South Wales Sunday Telegraph
17 August 2003
healthier you are, the more likely you are to conceive. Bronwen
Gora investigates how your approach to life affects your fertility.
our health before we try to conceive is akin to putting ourselves
on an anti-evolutionary spiral, says internationally renowned natural
fertility expert Francesca Naish. "If you don't, you're reproducing
with people who nature says are fundamentally unfit to reproduce."
fertility practitioners say the age-old traditions of healthy eating
and living at least four months prior to conception are more important
than ever. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew that drinking
alcohol around the time of conception, not just during pregnancy,
would damage the development of the foetus.
in a modern world where toxins, pollutants, nicotine, fast food
and sneaky chemicals such as xenoestrogens are everywhere, both
men and women should be careful about what we touch, eat and breathe,
pre- and post conception.
it makes a lot of sense when you look at the animal world. "If
you think about how vets or farmers approach stock-breeding they
would never breed from unhealthy animals," says Naish.
fertility is not just for the 15 per cent of Australian couples
who find themselves infertile, either. "What we find is that
when people have followed pre-conception health care their children
have less allergies, asthma, behavioural problems, cry less often,
sleep more easily and their immune systems are stronger," says
Naish. "Pre-conception health is about more than helping people
become more fertile. There are huge environmental issues children
have to deal with nowadays and if they're born with robust health
they're more likely to be able to cope."
if you want to maximise your chances of not only conceiving but
having a perfectly healthy baby, you need to adopt pre-conception
health care at least four months before conception, as that's how
long it takes for the egg to mature and sperm to generate.
of all, there are all the obvious things to cut out, such as sugar,
caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, food additives and processed
foods. All these contribute to nutrient loss at a time you need
your body to be in perfect condition. Eat organic food, and avoid
microwaves as they destroy essential proteins by disrupting enzymes
that help us absorb vitamins and minerals, says Naish.
is hugely important because there are so many toxins in the environment,"
says Naish, a world leader in her field who has helped thousands
of couples in her 25 years at The Jocelyn Centre for Natural Fertility
Management in Sydney. Among the most serious are the xenoestrogens,
industrial chemicals found in soft plastics such as food containers,
cling wrap, water bottles, polystyrene packaging, pesticides, vinyl
and even shampoos. These mimic oestrogen in the body in a bad way
and have been proven to cause damage.
are a huge problem," Naish says. "They're in our water
supply because of pesticide residue, and are in many hormone-fed
hormonal imbalances are a sign of the times, says naturopath Sally-Anne
Bertram, a naturopathic supervisor at Sydney's Nature Care College.
Women who see her with fertility problems are usually suffering
from oestrogen dominance caused by anything from the pill to hormones
in food. "I re-establish their hormonal systems with herbs
and supplements and it usually takes three cycles to get back in
sync," says Bertram.
Radiation from computer screens, mobile phones and X-rays affects
sperm and eggs too, according to natural fertility nous. Even eight
hours of high altitude flying in a plane can give you a dose of
radiation roughly equivalent to a chest X-ray. "Radiation will
affect DNA and chromosomes," says Naish.
users should fill cushions with epsom salts and place them on their
laps, as the salts will absorb much of the radiation. Relaxation
is another big factor. Stress can hamper the production of reproductive
hormones, delaying or inhibiting ovulation.
fertility doesn't exclude modern methods, either. "If we find
infection in regular medical checks we'll use antibiotics,"
says Naish. "There's a place for everything. We'll even support
people through IVF, although we consider it the last resort. It's
a splendid way of dealing with certain fertility problems, but if
you don't prepare beforehand and deal with underlying health issues
you're not going to get a good conception rate and there's more
possibility for health problems."
health, while hugely important, is also only part of the story and
most practitioners will marry it with natural fertility methods.
Timing techniques, such as observing changes in cervical mucus (known
as The Billings Method) and using temperature readings, are important
to ensure the sperm and eggs are in peak condition at conception.
also helps women to synchronise their natural ovulation with the
lunar cycles, as some women will ovulate twice in one month. In
the 1950s Dr Eugen Jonas concluded that a woman is fertile when
the sun and moon are at the same angle as at the time of her birth
- whether or not it coincides with her mid-cycle ovulation. "We
simply chart the times when this is likely to happen - and we try
to get the two cycles to synchronise with deep relaxation techniques
and suggestion," says Naish.
natural fertility program is also likely to include antioxidants,
nutrients and herbal remedies. What the wannabe parents are prescribed
depends on what they've been exposed to over their lives, so Naish
asks whether either partner has been exposed to radiation, chemicals
or heavy metals. "Chemicals are known to disrupt foetal health
and egg and sperm production," says Naish.
Some nutritional supplements are timed to the wire. "Folate
is needed on days 27 and 28 of the pregnancy to allow the neural
tubes to close, but what most people don't realise is that all nutrients
are needed at various stages of the pregnancy and they work in combination,
not isolation," says Naish.
other important minerals are magnesium and zinc, as deficiencies
can block conception. Naish says the decreased levels of zinc caused
by the pill could be the reason why some women find it hard to conceive
straight after they stop taking it. "A lot of women recover
quite easily when they come off the pill," Naish says. "But
we see a minority with severe hormonal imbalances when they come
plenty of evidence now that natural fertility programs work. One
of the most telling studies was in the UK. Over two years, 367 couples
- 60 per cent of which had fertility problems - went on pre-conceptions
program. By the end of the two years, 89 per cent of the couples
had given birth to healthy babies, 81 per cent of which had previously
experienced fertility problems.
researchers also noted that if the same number of people did not
practise pre-conception health care, the expected rate would be
70 miscarriages and 12 malformations. Food for thought.
more info call The Jocelyn Centre on (02) 9369 2047, see www.fertility.com.au
and read Natural Fertility by Francesca Naish and The Natural Way
to Better Babies by Francesca Naish and Janette Roberts. (Sally
· When Dianne and Peter had trouble conceiving, medical tests
found only one per cent of Peter's sperm was normal. The most likely
explanation was in his past. "He'd done industrial chemistry
at uni and was exposed to a lot of chemicals," says Dianne.
then straight after uni he worked in a paint factory for two years.
He'd come home with a film of powdery stuff on him and he would
get really sick." That was 10 years ago, and since then Peter
hadn't exactly followed a healthy diet, either. So Dianne put Peter
on a better diet, and gave him both a multi-vitamin and 100mg of
zinc daily. Six months later, six per cent of Peter's sperm were
normal which doctors said were still too low to give them a reasonable
chance of conceiving.
after starting IVF treatment, she discovered she had already fallen
pregnant. Dianne is sure it was Peter's improved health that made
think the multi-vitamins and high zinc really did contribute to
me falling pregnant," she says.
Computerised fertility tracking is on its way. Overseas, computers
are helping women calculate their fertile times. Dr Terri Foran,
medical director of FPA Health (formerly Family Planning NSW) says
Persona is available through Boots pharmacies in Britain.
computers measure the hormones in the urine," Foran explains.
"You put the information into the little computer over time
and as you put more information in it gives you a green, red or
amber light. There are lots of amber lights at first but over a
few months it builds up a pattern of your cycle. It's a computerised
Billings method that works not on symptoms but on the fertility
hormones in your urine."