In my practice, I’m surrounded by women struggling to conceive. Whether it’s PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis or a general hormone imbalance, there is so much that can be done to support the body and reverse chronic conditions. The majority of issues simply come down to lifestyle and dietary factors, so with that in mind, we can actually take charge of our life and not have to rely on other people to determine our fate.
Blood Sugar Balance
If blood sugar isn’t stable, it can have a knock on effect with all different hormones, and is really the most important place to start in rectifying health. When we eat sugar or refined carbohydrates, the pancreas releases insulin to get the glucose into cells. Too much of this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, putting a strain on the liver, plus it can feed any yeast or bacteria in the body and lead to weight gain, which can increase oestrogen levels.
However, it’s not just high blood sugar levels that can cause issues; when there are dips (either from not eating regularly or from consuming too many refined carbs), the hormone glucagon encourages the liver to covert stored sugars back into glucose for energy. If the liver is working overtime on this process, it’s not going to be able to do the other jobs efficiently like pulling out excess oestrogen from the body.
- Stick to whole foods like starchy veg, fruit and whole grains for your carb content and avoid sugars and white pasta and rice etc.
- Have protein and fat with every meal to slow down the release of blood sugar
- Eat within 1.5 hours of waking & don’t skip meals
- Include omega 3 from oily fish, and cinnamon to help naturally balance sugar levels
Supporting the adrenals
Right, now this topic could take up an entire book, as adrenal issues are something I see so frequently with my clients. Fatigue, burnout, weight gain, foggy headedness and emotional issues are all characteristic of an adrenal imbalance and is the second most important thing to consider with hormone issues. Stress is something we’re all experiencing these days, but whether it comes from blood sugar dysregulation, diet, emotional stress, or too much exercise, the stress hormone cortisol gets affected, which can have negative consequences on our sex hormones. The precursor for both cortisol and the sex hormones is called pregnenalone, and sadly, cortisol likes to use it up so there’s none left for other sexual pursuits. It’s vital for women to stop pushing themselves, and actually take time for rest and repair. Additionally, the adrenals work really closely with the thyroid, to which imbalances can lead to low fertility. If your thyroid readings are off, always ask what your adrenals are doing.
- Stop the caffeine! Caffeine in itself actually drives up cortisol so even though it’s waking you up initially, long term it’s just going to drive stress further.
- Opt for more gentle exercise. Forget endurance sports or spin classes, you want to be focusing on walking, swimming or yoga… keeping it nice and gentle will prevent adrenal issues
- Try meditation. Scientific studies have shown that meditation can bring stress levels right down.
- Go to bed before 10pm and ensure you’re getting enough sleep, as this is when the body repairs. After 10pm, your cortisol picks up again!
- Look into your levels of magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C, which can all get used up when you’re stressed.
If your digestive system isn’t working properly, excess hormones can’t be eliminated efficiently, plus, any pathogens in your gut can lead to poor nutrient absorption and put more stress on your body, contributing to a whole negative cycle. The gut is at the route of so many diseases, so making sure this area is happy is vital.
- If you have any digestive issues, look into carrying out a stool test or SIBO breath test to see what’s going on
- Include probiotics to help balance the gut flora
- Add fermented foods into your diet for beneficial bacteria
- Eliminate any possible food intolerances, especially gluten and dairy, which are the most common irritants of the gut.
If everything is working well but you just can’t seem to find an issue, always look to your liver and detoxification system. Similarly to digestion, the liver is vital for removing excess hormones that could contribute to fertility issues. In this day and age we’re exposed to so many toxins and stress (cortisol also needs to get processed by the liver), that it’s overworked and can’t do it’s regular job properly. By pulling out toxins, it can make a massive difference to your body.
- Assess your B vitamin status as B vitamins are essential for a process called methylation, which is commonly affected when fertility problems persist, and is vital for all parts of detoxification
- Include liver supporting herbs like milk thistle and turmeric
- Eliminate toxins and xenoestrogens from plastics, make ups, cleaning products and artificial skincare products etc.
- Try and eat only organic where possible to reduce exposure to pesticides
Most importantly, if you’re struggling with fertility or hormone issues, it’s always advisable to work with a practitioner who can look at all your symptoms and utilise functional testing to see what’s happening under the surface. Hormone imbalances can be due to progesterone, oestrogen, or androgens, so knowing exactly where you’re levels are at can really help build up a picture and enable specific support and supplementation.
(Please note: all these dietary and lifestyle changes will support fertility even if you’re choosing to have IVF or any other medical intervention… just consult your GP if you’re making changes and if you’re choosing to take supplements)