Could a micronutrient deficiency be stopping you conceiving? NFC Nutritionist Dr Jane Jamieson (PhD) examines the issue.
The patients I see at the Natural Fertility Centre are looking to improve their health and increase their chances of either conceiving naturally or through IVF. Some people have specific issues – male sub-fertility for example, or low AMH. Very commonly I see an imbalance of hormones and thin endometrial lining.
Women usually seek out nutritional help of their own accord. Most, but not all, men have been persuaded or coerced by their partners and many couples are referred to me from my colleagues at the centre. As a nutritional therapist I am more likely to see couples than most of the other complementary therapists and this makes perfect sense. Nutritional therapy impacts the sperm and the egg equally and good nutrition for both ensures the best possible embryo with the greatest chance of success.
Generally people try to eat fairly healthy diets and this is a great starting point for nutritional therapy. However, many people are often unaware of what a healthy diet really consists of for their specific needs. Patients might increase their intake of fruit and try to cut out refined sugars in biscuits and alcohol but will not be as aware of the need to add in nutrients. Because of this, many of these patients still struggling to conceive.
Reaching optimal fertility needs a multi-faceted approach. The basics are: a healthy diet, regular exercise and good sleep which all lead to balanced hormones. Sometimes these can all be in place but conception is still elusive. This is when we look at deficiencies of micronutrients. Very often people are taking in enough nutrition for their every day needs however, if they have been depleted for a period of time, they will need an enhanced programme and specific supplementation to counteract their deficiencies.
There are two types of nutrients - macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the foundations of a healthy and fertile body. They include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These need to be eaten in the right ratios dependent on a patient's lifestyle and underlying genetic make-up. In a consultation I help people work out what their optimal balance needs to be.
Micronutrients are nutrients that the body needs, in very minute amounts, in order to function optimally. They are the catalysts that help the body work most efficiently and effectively. They include vitamins (eg. C or E); minerals (eg magnesium and calcium); trace elements (eg chromium and copper), phytochemicals and antioxidants. Understanding where your body is lacking and addressing your specific needs can make the difference between having a successful outcome and almost being successful.
Micronutrient deficiency becomes even more of an issue when the couples are older and whilst they may have a great diet now, that may not have been the case in their 20’s or 30’s when they were training, or working hard and playing hard! It all needs to be taken account of.
My job as a nutritional therapist is to pin down deficiencies in micronutrients that may be causing difficulties with fertility and conception. It’s a complex business and requires an in-depth knowledge of chemistry and biology but the deficiencies are usually obvious to the trained eye and can be put right through a combination dietary advice, targeted supplementation and lifestyle interventions.
They key is finding out why the deficiencies arise – is it due to lack of a certain micronutrient in diets (eg not enough iron in vegetarian diets) or due to problems with absorption because of digestive issues? For example, patients with IBS are often lacking in micronutrients as the gut doesn’t have time to absorb them before they are expelled by the body. Stress also causes the body to use up its resources much more quickly than normal, so leaves you deficient in enough nutrients to help fertility.
Very often, I recommend a Hair Mineral Analysis which highlights deficiencies and give me a precise guide on which changes to recommend to a patient, but the aim is always to make it practical and manageable for you. Sometimes dietary changes seem be daunting, depending on where your starting point is, and patients either go for it full throttle or make smaller, incremental changes. Whichever way you want to go, these improvements can make a huge difference to your health and your fertility and also gives your baby the best start in life.