A Natural Approach for Infertility
Jennifer Mead, ND
If you have been trying, or are thinking about starting a family, then I am sure you are concerned about your fertility. Rates of infertility in the United States are on the rise. Infertility is defined as a failure to conceive after 12 months of frequent intercourse without contraception in women under the age of 35 and after 6 months in women older than 35 years of age. Infertility now affects over 6 million women in the United States alone and is increasing every year. Almost half of these women are given the diagnosis of infertility of unknown cause. But, is the cause really unknown? The cause is very complex and therefore difficult to define and/or communicate. The cause of infertility is also difficult to prove because of a lack of evidence based research. What we do know is that, in most cases, the cause is the result of our lifestyle choices, some of which are in our complete control and others that are not. Even those who do everything possible to stay healthy find it difficult to reach optimal health because there are too many factors: the thousands of man-made toxins we are exposed to daily, lack of availability of healthy food options, our own genetics, and the daily stress of the high expectations Americans place upon themselves, especially women.
These lifestyle elements ultimately result in a chronically malnourished body. Please note that malnutrition is not only a cause of these “unknown” cases of infertility, but also usually part of the cause of hormone abnormalities that are known to cause infertility, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, hypothyroidism, and low sperm count and motility.
Seems like an easy fix right? Just eat more.
That obviously isn’t the answer because obesity is rising at an astronomical rate. Because of the obesity epidemic, our society and most doctors disregard malnutrition as a possible cause of chronic disease, including infertility. However, what most people don’t realize is that there are more causes of malnutrition than just lack of food or nutrients. Our environments, hormones, excess macronutrients such as sugar and carbohydrates, and even our own genetic makeup can contribute to malnourishment. The majority of doctors are unaware of how deeply nutrition and our environment as a whole affect us and often completely forget that malnutrition is also “being unable to use the food that one does eat.”
The inappropriate utilization of food has been on the rise since the industrialization of our society. In 1912, the first vitamin was discovered – vitamin A. Since then numerous vitamins have been isolated and mechanisms of action explained, and the vitamin industry has BOOMED! Of course we humans think we can outsmart nature – we have started processing and engineering foods, making fake food and we think that we can just take a pill to get what’s missing or add our manmade versions back to the “food.” The vitamins may be missing but what is really missing is the synergism of all the nutrients together as nature intended.
These nutrients are running our biochemistry, helping us make and break down hormones and neurotransmitters, detoxify, rebuild tissue, etc. In addition, these nutrients are also talking to our DNA and guiding our genes on how they are expressed or not. The food you eat, especially the phytochemicals and carotenoids, has the ability to turn genes on and off. Not only the chemicals in foods but the chemicals in our environment have the ability to affect genetic expression. Each person has different susceptibilities to how the environment will affect him/her. Our intake of foods outside of their natural form with unnatural proportions of nutrients has led to decrease in utilization and biochemical chaos!
One example is lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid (basically, the red pigment) found in fruits and vegetables – highest in red ones. We know through research that lycopene affects how certain genes are expressed, especially in the ovaries and prostate. It has an even more important role in keeping the ovaries ‘safe’ in diabetes and PCOS cases. If lycopene is low, certain genes will not be expressed properly, which can lead to unhealthy follicles, infertility, and cancer. Currently diabetes / insulin resistance is only addressed on the macro level of avoiding sugar and losing weight. However, if a woman does so but isn’t getting these important bioflavonoids in her diet, her genes will still not be expressed properly and pregnancy may not result and, even worse, cancer may breed.
We can certainly try to work against nature and trick our bodies with the different drugs and hormones to achieve pregnancy (and I’m not saying that is a bad idea) but it certainly isn’t the best first choice. A better choice is to first work with our bodies to promote health and assure that the body is receiving all it needs to properly express genes and for our biochemistry to run smoothly. The problem arises in learning the art of doing this. The typical medical algorithm of treatment will not work because every individual is different. Dr. Riordan would always say, everyone has their own “biochemical individuality.”
Malnutrition isn’t always just a result of our food and lifestyle choices. Malnutrition can also result from different genetic abnormalities and mutations. I am not speaking of major mutations, such as cystic fibrosis, but rather scientists are now discovering that we all carry a variety of gene mutations that affect how fast or slow our biochemistry runs. New research suggests that a part of the cause of infertility could be an MTHFR gene mutation. This is a mutation that affects men and women equally and it’s all about how you utilize folate in your body, which is a vital nutrient when it comes to your fertility. Those with the mutation cannot properly absorb and utilize folate. The faulty enzyme MTHFR (which stands for methyl-tetrahydrofolate reductase – what a mouthful!) is responsible for methylation (the process of activating folic acid). This is a core process that occurs in all cells and aids in cellular repair, detoxification, neurotransmitter production, and supports robust functioning of the immune system. As part of the cell repair process, when functioning correctly, this enzyme helps to produce and repair DNA and RNA and ensures cells are created to do what they are supposed to do in the body. With detoxification and neurotransmitter production, this enzyme supports the conversion of amino acids into neurotransmitters. It is essential for turning our food into healthy, functional hormones. This gene mutation can also cause inflammatory build up in the body which is the source of many serious health problems. The most important piece of information to retain about this MTHFR gene mutation is that those who have it will find that they are super-sensitive to environmental and food borne toxins. They have a hard time getting rid of these elements through the normal detoxification processes in the body and this sets them up for major illnesses and diseases, including infertility, fibromyalgia, miscarriages, blood clots, migraines, different cancers, mental health issues like bipolar disorder and depression, and inflammatory diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. People with the MTHFR gene mutation also do not make enough glutathione, which is a primary antioxidant and detoxifier. They instead accumulate toxins in the body that lead to premature aging, a poorly functioning liver, a compromised reproductive system, and fertility issues. This mutation has also been linked to children being born with autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and spina bifida.
Synthetic folic acid is a common supplement used in pregnancy so scientists hypothesize that the synthetic folic acid supplementation in women with these gene mutations is partly responsible for the rise in autism and children with learning disabilities. You must assure that your source of folate only comes from food or a supplement that contains the active form of folate (L-methylfolate or 5-MTHF). You may recall a few years back in the media the hype of folic acid and supplements causing cancers, especially colon cancers. It was this synthetic form to which they were referring.
There is so much we at the Riordan Clinic can do to help increase your chances of fertility. Our state-of-the-art laboratory can measure most nutrients, which can help us pinpoint what deficiency or excess may be preventing your body from accepting pregnancy. People are spending an average of $10-25K per in vitro fertilization (IVF) attempt. IVF is the process by which an egg is fertilized with sperm outside of the body and then implanted. The success rate for IVF on first attempt is only 30-35% for women under 35! I would recommend first spending six months at our center doing a FULL nutrient workup, which would be less than half the cost of one IVF treatment. We see patients from all over the world, so you do not have to be a Wichitan to receive this top-notch care. We cannot promise pregnancy, but I can say I’ve seen many “infertile” women achieve pregnancy. If they are not able to achieve pregnancy, the only side effect would be better health and well-being. It is a priceless investment!
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