By Liane Moccia
Deciding to start a family is a beautiful and exciting time. But for many of us, we soon realize it is not going to be so simple. Depending on your personal journey, you may feel like what should happen so easily and naturally has turned into a very sterile, medical process that you have little control over.
However, there are things we can do to help boost our reproductive health and fertility. Many herbs, nutrients, and supplements have been studied and found to safely and gently bring our bodies into optimal health. When our health improves, so does our fertility.
Whether you are in the planning stage, in the middle of IVF cycles, or somewhere in-between, the following three strategies can support you and your goal of optimal fertility and a healthy pregnancy: increasing antioxidants, prioritizing sleep, and managing stress.
- Antioxidant Herbs to Boost Egg and Sperm Health
Antioxidants are super important for optimal egg and sperm health, and many of us have diets low in antioxidants, which is affecting our fertility. Antioxidants are a family of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help to protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals, called oxidation. Oxidation can be a primary cause of male and female infertility as our eggs, sperm and reproductive organs are particularly vulnerable to free radical damage.
Herbs are a powerful, natural, and nutritious way to get more antioxidants into your diet. Green tea and turmeric are two herbal antioxidant superstars. They can be safely added to your diet today to help flood your system with antioxidants to boost egg and sperm quality over the next few months.
- Green Tea: one study showed that a one-half cup of green tea contains the same amount of antioxidants as nearly 2.5 pounds of fresh fruit! The same study concluded that green tea can significantly improve sperm parameters (motility and viability), egg quality, fertilization and pregnancy rates. Aim for two to four cups of green tea every day. It is naturally lower in caffeine than coffee (about 40 mg per eight-ounce cup versus 130 mg for coffee).
- Turmeric: research has shown that turmeric is a potent antioxidant, helping to undo the damage of free radicals and improving overall egg quality. Turmeric also helps balance inflammation, which can play a role in fertility issues, possibly impacting implantation. A delicious way to add turmeric to your diet is by making Golden Milk. It’s a warm, nourishing drink traditionally from India. A quick search on Pinterest will provide many different recipes. You can also buy pre-made blends but watch out for added sugars or flavoring.
- Prioritize Healthy Sleep
Lack of sleep does more than just make us tired and stressed. It can suppress ovulation, negatively affect our thyroid and adrenal glands, and consequently create hormonal chaos and decreased fertility.
Sleep affects the production of our key fertility hormones including estrogen, progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). Proper sleep is critical to keep these hormones in balance. For example, long-term lack of sleep may directly affect the release of LH, the hormone that triggers ovulation as part of regulating your menstrual cycle. The resulting menstrual irregularity may mean it takes longer to conceive.
Studies suggest we need at least seven hours of sleep per night, but many of us need more. Some simple tips to help get the sleep you need are:
- maintain a regular sleep routine
- avoid large meals and snacks before bed
- unplug your electronics at least one hour before bedtime
- get outside in the morning for just 10 minutes – the natural sunlight in the morning will boost your melatonin levels that evening (melatonin is a hormone that helps us sleep)
If these sleep habits aren’t enough to help you get better sleep, consider herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, or skullcap as a tea or tincture before bed. Sometimes, a more holistic sleep plan with an herbalist or other healthcare provider is what is needed to get to the root of the sleep disturbance.
- Manage Stress
Stress is a natural part of life. The stress response system was designed to trigger the “fight-or-flight” response to save our primitive ancestors from life threatening situations. Today, this same mechanism jumps into action even if we’re not in physical harm and long-term stress can have a negative impact our health. Chronic stress has been associated with a decrease in male and female fertility.
When we feel anxious or overwhelmed, our bodies produce high levels of cortisol in response. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to suppressed ovulation. It is also associated with weight gain, difficulty sleeping, menstrual cycle irregularity, and decreased sperm quality in men.
Lifestyle modifications and herbs can be very powerful to help manage stress. Alongside meditation, mindfulness, gentle exercise, and getting enough sleep, using adaptogenic herbs can be very helpful. A safe, gentle adaptogenic herb to try is ashwagandha.
- Ashwagandha is a root herb that has been shown to lower chronically elevated cortisol levels, help balance hormones, and help promote healthy sleep cycles, all of which can improve fertility. It is also a powerful antioxidant which, as discussed, can improve egg and sperm quality. Studies have shown that ashwagandha help us feel calmer by increasing the availability of dopamine (a neurotransmitter known to elicit feelings of calm and contentment), and it appears to mimic the action of the neurotransmitter GABA, which relaxes the body.
Ashwagandha is available as a powder, tincture, or in supplement form. It can be easily added to smoothies or Golden Milk. Ashwagandha is part of the nightshade family, so if you react negatively to nightshade plants, use with caution (although most people with nightshade sensitivities can tolerate ashwagandha without issue).
The truth is that you do have control over many factors that can improve your fertility. By boosting your antioxidants, prioritizing your sleep, and managing your stress, you can take an active role in your fertility journey. Simple changes can make a difference! Nutrition, lifestyle, and herbs can work together to maximize your chances of conceiving and set your body on the right path for a healthy pregnancy.
Liane Moccia is a Certified Herbalist who specializes in fertility, preconception planning, stress, anxiety and sleep. Liane’s approach to health is simple and holistic. Using traditional herbal knowledge and the latest scientific research, she combines herbs with lifestyle and dietary changes to help optimize fertility. Liane’s own infertility diagnosis led her to the healing power of plants and ultimately a career change to help others on similar journeys.