Whether you are just starting to think about having a family, have been trying for a while or are about to embark on a cycle of IVF, taking a natural approach to your fertility, for both men and women, can help on the road to conception. In this monthâ€™s column, three practitioners from The Natural Fertility Centre based at Napiers the Herbalists in Edinburgh and Glasgow, share their expertise.
Rachael Forrest BA, Dip.Ac. MBAcC
Two of the main obstacles couples face when trying to conceive are stress and period problems.
Period problems can be anything from irregular and painful periods to having no periods at all. Over 11 years of practising acupuncture I can remember many women patients whose lives have been changed by the fact that they no longer suffer debilitating pain for a few days a month, or by the fact that they can predict when their period will come instead of waiting for it to take them by surprise. In both those cases there is an element of regaining control of their lives and bodies which is exceptionally empowering but regulating the menstrual cycle also has obvious benefits for fertility.
Stress is an issue which affects both the men and women I treat. Stress knocks all the bodyâ€™s hormones off-balance by inducing a state of â€˜fight or flightâ€™ syndrome. This state is vital to get us out of danger but should be short-lived. Because we all lead such busy lives, our bodies are in a constant state of fight or flight and the last thing your body wants to do when in danger is try to reproduce.
Acupuncture is also used to support couples having IVF or other assisted fertility treatments.
Acupuncture works by gently stimulating different nerve pathways to rebalance reproductive or stress hormones. Most people are surprised at how delicate the needles are and how relaxing it is and I see for myself on a daily basis, how much benefit patients gain from this effective and wonderful treatment.
Helen Gestwicki BSc (Hons) Phytotherapy, Dip. Nut. MCPP, MBANT
Ensuring that the body is well nourished is vital for both partners. Many people know that women should take folic acid when trying to conceive and that zinc helps sperm production, but there are many other nutrients that are important for fertility for both men and women including B vitamins, Magnesium, Selenium and Omega 3 fats. A lack of nutrients can contribute to poor egg quality, low sperm count or motility, miscarriage and hormonal imbalances.
I work with people over a 3 to 6 month period to increase nutrient levels through a healthy diet and food supplements, and to reduce the ‘anti-nutrients’ that can have a negative impact on fertility, such as caffeine, alcohol, smoking and processed foods. Hair mineral analysis can be useful to reveal mineral deficiencies and to detect heavy metals like mercury, lead or cadmium, which have been linked to low fertility, poor sperm quality and miscarriage.
Herbal medicine has been used for centuries to improve fertility in men and women and has a long history of use for conditions such as heavy or irregular periods, endometriosis, and fibroids. Herbs are also beneficial for supporting the body during times of stress and improving general health and well-being. They work by nourishing and healing specific organs of the body, for example the reproductive organs or nervous system, enabling them to work more effectively. I commonly use herbs such as Ashwaganda, Vitex Agnus Castus, Shatavari (or Asparagus root) for female infertility, and for men herbs such as Korean and Siberian Ginseng have been shown to improve sperm count and quality.
Deirdre Armstrong BSc, MA, Cert Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning
Conception Coaching is a phrase coined to describe a simple system for learning about your body and helping you get pregnant naturally and quickly. It can reassure you that everything is working well and that there is no need to panic but also helps in the early diagnosis of a number of conditions which may make getting pregnant difficult.
A session covers pre-conception health and gives couples a tailor made plan for improving their fertility. With the vast quantity of information and misinformation on the internet itâ€™s often impossible to wade through it all and work out whatâ€™s good advice and whatâ€™s not. Deirdre debunks all the getting pregnant myths couples may have heard and gives them the definitive version of what they should be doing. Every detail is covered and there is no question too daft that she has not already heard!
In contrast to many peopleâ€™s experience with doctors appointments, sessions are unhurried and relaxed and there is plenty of time to talk and ask questions. Many couples are daunted at the thought of discussing their fertility issues in such detail but Deirdreâ€™s relaxed, positive and practical approach makes it much easier.
Sometimes the expertise of other members of the team can help, for example, to get hormones back in balance or to improve a low sperm count. Deirdre may advise you to seek help with any specific problems that become apparent by referring you for acupuncture, herbs, nutritional therapy, hypnotherapy or counselling.