Whether you’re trying for a baby, or merely have the idea on your horizon, you’ve probably wondered at some point about your fertility. While some women are able to get pregnant even while taking birth control, it takes others many months of trying. And this can lead to difficult emotions that leave women questioning the potential for infertility.
In this article you’ll learn what impacts fertility, what causes infertility in women, and most importantly–what you can do to protect your fertility now, and for years to come.
Am I Infertile?
In simple terms, fertility is the ability to conceive children. A woman is fertile for about 6 days each month when an egg travels from her ovaries down the fallopian tube, ready to be fertilized (1).
It’s perfectly normal (expected, even) not to get pregnant during the first month you start trying. On average, most couples can expect to conceive within 6 months to a year of trying to get pregnant (2).
How to know if you’re infertile? If it takes longer than a year, it’s a good idea to schedule a visit with your doctor to discuss fertility, and this timeline drops to 6 months if you’re over 35. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infertile, but your doctor will want to evaluate you and your partner.
Signs of Healthy Fertility in Women
- A regular menstrual cycle
- Fertile cervical mucus around ovulation
- A healthy libido
- Basal body temperature increase around ovulation
Now that you know the basics of fertility, let’s take a look at what can negatively impact fertility, and the top most common causes of infertility.
And most importantly–what you can do about them.
Causes of Infertility
When you’re having trouble conceiving, factors that affect fertility mostly fall into three main categories. They are:
Ovulation dysfunction (or not ovulating, referred to as anovulation) – Ovulation is necessary for the egg to be fertilized by sperm. PCOS, hormone imbalance, age, weight, stress, and more can all affect your body’s ability to ovulate.
Medical conditions – The healthy function of several different organs and tissues is crucial to becoming pregnant. Various conditions, like endometriosis or thyroiditis can impair the healthy function of your ovaries, uterus, and reproductive function.
Environment – Your lifestyle, and what your body is exposed to has an impact on your health–the same goes for your fertility. Nutrient status, stress levels, and toxin exposure affect ovulation and the ability to become pregnant. More on these causes and what you can do about them in a moment.
Sometimes the reason behind infertility is unclear. Doctors describe this as “unexplained infertility”. More on this later.
How Common Is Infertility?
An estimated 1 in 10 women experience infertility at some time during their reproductive years (3). So even though infertility is frustrating, it’s also very common. When a doctor diagnoses you with fertility, he or she will either tell you why (i.e. lack of ovulation or poor sperm quality) or infertility will be “unexplained”.
What is “Unexplained Fertility”?
If you receive a diagnosis of unexplained fertility, you’re likely frustrated at the lack of answers. Generally speaking, “unexplained fertility” is simply an elimination of other more obvious causes of infertility, but it doesn’t account for factors we know affect fertility, but don’t have a way to measure or test for yet.
And it doesn’t mean there aren’t underlying conditions you can address that will increase your chances of conceiving naturally.
About 1 in 4 couples who experience infertility will be diagnosed with “unexplained fertility,” which means that even though ovulation and sperm and function are healthy–you’re still unable to get pregnant (4).
Factors for Women’s Fertility
There are dozens of things that affect fertility, for both men and women. We’ll be focusing on women in this article, but some of these apply to men as well (such as chronic health problems, stress, and diet).
Risk Factors for Infertility in Women (5):
- Age (over age 35 for women or over 40 for men)
- Eating disorders
- Excessive alcohol use
- Exposure to environmental toxins, such as heavy metals
- Over exercising
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Weight problems (obesity or underweight)
- Celiac disease
- Thyroid conditions
This list may feel overwhelming, but rest assured there are many things you have the power to control about your fertility, and we’ll be addressing the top 5 causes of infertility that diet and lifestyle can help you improve.
Top 5 Causes of Infertility in Women
1. Hormone Imbalance
In terms of infertility, hormone imbalance is often at least part of the problem. Hormones dictate almost every process that occurs in your body, and reproductive function is no different. But because you can’t visibly see or adjust these important chemical messengers, hormone imbalances aren’t always readily identifiable.
Common hormone imbalance conditions include:
- Hypothyroid (like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis)
Hormone imbalances can also cause menstrual cycle dysfunction. Many women don’t know that a healthy menstrual cycle sets the stage for healthy conception and pregnancy. If your cycle is long (more than 35 days), short (less than 21 days), you’re spotting mid-cycle, skipping periods, or don’t have a period–hormones are likely a part of the issue.
Plus, there are other hormonally driven problems like endometriosis which, while not caused directly by hormones themselves, are made worse by estrogen dominance.
Endometriosis, in addition to things like previous infections or pelvic inflammatory disease, can damage the uterus or fallopian tubes, making conception difficult.
Having a baby is one of–if not the most–arduous process a woman’s body will go through in her lifetime. It requires a lot of resources, both in your body and in your environment. Depending on your stress levels, your body might be sending a message that this environment just isn’t safe to carry a baby right now.
Your stress response is a highly complex system designed to keep you safe and alive, but it also can’t exactly tell the difference between primitive stimuli like a predator or natural disaster, and financial worries or extreme pressure at work or in your personal life.
For example, during times of stress, your body will preferentially produce cortisol instead of progesterone, and this could impact your cycle, as well as your ability to get pregnant.
If you’re feeling like you’re on the road to burnout, find solutions in this post.
Getting adequate nutrition is crucial for fertility, as it promotes a healthy menstrual cycle and egg quality. But good nutrition for fertility goes a little deeper than just carbohydrates, fats, and proteins–micronutrients like vitamins and minerals are super important for fertility.
For example, minerals like zinc and magnesium are necessary for cellular health, DNA, and protein synthesis, while B vitamins and choline support healthy hormones and menstrual function (6,7).
Note: Making sure your gut can properly absorb the nutrients you’re taking in is critical! If your gut is sending you S.O.S. signals through digestive upset, cramps, bloating, or constipation–it’s time for a Belly Fix!
4. Male Fertility
Despite the overwhelming amount of pressure placed upon women when fertility is a question, it’s important to address the health of male fertility as well. An egg needs a healthy sperm to get pregnant, and sperm quality isn’t always a guarantee.
For men, improving sperm quality involves increasing nutrients like zinc and minerals, managing stress, and getting regular exercise.
What your body is exposed to on a daily basis affects your health, and your fertility is part of that system. Environmental toxins like endocrine disruptors, heavy metals, and pesticides can disrupt the health of your gut and microbiome, as well as your fertility.
The food you eat, water you drink, and air you breath can either build you up and support your health, or it can contribute to stress, inflammation, and reduced fertility.
Take the toxic load quiz to find out if your detox systems need extra support!
Now that you know the main causes of infertility, let’s take a look at the most beneficial things you can do to improve your chances of getting pregnant.
How to Improve Fertility
Optimize Your Hormones
Get your hormones tested with a holistic or integrative medicine doctor. Hormone imbalances aren’t readily identifiable unless you find out what’s going on beneath the surface. A hormone evaluation like a DUTCH test can provide valuable data for you and your doctor.
To promote healthy hormone balance, learn more about Hormone Helper.
Increase nutrient status and availability by eating more nutrient-dense veggies, healthy fats, and quality proteins. Choline is one nutrient present in egg yolks. Read this article for more foods for fertility.
Put Yourself First
Trying to get pregnant can be very challenging emotionally, mentally, and physically. If there’s one time in your life to be a little selfish–it’s now! If it’s necessary to pull back from certain commitments to lower your stress levels, or change daily habits, this is an important part of your fertility journey.
Holistic fertility isn’t just about the sum of all of your parts, but rather how all the pieces of your fertility puzzle fit together to create wellness for you and a potential pregnancy.
Healing Common Infertility Causes Naturally
Infertility is frustrating, but it’s also a very common struggle for couples of all ages. While the majority of cases of infertility have identifiable causes, many couples experience unexplained fertility.
Several of the top causes of infertility in women can often be improved via diet and lifestyle, and holistic medicine for fertility is the best way to help you achieve your goal of a healthy pregnancy.