The failure to conceive can be very distressing to couples, and rates of infertility in both women and men are on the rise, affecting between 10 to 15 percent of couples. Although some causes are well known, couples should consider lesser known but important factors when trying to conceive.
Some of the more commonly known reasons couples fail to conceive include the mother’s age, obesity, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), varicose veins in the scrotum, and fallopian tube damage.
However, also addressing less commonly known causes of infertility not only can improve the chances of conception, but also lower the risk of giving birth to a child with asthma, allergies, or a brain development disorder such as autism or ADHD.
Lesser known causes of infertility
Below are some lesser-known but important factors to consider when trying to conceive.
Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, can cause infertility, miscarriages, or complications with pregnancy. Low levels of thyroid hormone affect reproductive function in women. Also, most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Research shows a correlation between infertility in women and Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Women should have their thyroid function tested before trying to conceive as success rates improve when the condition is treated. Ask my office how we can help you manage the underlying cause of hypothyroidism.
Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Research suggests undiagnosed celiac disease is correlated with infertility in both women and men, and pregnancy complications. Couples wishing to conceive should be screened for a gluten intolerance using newer, more advanced gluten testing (conventional testing fails to diagnose many gluten-intolerant people). Because intolerances to other foods cause chronic inflammation, another barrier to fertility, it’s a good idea to rule out other food intolerances with testing or an elimination diet.
Autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys a part of the body. This process greatly imbalances the immune system and increases inflammation. I talked earlier about autoimmune thyroid disease, but studies show other autoimmune diseases can affect fertility. Additionally, an autoimmune disease can attack reproductive organs, directly impacting their function. For instance, women can have an autoimmune reaction to their ovaries or men can react to their sperm.
Environmental toxins. Many environmental toxins are linked with infertility in both women and men. Studies suggest environmental toxins impair semen quality in men, and affect various affects aspects of reproduction in women. If a couple does conceive, exposure to environmental toxins can affect the fertility of their children. We can minimize our exposure to toxins by eating a whole foods diet, drinking filtered water, and using natural body and home care products. Also, certain nutritional therapy strategies, such as glutathione support, can help you become more resilient to toxins. If you are trying to conceive, ask my office for strategies on safely reducing your toxic burden.
PCOS. Although PCOS is a recognized cause of infertility, lesser known are the causes of PCOS. In functional medicine we recognize PCOS as a hormonal imbalance caused by diet and lifestyle choices. Excess sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise, and chronic stress are factors that contribute to PCOS, which is frequently linked with insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes.
Good pre-conception health lowers risk of asthma, allergies, and autism in children
It is best to ferret out and address any health issues, some of which may cause no symptoms, before trying to conceive. Autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and other health problems not only can hinder conception, but they also affect the health of the immune system and brain health of the child. Managing these issues prior to conception can help prevent asthma, eczema, allergies, food intolerances, autoimmunity and brain development disorders such as autism or ADHD.
Dr. Mark Flannery