Stress, Toxicity and Infertility

From working with many couples trying so hard to fall pregnant both naturally and using reproductive technologies it has become obvious to me that the biggest common denominator for infertility is stress - both the mental/emotional and from lifestyle and dietary practices.

This is a topic close to my heart, how stress and toxicity lead to fertility challenges. Infertility is an issue affecting many more couples now than when I first started as a naturopathic fertility specialist 10 years ago. Sadly the statistic will only increase if we do no begin to recognize how our sensitive reproductive systems are affected by the modern busy, stress filled and toxic lifestyle we lead.

The reproductive system although necessary to create offspring, is not essential to our day to day survival and so when conditions are not optimal the reproductive organs will be the first ones to miss out. It is a delicate balance of hormones that creates our fertile potential, and they are easily disrupted by stress, nutritional deficiencies, dietary excess, infections, poor health, age, radiation, pollution and chemicals.

For example heavy metals such as lead and cadmium common contaminants in our food chain, displace the essential mineral zinc, which is required for many enzyme reactions regulating the reproductive system in both men and women. Zinc deficiency leads to poor egg and sperm quality, low hormone levels, children with congenital abnormalities, small birth weights and post natal depression to name just a few.

Environmental chemicals which mimic oestrogen found in cleaning chemicals, pesticides, beauty products, plastic. In the body they lead to hormonal overload, or oestrogen dominance creating conditions like PMS, endometriosis, fibroids, infertility, testicular and prostate problems, lowered sperm count, breast cancer and much more.

Social poisons such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and marijuana all have recognized negative effects on egg and sperm quality, lower the chance of conception and increase the risk of the child having developmental issues.

Lack of sleep is a major contributor to poor fertility as we do a majority of our detoxification at night time and all our reproductive hormones are restocked for the next day. Lack of sleep leads to toxicity and low levels of sex hormones. Everybody needs at least 8 hours, ideally from 9/10pm to 6/7am to get the best production of growth hormone which boosts sex hormones, health and healing all round.

Stress is a constant experience for many people these days from deadlines, to work environments, to family responsibilities. Stress hormones are made from the same ingredients as sex hormones and so when we increase our stress hormone production we tend to lower our sex hormones, leading to lower libido and lower fertility. Stressed animals do not bred, we are no different.

When a woman’s subconscious perceives the environment to be hostile, whether that be a lack of money, scarcity of food, chemical toxicity, aggressive partner or negative sexual attitudes, her body will be triggered in to natural contraceptive behaviour: she may delay ovulation leading to poorer quality eggs and low progesterone; stop ovulating; make cervical mucus changes that prevent the sperm from reaching the egg; or even if she does conceive the endometrial lining can be changed to prevent implantation. If conception occurs, but circumstances change to being less favourable for pregnancy the baby may even be naturally aborted.

I also see that women or men who have experienced some kind of sexual trauma or were brought up with an attitude that denigrated their sexuality or body in some way have more problems with the reproductive system and falling pregnant. Sometimes the issue may be the fact that most women spend the early part of their sexually active life in fear of falling pregnant, and when we finally decide that it is now something we want, our subconscious is still running the avoid pregnancy program.

A 2006 study found that women with higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol during their first three weeks of pregnancy had a higher risk of miscarriage. Other studies have shown that women grappling with infertility have the same levels of depression, anger, anxiety, and feelings of isolation as those with chronic illnesses such as HIV, heart disease, and cancer.

The use of the contraceptive pill and other hormonal contraceptive like Depo provera and Implanon also have significant negative impacts on fertility. These drugs suppress the normal functioning of the ovary and prevent ovulation, in some cases women may be using these for many years before wishing to start a family. It is recognised that the biggest consumers of fertility drugs are women in their late twenties and thirties who have been on hormonal contraceptives most of their lives. These drugs result in low levels of zinc and folate, as well as most other essential nutrients, they increase the levels of copper accumulated in the body which can lead to oestrogen dominance and also provide at least 4 times the oestrogen a woman naturally produces (and that’s just the low dose pill). Synthetic oestrogen and progesterone are both recognized carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer. These drugs will also influence the health of a baby conceived soon after coming off the pill, increasing the chances of deformities and miscarriage. Using natural methods of contraception such as natural fertility management are highly recommended for at least 6 months before conception attempts.

Any or all of these may be factors in unexplained infertility that seems to be the diagnosis for many couples these days. Of course they are also factors in fertility issues such as poor sperm motility, morphology or count, impotence, premature ejaculation, low libido, poor egg quality, hostile mucus, premature ovarian failure, poly cystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, fibroids, cysts, polyps, PMS, cervical dysplasia, pelvic inflammatory disease, and thrush.

So now you know there are many reasons to practice preconception care to get both partners on track to create a healthy happy baby. Do seek professional assistance to ensure you get the safest and most effective natural heath care.

Samantha Warner Naturopath

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