There are many factors that can affect female fertility from ovulation disorders such as PCOS, hormone dysfunction, ovarian insufficiency, damage to or blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis, fibroids, polyps etc.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you have been trying to conceive for over a year, you should seek advice from your GP. The NHS advise that women over 36 years of age, or anyone who is already aware they have fertility issues should seek advice sooner.
But what can you do to naturally optimise your fertility?
Food comes first when trying to optimise fertility. Healthy hormones support fertility, so feeding our body with nutrients that support good hormone health is a vital first step. This includes ensuring you are eating a wide range of different vegetables - aim for lots of different colours and aim to fill half your plate with vegetables at each meal. It is important to eat good quality proteins and fats including organic (where possible), grass-fed beef and lamb, free-range poultry and eggs, nuts, nut butters, wild-caught fish, full-fat (not reduced or fat-free!) dairy including milk and butter. Carbohydrates are also important in the form of whole grains such as rice, quinoa and buckwheat.
Above anything else, your body will choose to keep you alive. Unfortunately, your hormones don't know the difference between you being chased by a hungry lion and an accruing debt. Your stress hormone, cortisol rules the show, so when she's in charge, no other hormone gets a look in, including hormones that drive fertility such as follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.
Can you recognise anything in your life at the moment that is causing you stress?
Some women may not even realise they may be stressed. Stress doesn't just come from being stuck in traffic, hating your job, unfinished house repairs or family problems. Raised cortisol levels can also be a result of gut inflammation, lack of sleep, high workload, a processed food diet, even too much intense exercise.
Too much exercise?!
Yes, too much exercise can compromise fertility. Exercise is ultimately a stress on the body that we then adapt to with good rest, sleep and nutrition to get stronger/fitter. However, if you do too much, then you don't give your body the opportunity to recover and repair. Cortisol levels continue to rise and reproduction takes a back seat.
A nice way to honour female fertility is to cycle optimise your exercise, so during ovulation and the 1st week of the luteal phase of your cycle add in the high intensity exercise you love (if you have your stress levels in check), but during the lower hormone phase - second half of luteal phase and during menstruation, focus on reducing high intensity, and increasing slow, more restorative movement, and self-care.
I like to ensure that baseline physical activity is achieved - so exercise for 150 minutes each week including a range of different activities from moderate intensity cardio, strength training which could include body weight training, mobility, stretching, breath, pelvic floor and core work.
Get your sleep!
Hormones are also closely associated with sleep and your circadian rhythm - your natural sleep/awake cycle. When your "wake up" hormones are keeping you awake at the wrong times and your "sleep" hormones are kicking in in the afternoon, something is awry with your circadian rhythm. This impacts on hormones downstream such as those controlling fertility and reproduction.
Aiming to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night, going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day and getting some sunlight before 8am in the morning are three simple steps to get in place to support your circadian rhythm.
It has been shown that a positive mindset can impact on stress by reducing it's affects on the body and mind.
How do you respond to stressful situations?
Next time you find yourself in a situation where you would normally respond in a negative way, take a moment and think if there is another way that you can respond that is more positive. For example, someone cuts you up coming off a roundabout on your busy commute home from work. Is that person really going to care that you start shouting and cursing them? No! Will you getting irate potentially add to the stress load of your day and have a knock-on affect on your sleep that night and your long term hormone health? Yes, quite possibly!
Finally, your environment and your home can also play a role in your fertility and healthy hormones!
Environment and your home
Yes, the chemicals and toxins that you are exposed to everyday can disrupt your hormone balance by blocking hormone receptors around your body. Typical environmental hormone disruptors include pollution, chemical cleaning products, beauty products, fragrances including fragranced candles and perfumes, and plastics.
Where you can, I would advise to replace these types of products with more natural, plant-based, plastic-free alternatives to support your hormone health.
I really hope you found this article interesting and have identified some steps that you could take to optimise your fertility, and hormone health!
This is something I work on with many of my clients, whether it's supporting fertility, health menstrual health or navigating postnatal recovery or peri-menopause, so if you would like support and more individualised guidance and tips, please do get in touch.
I also strongly advise women to track their menstrual cycle, including symptoms to really get to know their body and identify the effects of the natural ebb and flow of hormones through the month. Work with your body, not against it!