Impacts of Lifestyle on Your Fertility
Ever hear the saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?" Ben Franklin is rumored to have said those words in 1736, but they could not be more relevant than they are today with regards to global health.
We're sharing some facts below on 4 major lifestyle factors that influence fertility. The purpose of pointing this stuff out is not to scare you, but rather to shed light on some major drivers of reproductive well-being. Our only hope is that it helps YOU make better decisions for YOU! Prevention is the best medicine you can give yourself, hands down!
The Facts: (4,5)
- Women with a lower ovarian reserve are 30x more likely to have disturbed sleep
- Sleep issues are found in 34% of women with infertility
- Obstructive sleep apnea worsens the symptoms of PCOS
- Chronic insomnia can cause menstrual irregularities
Did you know that you produce one of the most powerful antioxidants a body can make while you sleep? It’s called melatonin and it’s secreted while you sleep. Healthy levels of melatonin are associated with healthy sperm and eggs. In women, melatonin helps maintain ovarian reserve and support progesterone production. Women who work in jobs that require shift work have decreased levels of melatonin and can experience a delayed time to pregnancy.
The Facts: (6,7,8)
- Women with low body weight have decreased levels of estrogen, which can impair ovulation and uterine lining thickness
- Women with elevated body weight can have too much estrogen, which can also impair ovulation and increase insulin resistance
- Men with low body weight have lower levels of testosterone, decreasing their sperm count
- Men with elevated body weight have decreased sperm quality
In both men and women, fat cells store estrogen. Overweight men and women can have too much estrogen, which impairs fertility. Fat cells also store environmental toxins, which can impair sperm and egg quality. High body weight in women may be a sign of PCOS or hypothyroidism, which we discussed earlier. In men, a large belly can create excess heat around the testicles and lead to sperm cell death.
Exercise is beneficial for fertility! The exercise recommendation for fertility is the same as pregnancy: 30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week, at about 80% of your maximum capacity.
The Facts: (1, 3)
- There is no known “safe” recommendation for alcohol consumption while trying to conceive
- In men, 5 drinks per week significantly reduces sperm quality and count. More than 5 drinks per week can result in a 33% decline in sperm concentration
- Women who consume 2-3.5 drinks per week have an increased risk of miscarriage in the first trimester
- Alcohol should not be consumed at all during pregnancy
Alcohol consumption impairs hormone metabolism and breakdown by the liver. In both men and women, it is inflammatory and can impair egg and sperm quality. In men, alcohol decreases testosterone levels and increases estrogen levels; especially beer consumption, which contains a phytoestrogen called hops! Alcohol can deplete the body of essential minerals like vitamin A.
The Facts: (2,9)
- Smokers are 4x more likely to take over a year to conceive (either partner)
- Female smokers have a 44% lower ovarian reserve than those who do not smoke
- Success of IVF is decreased in couples who smoke
- Smoking has significant impacts on sperm parameters: 13% decrease in motility and a 23% decrease in concentration
Smoking increases reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body. Have you ever heard of antioxidants? Smoking is an OXIDANT. It is extremely damaging to health, including fertility. In women, smoking lowers ovarian reserve (resulting in fewer eggs), increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy (implantation of an embryo in the fallopian tube), and impedes egg transport into the uterus and implantation rates. In men, smoking has long term impacts on a baby’s development. Babies whose father’s smoked at any point in his lifetime were 33% more likely to develop childhood blood cancer.
What about marijuana?
We are not just talking about smoking nicotine here; smoking marijuana also has negative effects on fertility. Men who smoke marijuana have decreased testosterone levels, as well as sperm motility and count. Women who smoke it have decreased levels of progesterone and ovulate less frequently than women who do not smoke. The research is based on THC content, so smoking, vaping, and eating THC all produce the same effect!
As we said before, the purpose of sharing this information is not to scare you into never indulging in drinking or staying up late and partying with friends. We’re sharing it to help you make better lifestyle decisions on an aggregate level. After all, what we do every day is more important than what we do every once in a while. If you do feel like you’re lacking in one of these 4 areas, a good way to start making changes is by journaling simple things like what you drink and eat, how you feel after waking up, and if you do smoke, acknowledging how you feel before and after a cigarette. Often times, just being aware of our habits can help us improve them to better match our priorities in life.
Special thanks to Dr. Caleigh Sumner for helping us put this information together. She’s a naturopathic doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada, where she runs a fertility based clinic. She supports individuals and couples with natural fertility, as well as assisted reproductive technologies like IVF and IUI procedures. She was born out of a 6-year struggle with infertility and is very proud to specialize in fertility support!
If you’re interested in getting in touch with Caleigh, here is her contact info:
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