reduce your levels of progesterone, a reproductive hormone that’s essential for pregnancy.
In fact, researchers have found a strong correlation between increased frequency, intensity, and duration of exercise and decreased fertility in women.
Whether you’re trying to lose weight or you’ve been an athlete all your life, stick with moderate exercise when you’re trying to conceive. Women who want to maintain more intense training programs are generally advised to limit vigorous exercise to no more than five hours each week.
If you’re a smoker and you’ve been struggling to conceive, you now have one more reason to quit.
Tobacco negatively affects female fertility in a myriad of ways. It can prematurely age your ovaries, deplete your eggs, damage your cervix and fallopian tubes, and increase your risk of having an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
If all of that weren’t enough, smoking is also incredibly harmful to a growing fetus and your overall health. Kicking the habit for good can help you overcome fertility problems, protect your pregnancy, and have a healthy baby.
Health experts have long known that drinking any amount of alcohol during pregnancy can be dangerous to an unborn child. More recently, they’ve also discovered that drinking alcohol can also significantly reduce a woman’s fertility.
Although researchers aren’t clear on exactly how alcohol undermines conception, evidence suggests it may interfere with normal ovulation on multiple levels.
Because no one knows how much or how little alcohol it takes to interfere with reproductive function, women who are trying to conceive are generally encouraged to avoid alcohol completely.
Being overweight, eating an unhealthy diet, working out too hard, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol aren’t the only lifestyle factors that can influence your ability to become pregnant.
You may have a harder time getting pregnant if you have anxiety, suffer from depression, or live with some other form of chronic psychological stress. If you feel stressed out more often than not, finding ways to relax or seeking support can make a significant difference.
Your fertility can also be impacted by regular exposure to toxic chemicals. Lead in your drinking water can alter hormone levels and reduce fertility, for example, while many of the chemicals used in pesticides can disrupt normal hormonal activity and interfere with reproductive health.
Fertility experts even recommend limiting the amount of caffeine you consume when trying to conceive, although research hasn’t yet shown a clear link between too much caffeine and infertility. Just as with alcohol, however, it’s better to be safe than sorry when you’re doing everything you can to get pregnant.
No matter what lifestyle changes you need to make to support optimal fertility, our team at Rodeo Drive Women’s Health Center in Beverly Hills is always ready to help. Call the office today or book your appointment online.