Receiving a diagnosis of infertility can be incredibly demoralizing and stressful. There are many natural and complementary options available to you to help support you through this time
What is Infertility?
Infertility is the inability to successfully conceive after one full year of unprotected sex . In Canada, infertility impacts 1 in 6 couples, equating roughly to 16%. This number has doubled since the 1980s. For those experiencing infertility, approximately one third is due to female factors, one third is due to male factors, and one third is a combination of both. In 10% of cases, infertility is unexplained with no identifiable causes. Infertility impacts men and women equally, making it important to look at both individuals in a couple when evaluating reproductive health.
Unfortunately infertility is on the rise in Canada and globally. A recent study found that among men from Western, industrialized nations, sperm concentrations have decreased by 50%. Increasing infertility rates are also due to the fact that women are waiting longer to conceive. Taken together, this has led to an increase in infertility, and an increase in the use of fertility services such as assisted reproductive technologies.
Receiving a diagnosis of infertility and going through fertility treatments can be incredibly demoralizing and stressful. There are many natural and complementary options available to you to help support you through this time.
What Causes Infertility?
Infertility is caused by a number of factors and conditions. Given the increasing rates of infertility globally, it’s uncertain if we truly understand all of the contributors to fertility and reproductive health. Here are some known causes of, and contributors to infertility in both men and women.
Conditions that Impact Female Fertility
Current or past history of sexually transmitted infections
Early menopause, medically known as Premature Ovarian Insufficiency
Hypothyroidism or Hyperthyroidism
conditions that impact male fertility
Current or past history of sexually transmitted infections
Hormonal imbalances including low testosterone or high prolactin
Systemic diseases such as hemochromatosis, or sarcoidosis
Lifestyle Factors that Impact Both Male & Female Fertility
Standard North American diet
Substance use including marijuana
Prescription medication use
Possible Causes of Unexplained Infertility
Damaged or fragmented sperm DNA
Immunological dysfunctions including undiagnosed autoimmune conditions
Altered vaginal microbiome
Naturopathic Treatment of Infertility
When it comes to infertility, the goals of naturopathic treatment are:
Investigate and identify any underlying causes of infertility in both individuals
Correct underlying causes and remove obstacles to fertility through lifestyle modifications, and customized naturopathic care
Optimize sperm and egg health 3 months prior to trying to conceive
Optimize and support immune health
Optimize and support hormone health
Identify and correct physiological and psychological stressors - this includes nutrient deficiencies, poor blood sugar balance, low grade infections, oxidative stress, and environmental exposures
Support endometrial health
Assess genetic influences that may be impacting your chances
With infertility, naturopathic medicine can be used alone, or in conjunction with conventional medical care. Whether you are trying to conceive naturally, or using assisted reproductive technologies such as fertility drugs, IUI, or IVF, naturopathic medicine can help. If you are using fertility medications, we take every precaution necessary to ensure our treatments are supportive and do not interact with your other prescriptions. Depending on where you are in your fertility journey and your unique needs, treatment plans will be further customized. Naturopathic treatments that have been researched and shown to improve fertility outcomes include nutritional counselling, medicinal grade supplementation, and acupuncture.
If you’re worried about infertility, it’s never too soon to reach out for naturopathic support. Naturopathic Doctors recommend treatment commencing 3 months prior to trying to conceive. It takes 90 days (3 months) for sperm and egg cells to reach full maturity. Our goal is to ensure your cells are as healthy as possible prior to conception to improve your odds of pregnancy. If you’re under 35 years of age and have been trying for more than one year, or if you’re greater than 35 years and have been trying for more than 6 months, it’s important to visit your naturopathic and/or medical doctors.
Infertility: What to Expect from Treatment
If you are struggling with infertility and are considering seeing a Naturopathic Doctor at our clinic, here’s a rough outline of what you can expect from naturopathic treatment:
Month 1: Initial Appointment, 1.5-2.5 Hours in Length
We complete a thorough social, physical, environmental, and reproductive health assessment to identify barriers to fertility in both partners.
Our initial intake includes extensive exploration of diet, substance use, alcohol use, smoking, weight, exercise, sleep, stressors, previous surgeries, existing illnesses, prescription medication use, past STIs, pregnancy history, birth control history, period history, ovulation history, intercourse, and genetic screening in order to identify what may be playing a role.
Extensive lab work will be requisitioned. In most cases we recommend a baseline health assessment, nutrient status, hormone panel, thyroid panel, and markers of inflammation. Depending on your unique case, certain labs may be added or excluded.
Physical exams will be completed. This includes assessment of reproductive organs to rule out anatomical abnormalities. In women, a vaginal swab may be taken to ensure the vaginal microbiome is well balanced. If you are due, a PAP test may also be completed.
You will receive a timely referral for an STI screen to ensure this is not impacting your chances. We will also discuss the pros and cons of genetic testing.
We will complete an extensive environmental health assessment. An environmental impact questionnaire will be administered.
An initial treatment plan will be provided to get you started on optimizing your fertility
Month 1: Lifestyle Consult, 45-60 Minutes in Length
This appointment is used to educate you on how to best support your fertility through lifestyle modifications
We will go through customized nutritional and exercise recommendations that are based on your lab results and unique physiological requirements. You will be provided with customized dietary guidelines, grocery lists, and meal plans unique to you.
We will also go through common household and day-to-day environmental exposures that may be playing a role. We’ll also discuss how to effectively limit your exposure to these products.
For women, we will go through the ovulatory cycle together to teach you what to look for, and how to track your fertility.
Month 2: First Follow Up Appointment, 45-60 Minutes in Length
We review your lab results together, so you fully understand how your body is functioning
We will go through an even more detailed, and customized treatment plan that is specific to your physiological needs so your fertility is optimized
This is the point where we start tracking your progress. Due to the life cycle of our reproductive cells, we recommend a minimum of 3-6 months of treatment from this point or until pregnancy is achieved.
Depending on where you are in your fertility journey we may begin including supportive therapies such as acupuncture. If you are planning an IUI or IVF cycle, we do offer preparatory, and same day pre and post acupuncture.
Months 4-9: Second, Third, Fourth Follow Up Appointments, 45 Minutes in Length
Every 2-3 months of customized treatment, we reassess your progress, and reevaluate your goals
We troubleshoot any problems you might be having with treatment or compliance with treatment
We often tweak treatment as needed based on your results. We formulate treatment to further propel you towards your health goals.
Due to the complicated and individualized nature of infertility, it’s difficult to put a timeline on results. Our ultimate goal by this point is that we have identified the barriers to fertility in your case and have made progress on removing them.
It’s important to note that we highly recommend both individuals involved are tested and treated. As mentioned above, male and female factors are evenly responsible for difficulty conceiving . It’s therefore very important for both individuals to be evaluated so we are targeting treatment as accurately as possible.
Of course, we can’t guarantee results or how you will respond to treatment. We ensure our recommended treatments are based on the best available evidence in fertility research. Our goal is that every person, couple, and family that walks through our doors feels educated and empowered about their fertility options.
If you’re concerned that you’re struggling with infertility, our fertility support team is here to help answer your questions and provide safe, effective care. If you would like to learn more, please don’t hesitate to contact us or book a complimentary 15 minute meet-and-greet with one of our practitioners.