Pregnancy takes a toll on a woman’s body, both physically and emotionally. Our bodies have a way of protecting us from things we can’t handle, which may be the case for some women who are having difficulty conceiving. Chronic stress is becoming more common as society continues to evolve into a “bigger, faster, stronger” mentality. We work more, eat less nutritious food, and spend more time worrying and feeling stressed. When the body and mind are in a chronic state of stress and worry, we shift into survival mode. When this happens, stress hormones are running rampant through the body, which causes the reproductive hormones to become unbalanced. When the body is in this unbalanced state, there is no amount of IVF or other conception methods that will allow the body to support and maintain a healthy fetus.
In order to re-balance the hormones, good nutrition and emotional wellbeing are paramount, and they must occur together. Even the most scientifically sound fertility diet in the world is useless if the mind is not peaceful and relaxed. Many women find that when they stop trying to conceive, and release their mind of expectations, they end up being able to conceive shortly after they’ve stopped consuming their energy with worries and fears. Sometimes when we want something so much, we are constantly thinking about it and stress ourselves out trying to achieve it.
Practicing yoga and meditation is an excellent way to teach our minds to relax. When the physical and mental components of yoga and meditation are practiced together, the body begins to balance, heal, and become a more hospitable environment for conception. Here are some ways you can nurture your body and mind:
1. Learn to meditate.
This is perhaps one of the most beneficial skills you will learn in your entire life. Meditation allows you to take complete control of your body and mind, regardless of anything else in your life that is not in your control. When the mind is calm, the stress hormones are calm. When the stress hormones are calm, the reproductive hormones are more effective and available. Even meditating for a few minutes a day can significantly reduce the physical impact of stress on the body. Inhale good thoughts, exhale bad thoughts. The goal of meditation is to let go of the inner dialogue that takes place when we are thinking to ourselves, and focus only on our breath. Be aware that your body is collecting positive energy when you inhale, and expelling negative energy when you exhale. Don’t worry about what those positive and negative thoughts are, just push them aside if you start to analyze them.
2. Find a mantra.
Words or short statements that bring comfort or encouragement are another way to cope with emotional stress. Women who constantly have infertility in the back of their minds are carrying around emotional weight that actually interferes with fertility. When mantras are added to meditation or our normal thought processes, we become more capable of feeling empowered and accepting our circumstances. My personal mantra during times of stress is “everything happens for a reason”. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a few moments and say that statement either out loud or in my head each time I inhale and exhale. Not only am I forcing myself to detach from negative and worrisome thoughts, I’m filling my head with thoughts that will help me build a more positive foundation to handle difficult situations.
3. Practice yoga.
Yoga gives the body and mind an opportunity to work together in a state of intention and self-awareness. The goal of yoga is not just to contort your body into various positions, but to focus your thoughts on how your body is moving and reacting. Each moment your mind is focused solely on your yoga practice is a moment that you’ve given yourself permission to be peaceful and free of stress. With that in mind, here are some asanas that help boost fertility:
4. Avoid these foods:
Sugar: Excess consumption of sugar causes the body to release insulin, and blood sugar levels spike quickly and drop shortly after, causing the dreaded “sugar crash”. When blood sugar drops, the adrenal gland release cortisol and adrenaline because the body experiences decreased blood sugar as a state of emergency. This becomes problematic for women trying to conceive because cortisol and progesterone, a hormone needed for conception and pregnancy, compete for the same receptor sites in the body. When the body is in a state of stress, cortisol will always win the battle, and the body will not allow progesterone to bind to receptor sites. In addition to causing hormonal imbalance, sugar also causes inflammation, which decreases the ability of an embryo implanting in the uterine lining. If you’re craving something sweet, stick to low glycemic fruits, use stevia as a sweetener, or add mint to your drinking water.
Alcohol: Alcohol causes strain to the adrenal glands, which play an important role in the release of reproductive hormones. Drinking more than 5 units of alcohol per week (equivalent to 2 glasses of wine) has been shown to decrease fertility. Alcohol also decreases the body’s ability to absorb zinc, which is essential for sperm production and transport in males.
Low-fat dairy products: When the fat is removed from dairy products, water soluble hormones such as androgen and prolactin still remain in the product, while fat soluble hormones like estrogen and progesterone are removed. When estrogen and progesterone are removed from the equation, the male hormones become dominant, which decreases levels of the female hormones needed to become pregnant. Prolactin suppresses ovulation, and androgen prevents follicles from developing. In general, dairy is an inflammatory food, and should be limited when trying to conceive. However, if you decide to eat dairy products, go for the full fat products rather than low-fat.
Soy: Avoid intake of processed foods, as they usually contain soy products of some sort. Soy contains phytoestrogens, which cause strain on the thyroid. The thyroid releases T3 and T4, which are needed to balance the metabolism and regulate levels of reproductive hormones. Soy has also been found to decrease the production of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone), which stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs, and LH (Luteinizing Hormone), which triggers the release of the egg. As a result, women may have anovulatory periods, and conception is unable to take place. Male fertility is also affected by soy, as it inhibits zinc absorption and decreases testosterone.
5. Eat more of these foods:
Bananas: Bananas are loaded with vitamin B6, which helps to regulate blood sugar and treat luteal phase defect. They also contain potassium, which regulates the pH balance of the body and creates a more hospital environment for sperm to survive.
Spinach and leafy greens: Folate, or vitamin B9, is one of the most important nutrients for conception and pregnancy. Folate is important for healthy production and circulation of red blood cells, which are needed by the uterus to support implantation of an embryo. Be sure to consume foods with natural sources of folate, such as spinach, asparagus, and kale, or take supplements that contain “5-methyltetrahydrofolate” or “5-MTHF” on the label. It is important to note that folic acid is not the same thing as folate. Folic acid is commonly added to foods and vitamin formulas and is marketed as being an essential nutrient for fertility and pregnancy. However, about 40% of the population is unable to absorb folic acid, and it has also been linked to cancer and degenerative brain disease.
Pomegranates: Pomegranates have been a symbol of fertility for various cultures for thousands of years. Pomegranates are unique because they contain high levels of zinc and vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed to help the body absorb zinc, and also helps to decrease inflammation. As an added bonus, pomegranates also contain antioxidants, which help to prevent cell damage and promote healthy development of new cells.
Almonds: Almonds contain vitamin E, which aids in healthy circulation and oxygenation of the blood. Well-oxygenated blood is needed for healthy functioning of body tissue, including the uterus. Almonds also contain tryptophan, which maintains healthy production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are responsible for maintaining healthy sleep cycles, mental wellbeing, and prepare the uterus to receive and nourish an embryo.