A lot of couples today now wonder how fertile they are…
This may be because they personally know other couples who have had ‘fertility challenges’ and they are now curious about their own potential to conceive. Or some women find their desire to be pregnant continually builds but month after month they find themselves far from ‘barefoot and pregnant.’ Others have had to struggle with repeated miscarriages and feelings of inadequacy and disappointment.
In this scenario often couples believe that if they can conceive but then sadly ‘miscarry’, then the potential ‘fertility issue’ lies with the female rather then the male. Surely, if a male can get his partner pregnant then it is not a ‘male fertility problem?’
This is one (of many) major ‘misconceptions’ in the infertility arena.
There are many lifestyle factors today that research demonstrates have the capacity to influence the success of fertilisation and implantation. So while the process of ‘making a baby’ sounds fun and easy — for many couples this simply isn’t the case. These modifiable lifestyle factors have been shown to be contributing to our dramatic rise in fertility challenges.
Infertility is now a global issue affecting 1 in 6 Australian couples, 1 in 5 American couples and 1 in 7 in the UK, with approximately 15-18% of all couples labelled either sub-fertile (have a condition which makes fertility less likely) or infertile (“inability to conceive after 1 year regular unprotected intercourse.”)1
What Causes Infertility?
There are many causes for infertility including:
- well-documented causes that specialists have been familiar with for a number of decades
- choosing to delay conception until a later age
- modifiable lifestyle factors which are proving to have a profound influence on our reproductive capacity.
1. Well-documented causes of infertility, which make conception far less likely include:2
- ovulatory problems such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (25%)
- sperm disorders (35%)
- endometriosis, adhesions or tubal disease (25%)
- abnormal cervical mucus (5%)
- uterine abnormalities (fibroids)
- unexplained sub-fertility (25%) including STD’s (gonorrhoea, chlamydia), scar tissue from previous mumps or appendicitis, cancer drug therapy, congenital issues, lifestyle and oxidative stress
- infrequency of sex (5%)
This total does exceed 100% as 15% of couples have more one cause of sub-fertility.
2. Choosing to have our children later
We are collectively choosing to have our children at a much later stage in life, often delaying starting a family until we are in mid 30’s. Couples are taking time to establish their careers and finance’s as the cost of raising children for many is a concern. Additionally this time allows couples to have an, ‘independent chapter’ as a couple – free from the constraints that arise with young children.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Edinburgh determined3 that by the time women are 30 years old, only 10-12% of their non-growing follicles (NGFs) remain. What this means is there are only a small number of follicles remaining that are healthy and viable for conception.
The study continues by saying that by the age of 40 years only 3% of the NGFs remain. So while we may delight in enjoying ‘couple time’ this type of research can be very disheartening for those delaying conception.
As a chiropractor I know that if there is also communication issues within the bodies ‘computer’ (nervous system) then the quality of these remaining follicles may further be jeopardised. It makes sense to see if nerve compromise may be influencing the hormonal balance or reproductive function of you or your partner.
3. Modifiable lifestyle factors that may influence fertility
There are a great number of modifiable lifestyle factors that have a building body of research indicating their profound influence on our reproductive capacity. Including everything from moderate alcohol consumption, environmental hormone benders and the potential impact certain lifestyle habits have on the body’s insulin levels are just a few. More insulin in the bloodstream depresses the production of sex hormones binding globulin. This leads to higher amounts of circulating free testosterone, which can have unwanted effects of fertility. The good news here is that the more couples learn about these factors in some cases they may improve their chances of naturally conceiving or improve their success with Assisted Reproductive Therapies.
While it can be extremely disheartening to experience fertility challenges an important thing to remember is that this issue can be approached as an opportunity for the couple to engage in an active plan to improve their overall health, rather than solely a quest for reproduction.
I am not suggesting that all fertility challenged couples are unhealthy, far from it, many have worked extremely hard on living a clean, wellness oriented lifestyle. What I am suggesting is that whether we are only just considering the impact our current health status has on our capacity to conceive or whether we are in fact a ‘health guru’ – there is always more to learn about how our changing world impacts our health outcomes.
When we focus on strengthening our health we not only improve our capacity to naturally conceive, but in doing so potentially we are more likely to have a healthy, complication-free pregnancy and a healthy child. In my article Modifiable Lifestyle Factors Which May Influence Fertility I have outlined some of these recommendations further.
Please also refer to “Fertility Challenges” for more information.
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Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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National Fertility Study 2006 Australian’s Experience and Knowledge of Fertility Issues. The Fertility Society of Australia. Dr Anne Clark.
2 Cahill and Wardle, BMJ 2002; 325: 28 – 32
3 Wallace W.,Hamish B.,TW. Kelsey (2010-01-27). “Human Ovarian Reserve from Conception to the Menopause” PLoS ONE 5 (1): e8772. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008772.
1 2 (Cahill and Wardle, BMJ 2002; 325: 28 – 32)3 Wallace W.,Hamish B.,TW. Kelsey (2010-01-27). “Human Ovarian Reserve from Conception to the Menopause”