A Case of Infertility
Infertility, which is defined as an inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex, is quite common, affecting 10-20% of couples. Failure to conceive can cause immeasurable distress and trauma and the problem may lie with the female or the male, or from a combination of abnormalities in both. A nutrition and health programme may be the answer to fertility for many people as May and Jack found out after they had experienced difficulties conceiving for eighteen months.
May was thirty years old and had taken the contraceptive pill for five years before she decided to try for a baby. Her failure to ovulate led her doctor to prescribe Clomid (100mg), a fertility drug, which promotes ovulation. However, it did not agree with her as it caused severe hot flushes and abdominal discomfort and she had to stop taking it. Her key symptoms were mood swings, low immunity, fatigue and pre-menstrual syndrome. She wanted to conceive, eat healthily and feel fitter. She also found it very difficult to slow down and relax, which affected her chances of conceiving. She smoked 25 to 30 cigarettes each day, drank alcohol every evening, rarely exercised and her diet was full of sugar, coffee, dairy and fast food. Generally, she was very negative about life and needed lots of encouragement and motivation.
Jack, her partner, was 42 and very overweight, which he admitted freely was caused by comfort eating. His key symptoms were frequent colds, dark circles under the eyes, reduced sense of taste and smell, irritability, and low sperm count. He smoked 30 cigarettes each day and drank alcohol every evening. At one time he had played rugby at county level, but in recent years had done very little exercise, and spent many hours in his car travelling to and from work. He ate a similar diet to May with the addition of 'take aways' and 'Coca-Cola' at lunch-time. He was a very positive, impulsive person and a great support for May, as she was for him.
On the first consultation we discussed the known factors that can lead to infertility, which applied to both of them. These included prescription drugs, low immunity, pesticides and hormones in foods, artificial chemicals, smoking, caffeine, alcohol and skin care products such as perfume, after-shave and deodorant, which can exert toxic effects when absorbed through the skin. (See also article – Toxic Chemical Overload in this issue.) To expand on some of these, smoking is linked with infertility due to the toxic effect of conitine, a breakdown product of nicotine on the ovum (egg cell), and it has been proven that eggs taken from women who smoke are difficult for sperm to fertilise. Alcohol increases the risk of infertility and just one unit of alcohol averages a 30% increase, and two units or more 60%. High oestrogen levels in hormone fed animal products, drinking water, contraceptive pill, plastics, pesticides and chemicals such as dioxin, organochlorine, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) and DDT (dichlora diphenyl trichlorethane) can cause sterility in females and low sperm counts in males.
May and Jack followed a diet which supported proper digestive and gastro-intestinal function in order to maintain optimal absorption of nutrients. They both ate the same except at lunch-time. Breakfast consisted of wholemeal cereal, oat milk and fruit, and the evening meal included oily and white fish or chicken with lots of vegetables, rice, potatoes or quinoa, and fruit. May had salad with protein and safflower dressing for lunch, and Jack took a similar packed salad with protein and two slices of wholemeal bread to work each day. They both drank one cup of fresh vegetable soup and two glasses of diluted carrot juice in between meals. Foods containing sugar, cows milk, artificial chemicals, and saturated fat were avoided and dark green leafy vegetables, garlic, ginger, onions were emphasized. Coffee was reduced to two cups each day, alcohol was banned, smoking was reduced and only natural skin care products were used.
The specific recommendations for Jack to help his low sperm count were a quality multivitamin and mineral, vitamins C (1-3gms) and E (400iu) which protects the sperm's genetic material from free radical damage, helps the integrity of sperm membranes and counteracts the effects of smoking. It is interesting to note that the average sperm count in the semen has reduced from 113 million/ml in 1940 to 66 million/ml in 1990. Zinc (45mg) and Panax ginseng (500mg) were also taken to increase sperm formation and motility. A dandelion and milk thistle formula was added for efficient liver function, specifically for its role in eliminating toxins and regulation of hormonal levels.
Other recommendations included not wearing tight fitting jeans and underwear or taking hot baths, which are linked with infertility as they increase scrotal temperature.
The specific recommendations for May were those to regulate the menstrual cycle which were a multivitamin and mineral with adequate amounts of magnesium, zinc and vitamin B6, flax seed and evening primrose and three grams of vitamin C each day. Specific herbs used to balance the hormones were wild yam and squaw vine throughout the month changing to Vitex agnus castus and raspberry in the pre-menstrual phase. When all May's PMS symptoms had settled we used a single tincture of black cohosh to keep the hormones balanced.
To decrease the anxiety that they both felt, and which was affecting their chances of conceiving, May and Jack both followed a relaxation and exercise programme. May chose meditation and aromatherapy baths using and alternating specific oils including rose, geranium, bergamot, frankincense, lavender and melissa. She elected to walk in the fresh air each day and swim twice weekly. Jack favoured listening to relaxing music and swam or cycled four times each week.
They both found it extremely difficult to change their diet and lifestyle, but after twelve weeks they were enjoying their new regime and could feel the benefits. After 24 weeks all their key symptoms had cleared and after forty-eight weeks they conceived. May is due to have her baby in July and has had no difficulties to date with her pregnancy.
1. Domar A.D et al. The mind body programme for infertility: A new behavioural treatment approach for women with infertility. Fertil Steril 53:246-9. 1990.
2. Rosevear SK et al. Smoking and decreased fertilization rates in vitro. Lancet 340:1195-6. 1992.
3. Grodstein F et al. Infertility in women and moderate alcohol use. Am J Pub Health 84:1429-32 1994.
4. Sharpe RM Shaklebaek NE. Are Oestrogens involved in falling sperm counts, and disorders of the male reproductive tract? Lancet 341:1392-1395. 1993.
5. Carlsen E, Giwercman A, Keiding N. Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years. British J Med 305:609-613. 1992.
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