Lifestyle Considerations for Fertility
About 9% of couples around the world have fertility problems. Making enhancements or changes to lifestyle improves fertility for both men and women. Making these lifestyle adjustments plus receiving acupuncture treatment further improves the ability to conceive.
Lifestyle education plus acupuncture
Attention to exercise, smoking, alcohol and recreational drug use, balanced weight, stress, caffeine, diet are all important factors. Lifestyle education brings a 46% increase in ability to conceive in women who have been having unexplained problems.1
One study investigated the effect of treatment with acupuncture in enhancing fertility lifestyle awareness and understanding. In other words, women receiving acupuncture treatment were more willing and able to change lifestyle habits that are known to negatively impact fertility. Women who received acupuncture treatment as well as lifestyle counseling were able to conceive in 5.5 weeks compared to 10.67 weeks for education-only women.2
Exercise & fertility
The most important lifestyle modification is to get plenty of exercise and to have it as a regular feature of your life before you try to get pregnant. Dancing, playing volleyball or tennis, jogging, aerobics, and vigorous walking are all excellent forms of good exercise. Every hour of exercise translates to 7% lower risk of infertility, and women who get vigorous exercise at least five hours a week have the fewest problems.6
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine imbalance associated with infertility also respond well to exercise.
However, the amount of exercise is a matter of balance. The inability to regularly ovulate increases in women who exercise more than hour a day, and decreases in women who get vigorous exercise of 30 to 60 minutes a day.
Heavy exercisers experience an energy drain, low leptin hormone levels (leptin inhibits hunger) and fluctuating endorphins. These three factors inhibit or cause irregular ovulation. Being underweight or overweight compounds the problem.3
Reduced fertility can be caused by being overweight or obese and the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth are also increased. Chances of genetic disorders to the baby and complications to the mother are increased markedly, especially if the overweight mother has PCOS.4 Your exercise program is an important part of losing weight.
Even a little weight loss can make a big difference in fertility. The Mediterranean diet, including mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish is a great way to start your weight loss program. As a bonus, researchers suggest that men who adhere to the Mediterranean diet have significantly better sperm count, concentration and motility.5
The ability of women to conceive is associated with adequate adipose (loose connective tissue) in the body. Fat tissue is essential for energy supply, immune system health, normal body temperature, and much more. When women are underweight, especially women who are heavy exercisers, homone and endorphin levels are irregular and low energy further impacts the reproductive system3, 6 and contributes to stress.
Other important lifestyle considerations:
- Avoid artificial lubricants and douches. Some non-contraceptive lubricants are as toxic to sperm as spermicides.
- Get enough folic acid - doctors recommend 400 to 800mcg daily for both men and women.
- Whole milk products are better than low fat or skim milk products, perhaps because removing fat from milk affects hormonal levels.
- Eliminate trans fats which are associated with high levels of infertility.
- Smoking. Every medical professional agrees that smoking is associated with infertility in both men and women.
- Managing stress strongly improves the conception rate. Meditation and relaxation techniques, and taking a quiet walk are several ways to manage stress. Some couples found that counseling doubled the conception rate.
- Reduce intake of caffeine & alcohol use, not to mention recreational drugs.
- Favor protein from vegetables over that from meat. The Mediterranean diet, which focuses on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and fish improves fertility.
1. Y. Kaya, N. Kizilkaya Beji, et. al., The effect of health-promoting lifestyle education on the treatment of unexplained female infertility, European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, December, 2016
2. S. Cochrane, C.A. Smith, et. al., Prior to Conception: The Role of an Acupuncture Protocol in Improving Women's Reproductive Functioning Assessed by a Pilot Pragmatic Randomised Controlled Trial, May, 2016.
3. O. Hakimi, L.C. Cameron, Effect of Exercise on Ovulation: A Systematic Review, Sports Medicine, December, 2016.
4. Aamir, A.H., The Obese Pregnancy, Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, September, 2016.
5. Karayiannis D, Kontogianni MD, et. al., Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility, Human Reproduction, January, 2017.
6. H. Cunningham, 14 Simple Changes That Enhance Fertility, Parenting, March, 2009.