Friday, April 5, 2013

Stress and its Effects on Fertility

I talk and write a lot about the importance of nutrition for fertility. Good nutrition and its effects can’t be overstated. By addressing lifestyle and nutritional deficiencies many couples will go on to have healthy pregnancies.
I occasionally have clients who despite a near perfect diet and a regular exercise regime still struggle with their fertility and trying to conceive.
What stress does to the body
The journey of fertility will often start with a visit to a GP’s office. People will tell their doctor they have been trying to conceive for over a year. Often before any further investigation happens the couple are told ‘…you need to relax’, perpetuating more stress and self-evaluation.  Modern lifestyles are not without stress. I often see clients who are working a 50 hour week.  To help build a fertile bedrock  in both men and women, stress levels need to be addressed and maintained.


Stress can impact hormones and fertility profoundly beyond ‘fat around the middle’ in women. When cortisol is high in the body, progesterone is often low as the body will actively use progesterone to manufacture cortisol. This is often why stress and elevated cortisol can cause issues not only in getting pregnant initially but also maintaining a pregnancy, as if there isn't enough progesterone in the body the uterus will not be able to maintain the high progesterone levels needed to sustain the pregnancy and can result in early miscarriage. Conventional approaches to this can mean your doctor prescribing artificial hormones
to counterbalance this, but it is important to address the cause of this issue.

Other physical reactions associated with high stress levels to look out for are:
  • hair loss (from prolonged stress)
  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • dry mouth
  • higher incidence of allergy
  • muscle pain or twitching
  • hormonal and menstrual troubles
  • difficulty getting up in the morning
  • increased incidence of eczema and psoriasis
  • slower healing from illness
What can we do about it?
Effectively dealing with stress requires an integrative approach that not only addresses the causes of stress but also works to actively reverse the damage that has already been done. This can be a difficult issue to approach as a nutritionist, as many people know they should be addressing stress, but they often see it as unattainable.
Here are some excellent ways to help you nutritionally  to reduce stress through diet:



Sleep
is an important time to ‘repair’ and help your liver to process the hormones needed to build fertility, but if you are stimulating more cortisol by staying up you can overstimulate your adrenal glands, causing you to have higher levels of the stress hormones in your system– so wind down and go to bed before 10pm to give yourself at least 7-8 hours

Water
it is important to have sufficient water intake, as even a mild state of dehydration can stress your entire body. Keep your nerves steady by staying well hydrated.

Eat your greens
green vegetables broccoli, kale, and other dark green vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins that help replenish our bodies in times of stress. Many vegetables also contain potassium, which is good for our nerves and can calm them. Also the added fibre will ensure any excess hormones are swept away and not recirculated again by the liver.
Tryptophan
eat foods high in this amino acid. Turkey contains an amino acid called L-Tryptophan. This amino acid triggers the release of serotonin, which is a feel-good brain chemical. L-Tryptophan has a documented calming effect. Chicken is also high in this amino acid.
Increase your magnesium
magnesium helps reduce heart palpitations brought on by stress. Magnesium is also natures ‘stress busting’ mineral and is a natural muscle relaxant as well. If you are finding you crave chocolate it could be that you are in need of magnesium.  Cacao has a very high level of magnesium. Have it in a more natural raw state or build it into your regime.
Balance your blood sugar 
this will ensure you aren't lurching from one crisis to another led by your blood sugar ups and downs. Make sure you eat regular meals with a health level of protein. A great choice  is oily fish, which also has fertility boosting Omega 3 oils in it. The best source of this are cold water fish, ideally in less polluted areas such as wild Alaskan salmon. Also try grass fed and reared beef, or naturally  fed poultry from organic farms.
Almonds
are brilliant stress relievers: they're packed with vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc. B vitamins and magnesium are involved in the production of serotonin, which helps regulate mood and relieve stress. Zinc has also been shown to fight some of the negative effects of stress, while vitamin E is an antioxidant that destroys the free radicals related to stress and heart disease. Also the added bonus here is all the above are fantastic for fertility!
Celery
celery has a wide-range of calming effects. Research has shown that eating four stalks of celery a day can lower raised blood pressure, a common stress-related symptom. The crunchy green vegetable also contains tryptophan, which triggers the release of serotonin, helping to support sleep and reduce anxiety.
Berries
are rich in antioxidants that have been shown to support circulation, brain function, and prevent premature ageing, often a result of chronic stress. Raspberries, in particular, have the highest levels of ellagic acid, a chemical that helps to eliminate toxins as well as regulate cholesterol and female hormones.
Garlic
has been used for thousands of years for its potent antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties. These health-protective qualities help to reduce inflammation, support circulation, aid blood sugar balance, and encourage detoxification—all of which can become compromised in the face of stress. Garlic is also rich in antioxidants that help to protect body cells and tissues from stress-related damage.