When it comes to couples who are suffering from Infertility, it is thought to be due to the women’s health issues approximately 50-60% of the time. There are many issues that can lead to difficulty conceiving in women, and most can be effectively managed using nutritional and herbal medicines to improve your fertility chances. Women experiencing some of the complications listed below are often advised to undergo fertility treatments such as IVF without realising that there is a whole world of very effective and clinically proven naturopathic treatment strategies available. Below we have outlined the most common causes of infertility in women, and how naturopathic treatment can help.
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a common condition affecting as many as 1 in every 10 women in Australia. It is caused by a hormonal imbalance, involving high insulin levels along with high levels of the androgen hormones (testosterones). This in turn can lead to low oestrogen and a very erratic ovulation- causing long and irregular menstrual cycles which makes it difficult to conceive. There are many proven strategies that can help to manage PCOS. Making positive eating choices and normalizing weight will make a huge difference in PCOS. We can also use nutrients such as chromium, zinc and magnesium to aid insulin sensitivity. Once insulin levels have improved, most women with PCOS will begin to ovulate more regularly, making it much easier to conceive. Herbal medicines such as licorice, peony, shatavari, saw palmetto and false unicorn have long been used for improving the hormone profile in PCOS.
Endometriosis occurs when pieces of the endometrial lining are found outside of the uterus. This tissue is commonly found in the pelvis but also can be found on other organs such as the bladder or bowels, leading to dysmenorrhoea (painful periods with abdominal cramping) and infertility. The displaced endometrial tissue behaves in the same way as the tissue in the uterus, growing throughout the menstrual cycle in response to oestrogen and the possibility of an egg being fertilised and shedding as blood when fertilisation doesn’t take place. As this tissue grows outside the womb is has nowhere to go and becomes trapped. As there is no cure at this stage for endometriosis our focus is to reduce pain and inflammation, enhance the health of the endometrial lining for implantation and monitor hormonal changes to improve fertility chances. Antioxidants- Vitamin A, C and E were found to be typically low in women with endometriosis therefore a diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables are encouraged. Fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts and chia seeds all contain the essential fatty acid, “omega 3”, and has been found to reduce inflammation. Herbal medicines such as ladies mantle, dong quai and pulsatilla can be used for hormonal imbalances and endometrial health. Dandelion, milk thistle and shizandra are herbs used to support the liver’s ability to flush excess oestrogen often seen in endometriosis and the herbs turmeric and boswellia are useful for pain and inflammation.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
PID occurs when an infection and/or inflammation, spreads from the vagina to the cervix, endometrium (lining of the uterus) and the fallopian tubes. Symptoms include lower abdominal pain or tenderness, deep dyspareunia (painful intercourse), abnormal vaginal or cervical discharge, and fever. Our main areas of focus involve pain relief, reducing inflammation for implantation, anti-microbial support and microflora stabilisation. Herbs such as garlic, Uva Ursi, calendula and golden seal have anti-microbial, anti-septic and anti-inflammatory properties and are often used in conjunction with allopathic medical treatment. Vitamin A helps regulated the immune system and maintains healthy mucus membranes. Vitamin C is an immune stimulant with anti-inflammatory properties. Vitamin E maintains the health of the ovaries, improves immune function and protects the female reproductive system due to its high antioxidant value. Zinc is essential for healthy immune function and has anti-microbial properties. Fish oil, turmeric and ginger are useful for reducing the associated inflammation and hormone balancing herbs can be very useful too.
Fibroids are tumours or growths that grow in the wall of the uterus and are almost always benign (not cancerous). Fibroids can grow as a single tumour or multiple tumours and they grow from sizes as small as a sunflower seed to as large as an orange. Fibroids are found commonly in women aged 40 and older but have been found to affect women of all ages. Women with fibroids can often be symptom free, however many women find it hard to live with due to severe pain and very heavy bleeding. Fibroids may also put pressure on other organs such as the bladder causing frequent urination or the rectum causing rectal pressure. Risk factors for fibroids includes age, whether there is a family history of fibroids, ethnic origin, obesity and consuming an inflammatory diet.
Naturopathic treatment aims to manage and reduce inflammation, reduce phytoestrogen exposure, regulate hormonal imbalances and reduce pain. There are herbal medicines that can help to shrink fibroids and reduce the heavy bleeding that often results. The B group vitamins have been found to work indirectly with fibroids by supporting liver detoxification of oestrogen. Fish oil is used to reduce inflammation and antioxidants such as zinc, selenium and vitamin E are essential for immune function, and to reduce oxidative damage. Herbal medicines that are beneficial include yarrow and shepherd’s purse, by reducing excess bleeding associated with fibroids, and false unicorn root as a uterine and ovarian tonic.
Many women these days wait till later in life to have a baby for various reasons. However as we get older our egg reserves deplete, our egg quality reduces and miscarriage risk increases. Women are at peak fertility between the ages of around 18-28, then we see a slow and steady reduction in pregnancy rates. Women over the age of 35 have a higher chance of suffering from infertility. Luckily there are various nutritional strategies that can be put in place to address these factors and help older women to have a healthy pregnancy and baby by enhancing egg quality.
Irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation
Some women may not have a diagnosable disease or disorder, but simply suffer from irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation which can make timing intercourse for conception tough. A healthy menstrual cycle should consistently be between 26-32 days each month. Any longer than this or a variation between this means the day of your cycle that you ovulate will be varied. We often use the herbal medicine chaste tree to regulate menstrual cycle length, and have other useful herbs such as shatavari and false unicorn root that can help to regulate ovulation. Vitamin B6 can also be of use in some women.
Post pill amenorrhoea
This is one of the most common complaints we see in our clinic in regards to hormone health- it is reaching epidemic proportions! Post pill amenorrhoea is when a women stops the oral contraceptive pill after long term use and does not regain a menstrual cycle. Very long and irregular cycles are also a common problem I find in patients who have ceased using the pill after long term use. This is often found in girls that started the pill as a teenager and were therefore never able to properly develop their hormonal patterns. Coming off the pill can be like puberty again and it can take many months or years to re-establish a regular menstrual cycle. Unfortunately usually these women have stopped the pill as they want to conceive and with such an irregular cycle this can be difficult. Treatment aims to re-establish a regular ovulation and therefore menstrual cycle and kick-start the brains communication with the ovary to get your cycles regular again. It is a good idea to come off the pill at least 6 months before you plan to conceive. This is also a good time to come and see us for a review, so that we can ensure your natural hormone rhythms are re-set.
Both being overweight and underweight can cause fertility issues. Being overweight causes hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation, particularly when trying to conceive for the first time. Obesity increases your risk of PCOS (mentioned previously), as well as complications during pregnancy such as miscarriage, hypertension, pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes. Being underweight can also reduce fertility. Many women experience amenorrhea (absence of period), or irregular periods. This causes a hormonal imbalance that can affect your ovulation. Whether you are underweight or overweight here at Better Health we can support you in order to get you ‘Fertility Fit’ by providing you with a balanced healthy eating plan.
What can you do about infertility?
Here at Better Health we take a natural, evidence based and drug free approach to infertility. Our get Fertility Fit programs and specialist pre-conception programs and tailored to give couple the best chance of a natural, healthy pregnancy.