Infertility and Acupuncture FAQ 4

Fertility Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle

Fertility Diet, Nutrition, and Lifestyle      

Updated November 2014 by Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D., R.AC., R.TCMP

 Why is a healthy lifestyle so important for reproductive health?

Within the modern medical approach to fertility, there still exists a fair amount of controversy and disagreement among reproductive specialists. However, there are two factors that every specialist agrees upon. First, when a woman is younger, the pregnancy rate is significantly higher. Second, when a woman is healthier, the pregnancy rate is also increased.

Accordingly, any natural fertility treatment program should be addressing the whole body instead of only reproductive organs, promoting a healthy lifestyle including diet, nutrition, and stress management.

Do I need to modify my diet?

A healthy balanced diet is always important. You may be asked to fill out an additional questionnaire to give us an idea about your dietary and nutritional status. Many women who have difficulty conceiving are categorized as having a ‘cold constitution’ according to eastern medical diagnosis (see moxibustion for further explanation). Generally speaking, many young women consume large amounts of foods and drinks that cool down their internal organs, which can potentially interfere with the proper functioning of the reproductive system.

Do I need to lose weight?

Maintaining a healthy weight is important for proper female hormone function. It has been well known that obesity has been linked to menstrual disorders, ovulatory disturbances, decreased fertility, miscarriages, and an increased rate of pregnancy complications.51 It should be noted that a drastic weight loss within a short period of time is not recommended, especially if you are currently trying to get pregnant. During weight loss, fat soluble toxins are released in the bloodstream, an excessive amount of which can be harmful to your body and fetus.

Do you have any recommendations regarding supplements?

Many experts recommend a good vitamin/mineral supplementation program during the entire pregnancy and nursing periods. However, an excellent nutritional supplementation program (especially supplementing with folic acid) should be started as soon as you plan to become pregnant. Most commercially available prenatal vitamins are designed to meet the unique nutritional demand during pregnancy and nursing period; therefore, they are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, folic acid, and other essential nutrients. Most patients who are having difficulty conceiving, however, have different nutritional demands, and a more specific supplementation program may be required. For example, it is known that the quality of eggs declines with age as a result of oxidative stress. A more bioavailable multivitamin with a high antioxidant potential may be recommended. One study suggested an association between oxidative stress and early miscarriage.52

What about taking Coenzyme Q10?

The CoQ10 has been shown to significantly increase the number of ovulated eggs in older mice.53  Accordingly, some fertility specialists are recommending CoQ10 and other antioxidants, especially for women with poor ovarian reserve and/or advanced maternal age.54 The CoQ10 supplementation has also been found to be effective in improving male sperm parameters.55,56  The CoQ10 is available in many health food stores in two different forms: Ubiquinone and Ubiquinol. For more information regarding the type of CoQ10 and antioxidant potential, please read my blog article.

What about taking herbs?

A variety of herbs have been traditionally used to improve the health of reproductive organs.57 In recent years, Japanese Kampo formulas in particular have been studied for various reproductive and gynecological applications.58 Accordingly, a growing number of Japanese physicians and specialists have been prescribing Kampo formulations on a routine basis for their patients.

Why is having a good night’s sleep is so important?

Insomnia and poor quality sleep often result in the disruption of the circadian rhythm, the approximately 24 hour cyclic rhythm of our “biological clock”. This “biological clock” helps regulate breathing and heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, hormone production, menstruation, and other vital bodily functions. An irregular lifestyle can disrupt the normal circadian rhythmic pattern.59 Having regular quality sleep is extremely important for fertility, as studies show low fertility rates and early pregnancy losses among shift workers.60-65 Regular, quality sleep is particularly important if a woman is suffering from an irregular menstrual cycle, anovulation, amenorrhea, or PCOS, all of which can be considered as biological rhythm (infradian) disorders. Regular acupuncture treatment combined with our specific breathing exercise technique creates a specific heart rate variability pattern (coherent HRV rhythm), which can greatly influence hypothalamic activity, helping restore a normal biological rhythm.

Is there a link between stress and infertility?

The role of stress and reproductive failure has been well documented.66 There are studies indicating the relationship between stress and infertility.67,68 Stress has also been suggested to be linked with unsuccessful IVF.69-71

Stress hormones such as catecholamines (adrenalin, noradrenalin, and dopamine) and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis interact with hormones that are responsible for normal ovulatory cycles (i.e., GnRH, prolactin, LH, and FSH).72  Furthermore, some hormones that are released during times of stress can cause the uterus to contract and/or negatively interact with immune cells, both of which will interfere with proper implantation.70,73 Despite the well-known link between stress and infertility,66-69,74 the importance of stress management and relaxation is often underestimated. Regular practice of stress management and relaxation exercises is very important, especially considering the fact that the medical tests and treatments for infertility are some of the major sources of stress for many women with infertility.68,72,74,75

What else is important in addition to receiving acupuncture?

Abusive lifestyle factors such as poor diet, smoking, stress, and insufficient sleep all accelerate the cell oxidation and the biological aging process. Practicing a healthy lifestyle in addition to regular acupuncture treatments will have a positive impact on fertility.

In addition, research studies suggest that the continuous mechanical pressure on the body by tight-fitting underwear can negatively affect the physiological homeostatic balance (i.e. hormones and body temperature regulation)76,77 and digestive motility.78,79  This occurs by altering the autonomic nervous system, a coordinator of the internal environment in the human body. It is important not to wear tight-fitting underwear in order not to obstruct efficient blood flow to your reproductive organs.

(Original version of this FAQs was posted on in 2002 by Tim H. Tanaka, Ph.D.)

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