Common Infertility Factors and 4 Ways to Overcome Them
Approximately 6.1 million women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you're thinking about getting pregnant, have been trying to conceive for 6 months to a year with no success, or can get pregnant but have been unable to stay pregnant, learn how the toxins in your everyday life could be a factor, and what to do about it.
Are we in an infertility epidemic?
Currently 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy (1). A paper published in the British Medical Journal reviewed 61 studies of semen quality between 1938 and 1990 and came to an alarming conclusion:
“In 50 years, the sperm counts had halved — going from 113 million sperm per milliliter to 66 million sperm per milliliter. “
This year alone, nearly seven million men and women in the U.S. will experience infertility and will need help through some sort of assisted fertility treatment, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). There has been a 65% increase in IVF rates since 2003 (2). These numbers are astounding, and according to the data, the increasing age of parenthood alone cannot account for these changes.
While it’s not well understood why we are seeing these climbing rates of infertility and poor semen quality, research has identified a number of chemicals that contribute to fertility issues. These chemicals appear in our air, our food and our body products at surprising rates. Each year 84,000 new chemicals are put into the market and very few of them are ever tested for safety before their introduction.
Chemicals of concern:
Metals (lead, mercury, cadmium)
Industrial chemicals (toluene, benzene, trichloroethylene, etc.)
Estrogen-mimicking substances (BPA, phthalates, PCBs, dioxins, alkylphenols)
Where we are exposed:
Paint and varnish
Pet care products
Health and beauty products
Plastic food containers
Contaminated water (consumed or bathing)
Near farms and greenhouses
What you can do about it:
1. Minimize Your Exposure
If you are having a difficult time conceiving the first step is to identify all the ways in which you are being exposed and learn how to minimize your exposures. For example, light sensitive paper on receipts and airplane tickets are coated with BPA; avoid touching them as much as possible.
If you are having your house painted, use low VOC paint and take a vacation during and after the painting while leaving your windows open to let the fumes leave the house.
Consider filtering the water you drink and bathe in.
Choose lotions, shampoos and cosmetics that are free of endocrine disrupting chemicals. The Skin Deep database from the Environmental Working Group is a great resource if you don’t know which ones to choose.
If you aren’t sure where you are vulnerable to exposure it’s a good idea to meet with an environmental medicine specialist.
2. Maximize Your Detoxification Pathways
We eliminate toxins through our liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and GI tract. Be sure you:
eliminate regularly with at least one bowel movement each day
sweat at least 5x per week either in a sauna or via exercise
drink plenty of water so that you urinate every couple of hours and your urine is clear.
There are several herbs and nutrients that can support liver function. A few of my favorites are dandelion, burdock, milk thistle, and NAC.
3. Eat a Balanced Diet
A diet high in fruits and vegetables gives your body the antioxidants it needs to combat damage from harmful chemicals. Eating plenty of protein makes sure your liver has the nutrients it needs to run its detoxification enzymes.
Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage are particularly useful because they have sulfur containing compounds that help remove toxins from the body. Green leafy vegetables provide folate and prepare your body to build a baby’s nervous system. Here are some tips to help you eat more veggies.
4. Dig Deeper
If you’re already doing these things and still not getting pregnant, or if you work and/or live in or near a toxic environment, you may need to dig deeper to uncover the problem. You can get a specialized toxin panel to identify what types of toxins are accumulating in your body and then use diet, sweating, herbs, supplements and sometimes chelators (complex proteins that bind very tightly to metal ions) to help pull these toxins out of your body.
Note: I do not recommend a rigorous detoxification protocol to anyone within six months of getting pregnant. If you mobilize toxins it’s important to let them settle before you get pregnant so you don’t pass them along to the baby.
Thinking About Getting Pregnant?
Even if you aren’t having issues with fertility, I recommend working on detoxification before hand to create the healthiest possible environment to cultivate a fetus. Many of the chemicals that effect fertility also can have negative effects on the fetus. Toxin exposure in utero has been found to increase the risk of numerous ailments from diabetes and obesity (3) to ADHD and learning disabilities (4).
1. 2006-2010 National Survey of Family Growth, CDC
4. Braun et al. Exposures to Environmental Toxicants and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in US Children. Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Dec; 114(12): 1904–1909. Published online 2006 Sep 19. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9478
Work With Dr. Hillary Roland, ND
Last month I got two emails from fertility patients telling me they were pregnant!!! This is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I love being part of a women’s creation story and helping her dreams come true.
If you have questions about fertility optimization or preconception care, I'd be honored to help. Schedule a new patient consult and we'll work together to asses your individual situation and come up with a plan.
Not ready to book an appointment? Schedule a free 15 minute introductory consultation via phone to learn more about how an experienced Naturopathic Doctor can help you overcome your fertility issues and/or detoxification concerns.