Women may not ovulate due to hormone imbalances caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (a metabolic disorder affecting the ovaries), thyroid or adrenal disease, an eating disorder, or from going off birth control. The fallopian tubes could be blocked from surgery or scarring from sexually transmitted diseases. There’s also the male factor: About 40 percent of fertility is the man. Check with your physician to rule out these problems.
It’s important to remember that the mind-body factor is also significant. One thing I recommend is fertility yoga, especially hip openers. Supta Baddha Konasana, also called “goddess pose,” is particularly good for increasing fertility. Lie on your back with your knees bent out to the sides and the soles of the feet together, legs open in a diamond shape. Put both palms on your lower abdomen and breathe into them, creating a mental and physical connection to that area. Hip openers decrease pelvic tension and increase blood and lymphatic flow to the uterus and ovaries. People spend so much time on their minds that they often don’t have a strong connection with their body. Because we’re biological creatures, bringing awareness to that area and consciously relaxing it can enhance fertility.
–Eden G. Fromberg, DO, FACOOG, DABHM, SoHo OB/GYN, New York City
Weight can significantly impact a woman’s ability to conceive. Women with low body fat levels may not menstruate because of unbalanced hormones and need to gain enough weight to ovulate, conceive, and have a healthy pregnancy. Healthy, high-calorie foods like nuts, avocados, and olive and canola oils can promote weight gain without causing discomfort or bloating. Underweight women can also eat moderate amounts of high-fat dairy products like ice cream or full-fat yogurt if their infertility stems from low body weight or hormone-related ovulation disorder, but should return to low-fat dairy afterward for weight maintenance and heart health.
Overweight or obese women may have trouble conceiving due to insulin resistance, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or hormonal irregularities that halt ovulation. Women with extra abdominal weight are at risk because belly fat releases hormones into the bloodstream, throwing off the body’s natural hormone balance, which can cause insulin resistance. These women should achieve and maintain a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise but should avoid diets that eliminate healthy nutrients necessary for fetal development, such as folic acid, calcium, vitamin D, and iron.
To decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility, women should also avoid animal-source protein, such as beef, pork, or chicken and obtain protein from tofu, beans, nuts, and seeds, according to The Fertility Diet (McGraw-Hill 2007), based on a 20-year study called the Nurses’ Health Study. Red meat may influence hormones and the body doesn’t regulate heme iron from red meat as carefully as it does plant iron.
–Laura Foresta, RD, LDN, OMBE Center, Boston, Massachusetts
When stressed, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the body to produce more of some hormones and less of others, an imbalance that negatively affects fertility.
For these imbalances—marked by fatigue, low blood sugar, abdominal bloating, decreased immune function, irregular periods, poor complexion, mental fog, and irritability—I recommend tension-relieving herbs, which relax the body and allow hormones to naturally adjust, increasing fertility. My favorite stress-reducing herb is valerian, which works well for nervous, restless, impatient, and exhausted women. For fertility, I usually recommend one capsule a day.
Agrimony is excellent for women experiencing mental tension and who have poor digestion and fat metabolism. Blue vervain works well for strong-willed women who want to have control of their lives. They tend to have tight necks and shoulders and are often sick, because stress affects them physically. For agrimony and blue vervain, I suggest 10 drops of tincture (from a dropper or mixed into half a cup of warm water) two times a day.
Give these remedies about three months—the length of the natural fertility biorhythm cycle—to take effect. There are no contraindications, so it’s safe to become pregnant while taking them. Avoid mixing valerian with alcohol, as it can intensify alcohol’s effect on the body.
—Phyllis D. Light, RH, Appalachian Center for Herbal Studies, Arab, Alabama