Wednesday 20 February 2019

15 simple ways to boost fertility

As we delay parenthood into our 30s and beyond, couples can find themselves facing difficulty when conceiving. Ed Power has some steps that may help things along.

If planning a family, it may be helpful to visit your GP and ensure you are in good health
If planning a family, it may be helpful to visit your GP and ensure you are in good health

Ed Power

You can't have it all. You certainly cannot plan a family and dream of one day becoming an astronaut. Scientists have warned cosmic radiation could cause infertility among interstellar travellers: apparently being rocketed into orbit and, once arrived, bombarded with solar radiation causes potentially irreversible damage to ovaries and sperm.

Admittedly, whether to go into space or become a parent is a dilemma few of us are likely to face, and there is a temptation to file the revelation under 'useless information'. Nonetheless, it underlines the extent to which seemingly random factors - from diet to exercise regime to workplace conditions - can impact on fertility.

Without question, we are finding it more difficult to have children than ever. A generation ago, infertility was estimated to effect one in 12 couples; today, the figure stands at a worrying one in five. Nobody knows why we are finding it more difficult to reproduce - though it is an accepted fact that, across the world, the health of men's sperm has fallen sharply.

"Globally, sperm counts have been in decline for 20 years," leading reproductive medicine expert Dr Louis Keith told the Irish Independent last year. "Nobody knows why. They impute lifestyle, obesity, drinking, smoking, hard drugs."

With the data indicating a potential fertility crisis on the way, it can be easy to feel helpless. Especially if you have been attempting to conceive for a year or more. Then, fertility is an immensely complex subject and no two couples are the same. What works for one may not for another. However, experts agree there are some straightforward steps that can boost fertility and improve the chances of conception.

1 Drink less alcohol

For both men and women, booze can be a big negative when trying to start a family. Drinking to excess - or even drinking too close to the recommended weekly limit of 10 pints of beer for men - lowers testosterone levels and impacts on sperm quality. For women, even quite modest quantities of alcohol - more than five drinks a week - can interrupt the menstrual cycle and substantially lower the odds of conception. That glass of wine before bed may be more damaging than you imagine.

2 Watch what you eat

Zinc boosts the health and maturity of eggs. Fortunately, it is easily sourced: turkey chicken breast and nuts all contain high levels. For men, selenium plays a crucial part in the development of healthy sperm. Sources include Brazil nuts, eggs, mushroom and fish. Furthermore, salmon (fresh), oranges, kiwi fruit, cabbage, yoghurt and eggs will raise levels of vitamins C and B12 - these are linked to higher sperm count. Motility in sperm is important also: for this, you will need adequate levels of vitamin E, found in tomatoes, avocados and almonds.

3 Stay in shape

Obesity can impact on fertility. As can being underweight. If your body mass index exceeds 30 or is less than 19, you may be storing up trouble. The good news is that cutting your BMI by as little as 10pc can meaningfully improve the chances of conception.

4 Drink water

Drinking water will raise the production of cervical mucus - helping sperm swim through the cervix to the egg. More generally, an appropriate intake of water will increase your general health, leading all systems in the body to work more efficiently, including your reproductive organs.

5 Exercise

Being in good physical condition will obviously boost your fertility. However, you can overreach too. A brisk jog every day will undoubtedly help if trying to conceive. Completing an Ironman might not. Exhausting workouts can sap the body and make it more difficult to become pregnant. So, instead of a enrolling in a Tough Mudder-style endurance event, consider a gentler alternative such as yoga.

6 Address your stress

Between workplace pressure, killer commutes and ever-higher tax burdens, it is no surprise that stress is a daily reality for many. However, a state of constant tension can be highly damaging if hoping for a family. It can disrupt hormone levels and even interrupt ovulation. It is not by coincidence that women often become pregnant on holiday - they have started to relax, and this increases their fertility. There is no simple solution to cutting down on stress. But try to carve out more periods for yourself - and do not let work define who you are and take up leisure time.

7 Understand that these things take time

Changes to lifestyle and diet WILL help with fertility. However, it may take several months before your body responds to the new, gentler regime. So don't stress if you cannot see the benefits straight away. Our reproductive systems move in mysterious ways and cannot be hurried along.

8 Cut down on coffee

As with alcohol, there is evidence that excessive caffeine - even more than one coffee a day among those with a high sensitivity - can impair fertility. If you're addicted to your Nespresso machine, consider going decaf.

9 Men - keep your cool

As mentioned above, being blasted into space in a rocket is not good for your sperm. While that is a scenario few of us are likely to face, men should be aware that exposing their reproductive organs to excessive heat can be damaging (as well as obviously very painful).

In one study, sperm production suffered when men held a laptop on their laps for long periods; another showed that sitting in a hot-tub day after day decreased sperm production. Conclusion: you probably shouldn't be using your laptop on a bidet.

10 Read your food labels

The science is at an early stage but it is understood pesticides can negatively effect reproductive capacity in both men and women. So, if you have the option, choose organic fruit and vegetables. The less toxins your food has been exposed to, the better for you and your chances of achieving a successful pregnancy.

11 Eat oranges

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain nutrients that can boost sperm quality. Conversely, a diet of junk food does your dreams of daddy-hood few favours.

12 Remember that men have biological clocks too

It is assumed men can delay parenthood longer than women. However, it has been demonstrated that sperm quality and quantity declines as men move into middle age. On average, a 50-year-old will have 20pc less sperm than a man 20 years his junior.

13 No smoking

There is evidence that smoking seriously decreases sperm count and impacts on individual sperm's abilities to fertilise the egg. There really are no butts about it: cigarettes are a no, no.

14 Have a check-up

If planning a family, it may be helpful to visit your GP and ensure you are in good health. Ask about vitamin supplements you might consider taking - such as those containing folic acid, which can help safeguard against birth defects, especially in early pregnancy.

15 Don't compare yourself to other couples

Some people find it easier to become pregnant compared to others. On average, 85pc of women trying for a baby will conceive within a year. So don't expect things to fall into place straight away.

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