How can Nutrition aid in Fertility with your Autoimmune Diagnosis?
For many couples, getting pregnant can be very difficult and can cause major stress in their lives.
There are also so many factors that are a part of this difficulty. Often times women believe that they are the main cause, when in reality, it could be contributed to an array of other reasons. For example, 8% of the time, fertility issues are solely due to the males' genetic disposition.
This difficulty does not mean that fertility and pregnancy is impossible. In fact -- there are multiple factors that go into increasing chances of pregnancy and overall fertility. One of these ways just so happens to be through balanced and healthy nutrition!
For women, both the "Mediterranean" diet as well as the similar "fertility diet" can positively affect chances of becoming pregnant. The fertility diet focuses on consuming mono-unsaturated fats (almonds, avocado), plant proteins (soy, black beans, garbanzo beans, nuts, etc.), non-heme iron sources (spinach, soybeans, lentils), complex/high fiber carbohydrates (whole grains, brown rice), and full-fat dairy products. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that can positively affect chances of pregnancy and overall fertility include folic acid (found in dark leafy greens, broccoli, lentils), B12 (found in meat, eggs, and dairy), and vitamin D (found in SUNSHINE, cold-water fatty fish, eggs, mushrooms).
But we can't forget about the importance of male infertility and pregnancy.
Men have similar nutritional recommendations however should consume foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as seafood, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, tofu, canola oil, avocados, and brussels sprouts. Fun fact: omega-3 fatty acids is actually a large component of semen. Other male nutritional recommendations include the incorporation of whole grains, poultry (and overall decrease of processed meats), decreased added sugar consumption, and low fat dairy products. Men who are interested in increasing fertility also need to make sure they are getting adequate amounts of zinc (11mg/day) (found in beef, chicken, tofu, pork, hemp seeds, nuts, lentils, yogurt, oatmeal, and mushrooms) due to its aid in reproductive health.
In general, both men and women looking to increase chances of pregnancy and fertility should watch their caffeine intake and therefore consume <200mg/d. This is equivalent to a 12oz cup of coffee.
Other factors that should be considered when looking to increase chances of pregnancy and fertility include getting adequate sleep, a decrease in overall daily stress, and regular exercise.
As we have discussed, fertility and birth rates have been decreasing steadily in the past year. Some of it is due to the number of women waiting to have children and overall decreased teen births (which we think is safe to say is not necessarily a bad thing).
However, there is definitely an increase in infertility among men and women.
Fertility and infertility come from three different evenly distributed sources:
The woman's health and lifestyle
The man's health and lifestyle
Women tend to take the full blame for infertility and overall birth issues.
While, yes, you do carry your baby, sometimes a bad sperm is all it takes for a miscarriage.
Sometimes it may just be genetic.
There is nothing that you have done wrong, however, genes have been passed down through many generations and are now being expressed in a way that makes it difficult for you to become pregnant.
Genetic mutations, illness, medications, diagnosis, environmental, occupational, and lifestyle are all factors that contribute to male and female fertility issues.
We would also like to note that just because you struggle with infertility, does not mean you will never become pregnant. Infertility should best be described as a state as opposed to creating identities or labels that you take on.
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Stress can be a huge factor in being able to conceive, and as fellow females, we're sure you have plenty...
Your body thrives in a happy and peaceful environment and it knows when you are stressed, in danger, or 'not in a great place' to be having children. As frustrating as it can be, your body is trying to help you out! The best thing you really can do is try to lower your stress levels.
Your hypothalamus needs to be happy to help you become pregnant. If your hormones are out of balance, then pregnancy will be increasingly more difficult.
Your hypothalamus-pituitary control your ovarian hormones and make sure they stay in balance.
Exercise can help regulate hormones, increase blood movement, and decrease stress levels. Eating a well-balanced diet can also help, such as a Mediterranean diet full of whole grains, fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, healthy fats (mono/poly-unsaturated fats, omega-3's), and lean proteins. This will help increase important nutrients and anti-inflammatory food consumption.
Some good foods to focus on are low-fat dairy products for men/high-fat dairy for women, fish, lots of nuts, and leafy greens! We want to avoid processed foods and meats, saturated and trans fats, added sugars, as well as alcohol and caffeine. All of these cause inflammation in the body and may cause issues getting pregnant and staying pregnant.
Make sure you are getting enough to eat!
You don't want to be in a state of malnourishment because your body will not allow you to become pregnant! Also, make sure you are consuming enough protein to regulate hormones and help your body build tissue. Consuming low glycemic carbohydrates, or complex carbs such as brown rice, whole grain bread/pasta, oats, quinoa, barley, etc, can increase nutrients, decrease inflammation and help keep hormones stable.
Let's talk about antioxidants...
Now, since they are huge in the role of fertility. Many nutrients function as antioxidants, however, what does that mean? Essentially components called 'free radicals like to break things down and cause different expressions of genes on DNA, and not in a favorable way. Stopping these 'free radicals' is crucial while trying to become pregnant since an egg and sperm rely on the intact DNA to become a viable baby. In summary: eat your high in antioxidants fruits and veggies!
Some nutrients to focus on are:
Folic acid- Prevents birth defects and promotes optimal egg/infant growth.
Vitamin D- Boosts progesterone and estrogen levels, regulates hormones.
Vitamin B6- Regulate hormones to promote regular menstrual cycles, lengthens the luteal phase, and improves egg quality.
Vitamin E- Lengthens luteal phase by balancing hormones, increases blood flow (thicken lining), anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin C- Increases progesterone levels for the longer luteal phase (also anti-inflammatory).
Omega-3's- Improves egg health and are anti-inflammatory.
B12- Promotes regular ovulation and prevents miscarriage.
PSA: Work to keep your vitamin and mineral intake within the normal range, especially vitamin A (at too high a intake, it can become toxic). More than needed vitamin and mineral intake can cause stress to the body as well as its overall function.
We often focus on female fertility as the end all be all to success when it comes to fertility...
While the attention is needed because so often females' needs are not met, it can create a lot of pressure on women. Taking full responsibility for fertility issues can create low confidence, riffs between partners, unnecessary stress, and feelings of failure.
In general, fertility issue are 1/3 from the male, 1/3 from the female, and 1/3 from unknown external or genetic causes.
That means that you should not be taking 100% of the responsibility in regards to success with fertility!
So ladies, get your male counterparts in here... this one is for them!
First, as simple as it sounds, you want to make sure that men are getting fertility tests done as well. Male fertility is declining worldwide and we are in a sperm crisis!
Male fertility tests are 100,000,000 times less invasive and easily completed!
These tests check for total sperm count, morphology, and motility. Basically are there enough (it's an odds game), what do they look like (no mutations), and how fast are they SWIMMING? If one of these is off, they are going to have a hard time getting to your eggs and they may have issues creating a viable pregnancy.
If the sperm that fertilizes the egg has a weird shape (aka the DNA is not quite right), it contributes to the risk of potential miscarriages. Miscarriages are difficult for both partners involved, but typically 100% of the blame falls to the female when, in reality, the pregnancy could have had issues from conception! That is why it is so important that men are healthy when trying to have children as well as women.
Things that can contribute to sperm health are diets, lifestyle, inflammation, stress, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc. It takes 3 months for sperm to fully mature, which means you want to start these changes in your life 3 months before trying to get pregnant!
Just as hormones play a huge role in pregnancy, hormones can affect male fertility as well! Exercise is a great way to regulate hormones, increase blood movement, and regulate stress. Being obese and having high alcohol consumption can also raise estrogen levels causing issues with sperm health in men.
A lot of the nutrition that goes into female fertility is similar for males, however, there are a few differences.
You want to make sure that you are getting a variety of fruits and veggies. You want to decrease any inflammation in the body with anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, veggies, omega-3's, etc.
While females focus on full-fat products like milk and other dairy products, or fattier meat, men need the opposite. So focus low low-fat dairy and leaner meats such as chicken and fish.
We also want to stay away from processed meats and other foods high in saturated fats to decreased inflammation in the body.
Myth: Men cannot eat soy due to exposure to estrogen while trying to conceive. Luckily, the estrogen in soy is not the same type as the hormone estrogen. Also, amounts are so minute, you would have to be eating soy all day every day to have any effect.
Nuts and seeds are like the superfood of fertility! Make sure to include a variety of them to really reap the full benefits fo healthy fats and nutrient-packed goodness.
All nutrients are important for the male fertility process, but here are some nutrients to watch out for are:
Selenium, which is important for the formation of sperm cells.
Zinc increases sperm count and testosterone levels.
Vitamin C because of its anti-inflammatory effects.
Omega-3's because sperm needs healthy fats to form as well as its anti-inflammatory effects.
B12 can help with motility and overall helps to protect DNA.
The age-old tale of 'saving sperm for ovulation' has been proven to be ineffective.
The male body is constantly making sperm. If it hangs out too long, it can get old and become less effective, while also not making room for the new sperm that you are working to improve on. Plus, putting stress on intimacy in the bedroom can put additional stress on the couple during an already stressful time.
For this reason -- the best thing you can do is be intimate WHEN YOU WANT.
You are looking to have a baby, but you aren't really sure where to start.
Maybe you have struggled with your fertility and maybe you haven't, but you want to make sure you have the healthiest pregnancy possible. We totally get it!
But did you know there are ways to make sure that you have the pregnancy you want through nutrition now?
Yes, your nutrition leading up to even three months before your pregnancy can impact the health of your egg as well as your significant other's sperm! This can affect not only your growing baby but the pregnancy as a whole. Now that you know that, wouldn't you want to do everything you in your power to make sure that you are doing everything you can?
Okay, but WHAT exactly is it that you need to do or eat?
That's where the dietitian comes into play. Your dietitian is well versed in all nutritional aspects of the body and how food and nutrients both positively and negatively affect your fertility. They have extensive education and experience to be able to create an individualized program that fits YOUR needs and YOUR lifestyle. An RD is capable of and will have a different program FOR EVERY PERSON! They will work with you to make sure that all your goals are met, recommendations fit your daily life, and you feel like you are INVINCIBLE!
Lots of people set goals, but only 8% of people actually complete them. Why is that?
First, many people cannot visualize themselves meeting the goals they set. Second, they don't have a support system. Third, their goals are too broad and aren't specific enough. Lastly, they procrastinate and can keep themselves accountable.
This 8% dramatically increases when hiring a dietitian... When you hire a dietitian they help you create specific and measurable goals that you can SEE the progress being made which helps to motivate you to keep going. They become your support system as well as the accountability you need when you start to fall off the wagon.
They help you visualize where you want to be and take you through the process of getting there.
Working with a dietitian is a commitment, so if you aren't 100% committed to bettering your life and achieving your goals, maybe now isn't as good of a time as you thought it was... But if you ARE, hire a dietitian and there will be nothing stopping you!
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Coaches Mikayla and Cassie <3
Are you on your fertility journey and wanting a good start to your pregnancy? Good news! We can help you through our Healthy Autoimmune Pregnancy Protocol, apply here today!