Love and romance are in the air this week! However, for a couple wanting to start a family, that may simply not be enough. Currently, approximately 30% of couples are struggling with infertility (unable to conceive after 1 year of trying), and men's sperm count has decreased by 50% over the last 50 years! What does nutrition have to do with this? Glad you asked-- plenty! This Valentine's-inspired post offers some nutrition and lifestyle tips on how to better increase your chances of bringing a little one into the world .
Infertility is often thought of as a woman's problem, however 1/3 of cases are due to problems with the male's sperm (or lack of it!). Most people think of estrogen as an exclusively female hormone, but men also produce it — though normally in small quantities. However, male estrogen levels that are too high or are out of balance with testosterone levels can lead to infertility. Excess toxic estrogens have become a problem over the last few decades due to the increased exposure to pesticides, lead, and radiation in the environment. Eating soy products and transfats also has an estrogenic effect. These toxic amounts of estrogen are stored in belly fat, which can help explain why men who are insulin resistant (a telltale marker being a "spare tire" around the belly) or diabetic and overweight can suffer from infertility. Fortunately, it is possible to detox from toxic estrogens by eating LOTS of greens: spinach, kale, brusselsprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables which can help flush the system and get hormones back on track over time.
Other factors that interfere with men's testosterone levels include the use of steroids, excess alcohol consumption, and smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Studies have also shown that men who partake in extreme endurance sports (cycling and long-distance running) have lowered sperm counts. Those tighty-whities have to go too... excessively tight underwear has been shown to impair sperm count!
Men should also ensure they're getting plenty of zinc in their diet. This mineral helps increase sperm motility, as well as improves overall mood, energy and libido. Some great dietary sources include grass-fed meat, oysters, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and beans.
Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome affects 1 in 20 females, and is a major cause to infertility. PCOS is very much related to insulin resistance, which means it is definitely reversible! In order to reduce insulin resistance, blood sugar levels need to be stabilized. The best ways to do this is to replace carbohydrates that spike blood sugar up levels up quickly, with ones that do so slowly. This means eliminated processed or sugary foods with complex, slow-releasing carbs. So if you're eating a bowl of Special K with a glass of orange juice, or toast with some jam for breakfast, this is starting your day off on a blood-sugar rollercoaster and could be the reason why those pregnancy test results are disappointing.
That's right- studies have shown that butter, full fat cream, milk and cheese helped to increase fertility in both men and women, as well as help glucose levels travel more slowly throughout the digestive system. Be sure to get plenty of healthy fats in your diet from avocado, virgin coconut oil, nuts, fish and olives, which all help with proper absorption of nutrients in the body as well as help prevent blood sugar levels from spiking and crashing so quickly. Ditch the bagels, muffins, cereals, breads and other highly processed foods, and replace with slow-releasing carbohydrates from vegetables, sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, steel-cut oats and beans.
These "man-made" ingredients have made their way into nearly every pre-packed, processed item on grocery store shelves, and cause absolute havoc in our bodies. These toxic additives cause hormone imbalance as well as have been shown to be toxic to the brain. Definitely a good idea to read labels and avoid these products in order to ensure the best chance for a healthy reproductive system! The biggest culprits these deadly toxins are hiding in include diet sodas, commercially made muffins, cookies, ice cream, and other baked goods. High alcohol consumption also plays a big role in infertility, so cutting back on the drinks is a great way to ensure the best chances of conceiving.
Proteins are the building-blocks of life. So of course it makes sense that in order to create new life, getting good quality and sufficient protein in your diet is key. If you're getting yours from animal sources, be sure it's from organic, grass-fed animals to avoid extra hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, which all go into your system when eaten and can have damaging effects. Vegetarians need to make sure they're combining lots of different protein sources to get a good balance: nuts, beans, quinoa, whole grains, and seeds are great sources.
7-8 hours of good quality sleep is important for our body's to reset and normalize. If you have problems with falling or staying asleep, try taking a magnesium glycinate supplement before bed (the "relaxing" mineral), and have a bedtime snack that includes a healthy fat so that blood sugar levels remain steady and uninterrupted throughout the night. Try a bowl of berries and real cream with raw cocoa nibs (good source of magnesium!) before bed, for a snack that will help get a restful night's sleep. Besides, you'll need all the sleep you can get before the new addition appears!
Following the above guidelines will not only help ensure the best chances for success in conceiving, but are also great habits to follow for an overall healthy lifestyle. It is incredibly important to follow a healthy eating plan not only for your own sake, but also to be the best role-model for the health of your future family for many years to come!