The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists that over 6 ½ million women in the United States under the age of 45 have difficulty getting pregnant and over 7 million women in that age group have used infertility services. These numbers are remarkably high.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend in recognizing precursors to illness and disease. In other words, how do we get disease and what can we do in advance to avoid it? When speaking of fertility, there are so many interventions available today, including traditional and alternative. For these measures to be most effective, it is beneficial to create an optimal environment for health and healing in the body. One of the most basic considerations is a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Most disease and illness in the body is preceded by inflammation. By creating an environment in the body that is less inflammatory, we can create greater health and potentially improve our ability to conceive and have an optimal pregnancy. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle is not the cure to illness—it is the pre-requisite! By maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle, we can make great strides towards optimal health.
Anti-Inflammatory Diet—the Basics!
When choosing to implement these types of changes in your life, in most cases, it is helpful to take ‘steps’ leading to an optimal diet rather then trying to make all the changes at once. This can be overwhelming for many people. Consider instituting each of the following steps over a period of time.
Here are the basics:
1. Eliminate Gluten: Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley and often oats. It is an inflammatory food which means that when we ingest gluten, it can create more inflammation in the body. There are many substitutes today as well as increased awareness in local restaurants about options for meals. For more information on how to perform a gluten-free diet, you can visit: https://www.gluten.net/
2. Avoid Refined / Processed Sugar: Most sweeteners that are packaged are refined. Some exceptions to this include: raw honey, pure maple syrup, fresh fruit, stevia (NOT Truvia), palm sugar, coconut sugar. These natural sweeteners are okay in small amounts. Refined sugar can be very toxic to the body. In fact, there is growing evidence showing that most pathogens as well as cancer cells feed off of sugar.
3. Avoid Dairy: This includes butter, milk, and cheese. Dairy can be inflammatory as well. There are some people that can tolerate dairy in a natural form such as organic whole milk or raw milk, but equally, there are many individuals that react to dairy when they eat it. It can be challenging to know for sure based on testing. The best strategy is to avoid dairy completely for 2 months and then slowly wean it back into your diet and observe how you feel. If you feel sluggish in any way or if you have an exacerbation of symptoms of any kind, then very likely, you are sensitive to dairy. There are many substitutes for dairy, including milk (rice milk and coconut milk); butter (Earth Balance); cheese (Daiya).
4. Eliminate Processed Foods: Processed foods commonly include preservatives as well as other chemicals. These chemicals can create inflammation in the body and have been shown to contribute to disease and illness. It is best to avoid processed foods completely and stick to a diet of fresh foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables and natural proteins without added ingredients.
5. Avoid Peanuts, Peanut Butter, Peanut Oil: Peanuts can be very inflammatory and often contribute to obscure symptoms in the body. Some great substitutes for peanut butter include sunbutter (made out of sunflower seeds and widely available) or cashew butter.
6. Avoid Grain: Grain is essentially rice, wheat, barley, couscous, pasta, bread, baked goods, etc. There is growing research showing that many of the diseases that are affecting our culture in later life are contributed to by high intake of grain throughout our lifetime. A prominent voice in this community is David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist. In his book, Grain Brain, he lays out research on how a lifetime of grain sets the stage for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. There are many grains that have been touted as healthy, such as brown rice and quinoa. The key to avoiding the inflammatory aspects of grain is to remove it from the ‘center stage’. There are, in fact, some benefits from eating some grains but unfortunately, there are also inflammatory consequences with eating too much. Once we are at the point to implement this step, it is helpful to completely avoid grain for a 2 month period and then to assess how we feel when we eat small amounts of grain.
7. Eat Low Glycemic Food: The glycemic index is a rating scale which determines how quickly our blood sugar is spiked after eating certain foods. For example, white potato or white bread are very high on the glycemic index because after we eat these types of foods, our blood sugar spikes quickly which is not good for our body. Sweet potatoes are lower on the glycemic index and don’t create that type of spike when we eat them. An example of fruit that is found to be lower on the glycemic index includes berries. There are other fruits as well. You can visit this link for a more complete list of foods and their corresponding glycemic index: http://www.glycemicindex.com/foodSearch.php.
8. Drink Lots of Water: Water is a true panacea! In fact, for many Americans, dehydration is a status quo. Without proper hydration, our body fails. By drinking lots of water throughout the day, we can greatly optimize our health.
In addition to eating a healthy diet, it is important to consider other ways that we may be affected by toxic chemicals in our immediate environment. Obviously, there are some things we can’t change. But, equally, there are many that we can change. Here are some suggestions:
1. Replace synthetic cleaners and detergents in your home with natural versions such as Seventh Generation or Method brand. Even a simple change such as this can lead to significant benefits. As an example, changing laundry detergents can even improve sleep and restlessness at night for some people.
2. Replace your soap and shampoo with a natural version such as Tom’s of Maine. So often, we take for granted some of the symptoms that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Changing the brand of soap that you use to a more natural one can eliminate previously irresolvable issues such as daily redness or rashes on the face.
3. Buy produce that is organic or natural and free of pesticides and growth hormones. It is true that organic foods are more expensive. Hopefully, one day, this will change. One option is to search for a local ‘CSA’ or community supported agriculture co-op farm that sells memberships. These farms will provide you with great natural produce through the warm months of the year and often they provide a winter share as well.
4. Avoid using plastic containers. Most plastics contain ‘endocrine disruptors’ such as the ever-popular “BPA” or Bisphenol A. These compounds can mimic estrogen in the body and create a lot of hormonal dysfunction. Replacing our plastic containers with metal or glass is ideal. A great website to locate alternatives to plastic is: http://www.lifewithoutplastic.com/.
Infertility is just one challenge that can be helped by creating a healthier environment in the body that is more conducive to healing. By slowly transitioning our diet and lifestyle to a less inflammatory one, we create more opportunities for optimal health.