Nutrition can be a very powerful tool when working with issues around fertility and sub-fertility. Did you know the majority of our hormones are made from raw materials like protein and cholesterol? And that they also require good quality fats to communicate their messages effectively?
As a Nutritional Therapist I like to start by rebalancing the diet and ensuring that my clients are eating the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats to suit their needs. I then like to make sure their vitamin and mineral intake is the best it can be (this is super important with fertility clients as vitamins and minerals are vital in preparing the body for conception and for supporting it during pregnancy).
Here’s a bit more detail on what rebalancing the diet actually means:
- Increasing GOOD QUALITY protein: protein is the main building block for hormones such as insulin and thyroid hormone and although at first glance these may not appear to be directly involved in reproductive health, an imbalance in these can lead to difficulties conceiving. Protein is vital for cell growth and repair and a healthy immune system. Good sources include meat, fish, eggs, beans and nuts. You may have noticed that I have highlighted the words ‘good quality’ - this is because intensively farmed animal products can cause more harm than good and I always urge my clients to consider spending that bit extra and buying organic grass-fed animal products. It is REALLY important that the body’s toxic load be as light as possible during this period and not eating antibiotic- and hormone-ridden animal products is a very important part of this.
- Getting those GOOD fats in: good fats help to keep cell membranes nice and fluid, this allows for the steady flow of hormones in and out of the cell. Good cell communication means happy hormones. Cholesterol is also the building block to important reproductive hormones like testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone. You’ll have probably noticed I’ve highlighted the word ‘good’ again - I promise I’m not a compulsive highlighter, these two topics just happen to be very important to me! Good fats include nuts, seeds, olive oil, organic eggs and oily fish (the fish should be wild and not farmed). Bad fats are those that are hydrogenated (i.e. those found in cakes, biscuits and crisps) and those that have been heated at very high temperatures (i.e those found in takeaways and the majority of restaurant food).
- Getting vitamins and minerals up to crazy levels: vitamins and minerals are co-factors (little keys which unlock important chemical processes) in many hormone reactions. For example, luteinising hormone requires both B6 and zinc to work effectively and without these its function is severely compromised. Vegetables are one of the best sources of vitamins and minerals (organic are best) and increasing vegetable intake is always one of the main focuses of most of my nutrition programmes. Forget five a day, I like to encourage my clients to aim for at least ten a day!
- Blood sugar balance: stable blood sugar means a healthy insulin response - insulin is intimately linked to hormonal health and is quite often implicated in conditions that may be causing infertility or sub-infertility such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). The easiest way to balance blood sugar is to ensure that every meal and snack contains some protein and fat (which the nutrition programme has already encouraged you to do - bonus!) And, if including carbohydrates, ensuring these are from wholegrain and unrefined sources such as brown rice and quinoa.
- Removing anti-nutrients: a fertility-loving diet is not just about eating wholesome and nourishing foods but also about making sure we remove all sorts of nasties that have no nutritional value. We sometimes call these ‘anti-nutrients’ as the body requires vital vitamins and minerals to break them down. Classic culprits include sugar, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, fizzy drinks and pesticide-laden foods.
Once all these areas have been addressed it’s then time to start digging deeper and identifying specific areas that may be impacting on the client’s fertility. Here are some of the areas that come up frequently:
- Toxicity levels and liver health: our livers need to be in optimal condition to effectively process and breakdown hormones. Exposure to environmental toxins such as mercury from amalgam fillings, PCBs and SLEs from cosmetics and BPA from plastic (to name but a few!) often play a key role in clogging the liver and not allowing it to work optimally, add to this raised stress levels and we have a liver disaster on our hands! This is why I often encourage clients to clean up their environment and sometimes also like to build in a gentle 7-14 day detox into their programme.
- Digestive support: good digestion is key for all areas of health, if our digestion is compromised we probably won’t be absorbing all the nutrients in our food, this could mean that we may be deficient in nutrients and not even know it! I always like to take a closer look at my clients’s digestive health and make sure their ability to extract maximum nutrition from their food is functioning as well as it can be.
- Genetic testing: this is a great avenue to explore when digging really deep into a client’s personal story. There have been amazing advances in the field of nutrigenomics in the past few years and genetic testing provides us with some very helpful markers with which to refine and tweak the nutrition programme. You may have heard of variations on the MTHFR gene - this is a gene that is heavily implicated in fertility and supporting variations on this gene with targeted nutrition and supplementation can yield incredible results. This truly is personalised nutrition at its best!
As you can see quite a lot goes into a nutrition programme for fertility. Every client is different and therefore the structure and content of the programme is very much dictated by your individual needs and your unique biochemical and genetic make up. I hope you’ve found this blog useful, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions, I would love to hear from you!
Please call Giulietta on 07983 704882 or email her Giulietta@bridgetohealth.co.uk or visit her website: http://www.hormonesinharmony.co.uk/