What do you know about Fertility Health?

Is your fertility health as good as it could be?

See below for some of the facts and recommendations. 

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For Women

The menstrual cycle is another "vital sign".

 

Age when menstrual periods start and menstrual cycle variations are indicators of overall health. Length and regularity of the cycles may tell us when a young woman is developing normally and/or whom is at risk for cardiovascular disease, hormonal problems and cancers. 

Menstrual Variability: 

Cycle length is defined as the first day of the menstrual period to the last day before the start of the next period. Many women have variation in the length of a cycle and that is entirely normal! What that means is that a range is what is usual...such as 25 days, then 30 days, then 27 days, then 32 days and so on. Women with truly irregular cycles have less than 9 cycles per year. Only about 13-15% of women actually have 28 day cycles!

Post-hormonal contraceptive cycles:

Oral Contraceptives (the Pill): Research shows that immediately after stopping birth control pill use, almost 60% ovulate in the first cycle after stopping. The cycle length was prolonged until the 9th cycle. Cycle disturbance and insufficient post-ovulatory phases are more frequent (30% of women) until the 7th cycle. So waiting for 3 cycles to try to get pregnant is usually advisable.

 

Cycles after Depo-Provera: the average time to clear the drug from the body is about 6 months. The average time for the return of fertility is 9 months.

 

BMI -- Body Mass Index:

Body mass index influences menstrual function in healthy women. There is evidence that fertility is decreased by having a BMI > 25 kg/m2 (too heavy) or <18.5 kg/m2 (too thin. Both have longer than average cycle lengths. This may indicate disturbances in ovulation. Post-ovulation phase defects may occur (this means that there is inadequate progesterone levels) which can lead to miscarriage or pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS).

 

Stress: 

Acute or chronic stress is associated with variation such as shorter or longer than usual  menstrual cycles. High levels of stress significantly increased long cycles (over 43 days). The type of stress may vary depending on the woman's life situation. Stressful jobs doubled risk for short cycle length. It is possible that stress would lead to poor quality of ovulation and thus inadequacy of the post-ovulation phase.

 

Exercise: 

Exercise is recommended in moderation. The health benefits of exercising are well-known including improving insulin levels. Only excessive exercise resulting in a low BMI (unhealthy levels) would have a negative effect on the cycle.

 

Smoking: 

Smoking is associated with short cycle length. The more you smoke the more likely that ovulation doesn’t occur and the phases are abnormal. The effect can last a long time. Cycle lengths of ex-smokers with ten or more pack-years of exposure were also more likely to be short and have shorter luteal phases than those of never smokers.

 

Marijuana & Alcohol:

Marijuana is very disruptive to ovulation and to the menstrual cycle. The substance in marijuana (THC) is later found in vaginal, cervical, and uterine secretions and interferes with the sperm's ability to fertilize the egg.

There are few studies that include the effect of alcohol consumption on menstrual cycle characteristics. The evidence is unclear as to exactly what level of alcohol consumption has an effect upon fertility. High consumption (> 8 drinks/week) was associated with decreased fertility.

Sleep Habits:

Melatonin is the “sleep hormone” that is involved with a woman’s cycle. The hormone is found in the fluid that surrounds the egg in the ovary.

 

Light exposure at night may have pronounced effects on the menstrual cycle and symptoms through the influence of melatonin. For example, female shift workers report more menstrual irregularity and longer cycle lengths. Women with 20+ months of rotating shift work were more likely to have irregular cycles or short cycles. However, there are other women who are more sensitive to light at night. It is a good practice to keep your bedroom as dark as possible--not only will you sleep better but it is good for your fertility as all menstrual cycles characteristics were improved but such practices in research studies.

 

Keep the electronics out of your bedroom. Put your cell phone on airplane mode. Turning off your router at night is also advisable. More information is emerging that demonstrates the disruptive effects of the EMFs emitted from these devices.

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For Men

Fertility reflects a man’s “overall” health!

 

Men who live a healthy lifestyle are more likely to produce healthy sperm and better semen quality. Those habits that promote healthy fertility also reduce your risk of disease later in life.

BMI -- Body Mass Index:

Obesity is directly associated with increasing male infertility. Obese males have lower testosterone, higher estrogen levels, higher risk of heart disease, higher risk of erectile dysfunction, poorer sperm quality and reduced fertility. High BMI is also associated with poorer semen quality.

 

Scrotal temperature:

Increased scrotal temperature can depress semen quality: fever, hot tubs, tight underwear, exposure to high-temperature working conditions, and occupations that require long periods of sitting have been shown to affect sperm quality. Using a laptop on the knees for extended time (heat produced by battery) may increase scrotal temperature. Additionally, there is emerging research about the negative effect on sperm and semen from carrying a cell phone in your pants pocket due heat and EMFs. You can stop the practice or buy a shield (case or pouch) for your cell phone to stop the emission of EMFs.

 

Exercise:

Exercise is recommended in moderation. However the man should be selective regarding the type and the right gear to protect himself. For example, regular bike riding poses a risk because of pressure and friction against the seat restricting blood flow to the testicles. Use of steroids to build muscles suppresses testosterone, decreases sperm count and motility and leads to erectile dysfunction.

 

Stress:

Being stressed has been linked to poorer semen quality in men. Stress may lead to reduced testosterone levels and sperm production because of the influence on carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism.

 

Smoking:

Smoking affects semen volume, sperm density, total sperm count, motility, and shape of the sperm. In addition, nicotine can cause sperm DNA damage.

 

Marijuana & Alcohol:

Marijuana reduces testosterone production, sperm count, and semen quality and inhibits the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg.  Effects can be reduced over several months.

Excessive alcohol causes fertility abnormalities: lowering testosterone levels, lowering sperm counts and impairing sperm motility. It can also reduce libido and cause impotence. Heavy drinking can reduce a couple's chances of conceiving but the effects can be quickly reversed.

 

Caffeine/Cola

Caffeine intake can be difficult to study since intake is often associated with alcohol and smoking. But, researchers examined the association between semen quality and caffeine intake. High cola (> 3 sodas (12 oz) per day) and/or caffeine (>800 mg/day) intake was associated with reduced sperm concentration and total sperm count.. Therefore, there is a possibility of an amount of cola, and probably caffeine, which lowers semen quality. 

 

Sleep Habits

Although there are no sleep studies examining the effect on male fertility, emerging information on sleep generally leads to the conclusion that sleeping in cool dark rooms is optimal for all.

Keep the electronics out of your bedroom. Turning off your router at night is also advisable. More information is emerging that demonstrates the disruptive effects of the EMFs emitted from these devices.

For Both Men and Women

Similar dietary recommendations can be made for both men and women—see Table below. A healthy diet is key to overall health and has been studied for its effects on fertility. 

 

It is important to remember that the right kind of fat in our diets is important for making adequate hormones, essential to the fertility process.  One serving of a full-fat food per day (like full fat cheese) is recommended because skim milk or fat free products lead to increased insulin resistance. For example, do not eat “synthetic food” such as margarine…eating grass-fed butter  is a better for you and baby (Chavarro, 2011) reported that trans-fats were present in human sperm and and may affect formation of healthy sperm profoundly. .

 

Put a lot of color on your plate!  When it comes to food choices, load up on fruits and vegetables, which contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

One last tip: drink for steel cups or glass and do not heat food in plastic. Plastic can leach estrogen-like substances into the food or drink. The CDC does have a lot of environmental information available about effects on fertility which is too comprehensive to list here.

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