Infertility is defined as being unable to conceive after one year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse. In women above the age of 35, support and testing is recommended after six months or less of trying to conceive. Rates in Canada have risen over the past several decades. Depending on the study, the percentage of couples with infertility is now estimated at 12-16%, or one in six. While many couples keep these issues private, it is likely that each of us knows somebody who has dealt with infertility. This sharp increase is not accounted for by the choice more people are making to delay having children until their late 30’s – even women in their 20’s have increased rates of infertility. Nor is it about women’s fertility alone: something like 50% of infertility is due to male factors. A rigorous study done in 2017 found that sperm counts of men in Western countries have more than halved over the past 40 years. Theories about the cause of these trends include hormone-disrupting chemical exposures, poor nutrition, electromagnetic fields and tech exposure, and the impacts of stress and medication.
Causes of infertility
While there are many possible reasons fertility has decreased overall, individual reproductive health can be affected in various ways. In men, a simple sperm analysis can reveal whether there is a decrease in quantity or quality of sperm. In women, causes of infertility include hormone imbalances that affect the ability to ovulate, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or menstrual irregularity or absence. A history of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) may have caused pelvic inflammation, scarring or blockages, also reducing fertility. Sometimes, but not always, the presence of fibroids, polyps or endometriosis do cause infertility. Infertility may be medically unexplainable but have real roots in nutrient deficiency due to poor digestion, genetics, or a diet lacking in the right nutrients. Around 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage within the first trimester, which can be due to things like progesterone deficiency, nutrient deficiencies or poor embryo quality. While not all infertility can be explained, the more we understand the underlying causes, the more we can do to support fertility.
Naturopathic support for fertility
Sometimes the cause of infertility is not any one nutrient deficiency or dietary pattern but a unique constellation of factors that interacts with an individual’s genetic and biochemical profile. Our Toronto naturopaths evaluate nutritional status through bloodwork and use nutrition, herbs and supplements to optimize fertility for each individual. Hormone levels and blood indicators of ovarian health are also used to inform the selection of herbs and supplements. The health of our patients at every level is important for fertility, from gut and digestion to energy and fatigue to inflammation and autoimmunity. We use natural medicine to address these pillars of health and fertility in those having difficulty conceiving.
Our Toronto naturopaths work with both male and female patients whenever possible. For those with infertility we ensure that all relevant bloodwork and sperm analysis is ordered and create individualized treatment plans for each partner. In addition to supporting fertility through diet, herbs, supplements and lifestyle, we perform Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture. We also refer to and communicate with a world class fertility clinic so there is continuity of care for those who need or choose to have IUI, IVF or further medical investigation into their fertility.
The fertility journey can be very stressful and can affect stress levels during pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. Our Toronto naturopaths always address the mind-body connection and emotional health with a listening ear, stress management and counseling, and physiological support through natural medicine solutions with an eye to safety before, during and after pregnancy.