It's only fair to share…

Advances in assisted fertility over the last 30 years have taken us from science fiction to “test tube babies”. Whilst In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) gets the most media attention there are many other forms of assisted fertility.

Yet there are two things I have noticed. Firstly the process of any fertility treatment seems to be quite stressful for the couple involved. Even something as simple as tracking ovulation (so as to allow for “timed” intercourse) means that intercourse becomes something to be done at a certain time and can become a chore rather than spontaneous fun.

With more high technology treatments couples are often anxious as they wait to see if there has been success or not. There may not be anyway around this.

However the second thing of note is how little attention is devoted to simple ways of improving fertility. Two of the main factors are stress and weight.

Research has shown that women undergoing fertility treatments are more likely to become pregnant if they take part in stress management programs. It is safe to assume that any woman is more likely to become pregnant if her stress levels are lower.

Historically people were stressed at times of lack of food or external threat. The body responds to stress by producing hormones like adrenalin. At the same time, from a survival perspective, times of stress would not be good times to have children. They would be more mouths to feed and also take energy that might be required elsewhere. We see this in nature too.

Our bodies react to stress the same way regardless of cause. The body does not know whether the stress is due to your finances or due to famine. Hence it is not surprising that stress reduces fertility.

The other factor, paradoxically perhaps, is weight. In an evolutionary sense having plenty of food means good times for reproduction. However it seems there can be too much of a good thing. This applies to both men and women.

It has long been known that women with a Body Mass Index of over 30 had more problems getting pregnant. Whilst not a straight line, the heavier you are the greater the difficulty. In addition to this, pregnancy and labour are more complicated too.

It has now also been shown that sperm counts are affected by weight. European research showed a 10% reduction in sperm count in overweight men and a 20% reduction in obese men. The percentage of men who have a zero sperm count rises steadily with weight from 1% (healthy weight) to 3.8%. Again, whilst not a straight line, the higher the BMI, the more the sperm quality suffered.

According to Paul Cohen-Bacrie, scientific director at Eylau-Unilabs in Paris

“ Excess weight causes a modification in sperm characteristics, probably as a result of hormonal disturbance, which results in lower sperm numbers, motility and vitality”.

Improving your fertility may be simpler than you have been led to believe. Here are three simple tips.

1)   Managing your stress. Try mediation, Tai Chi or simple deep breathing.

2)   Eat real rather than processed food and make water your main beverage.

3)   Do some regular exercise and have your weight in a healthy range.

Despite doing “all the right” things some couples will have difficulty conceiving. This is where modern technology can be of assistance. However nature knows more than we do and shows us that simple measures like the ones above make a big difference.