Naturopathic Medicine for Infertility
Naturopathic medicine for infertility is focused on bringing a couple’s health back into balance by addressing underlying causes to improve a woman’s chances for getting and staying pregnant. Naturopathic physicians use the least toxic and least invasive treatments for infertility because they view the body holistically. Through this natural, self-healing approach, patients are encouraged to use various means for assisting their bodies back to better health. These healing strategies could include eating nutritious foods; taking specific supplements and herbs; maintaining healthy weight; detoxifying; practicing acupuncture, yoga, and meditation; and eliminating unnecessary stress. By improving the health of the vital organs, the body can revitalize the reproductive organs. When appropriate, naturopaths will refer patients to practitioners in all other branches of medical science for diagnosis or treatment. Patients who are using conventional fertility treatments are encouraged to combine naturopathic support for increased success.
Naturopathic Principles Used to Treat Infertility
Six basic principles, rather than methods or modalities, define naturopathic medicine. The overarching theme is honoring the body’s innate ability to heal.
This is done through:
- The healing power of nature—trusting in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
- Identifying and treating the causes—looking underneath the symptoms for the root cause.
- Doing no harm—using the least invasive, least toxic, and most natural modalities.
- Viewing the doctor as the teacher—educating patients in the steps they need to take to achieve and maintain health.
- Treating the whole person—viewing the body as an integrated whole, encompassing all its physical and spiritual dimensions
- Prevention—focusing on overall health and disease prevention.
Couples experiencing infertility will likely find naturopathic medicine to be a logical, non-invasive first step to addressing the problem.
Naturopathic Approaches to Nutrition to Overcome Infertility
A naturopathic doctor can assist couples with understanding the reasons for their infertility. Nutrition plays a key element in achieving pregnancy. Supplements and herbs also might help.
Eating unprocessed, natural, whole, organic food might assist a couple with overcoming infertility. Nuts, seeds and fresh produce are packed with nutrients, while packaged, processed foods contain few. Protein helps the body produce hormones, transport oxygen and nutrients, repair cells, fight infection and grow new tissue. Protein sources include meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, quinoa, and brown rice. Unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids, are important nutrients as well. Drink plenty of water to keep fluid stores in the body at optimal levels so the ovaries and testes receive enough fluid.
Nutritional supplements might also assist with overcoming infertility. Some people need extra zinc for optimal sperm health in men and to assist with hormone and egg production in women. Research demonstrates that adding extra folic acid, vitamins E, B6 and B12, iron, magnesium, and selenium increase fertility. Vitamin E has shown to help hormone production. Wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, and watercress are both good sources of vitamin E. B vitamins help maintain healthy nervous systems and muscles. Vitamin B6 is also known to help progesterone production. Selenium helps minimize free radical damage and works together with vitamin E to combat infertility.
To promote good health and help combat infertility, avoid the following:
- Animal fats
- Artificial sweeteners
- Alcohol and recreational drugs
- Smoking, which reduces blood flow to the cervix and to the tiny, hair-like structures at the end of the fallopian tube that direct the egg toward the uterus
- Caffeine, which can reduce fertility by 27 percent when more than 300 milligrams are consumed per day
- High doses of herbs, such as gingko biloba, echinacea and St John's wort may damage reproductive cells and impede fertilization
- Environmental contaminants, such as paint, glue and pesticides, which affect progesterone and estrogen levels.
Other Naturopathic Approaches to Overcoming Infertility
Naturopathic physicians usually use a variety of treatments to assist couples with overcoming infertility. Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese method of inserting fine needles through the skin to stimulate vital energy points on the body, is one commonly used treatment process. Acupuncture is believed to increase blood flow to the uterus and the ovaries and provide assistance with handling emotions and stress. There is evidence that acupuncture, given with embryo transfer, improves rates of pregnancy and live birth. Acupuncture also decreases the rate of miscarriages. Meditation and yoga, both which involve focusing attention or maintaining specific postures, help patients relax, improve their attitudes, and manage stress.
What to Expect During a Visit with a Naturopathic Practitioner
An extensive interview will be part of the first visit with a naturopathic practitioner. Questions about reasons for the visit, health history, and behavior patterns will be asked. Examinations will be conducted and tests ordered, such as salivary hormone panels and stool analysis for digestive disorders. Then a management plan is offered, along with possible referrals to other health care providers for specific issues. Visits range from 30 to 45 minutes on average.
What Causes Infertility?
Subtle hormonal imbalances, age, or nutritional deficiencies can cause infertility. Among women, ovulation problems are the main cause of infertility. Other issues might involve pelvic inflammatory disease, blocked fallopian tubes, or physical problems with the uterine wall. About 12 percent of all infertility cases result from inappropriate weight in women. Those women who carry too much body fat will produce too much estrogen, and their bodies respond as if on birth control. When underweight, women’s bodies do not produce enough estrogen and their reproductive cycles tend to shut down.
For men, infertility can result from physical problems, such as lifestyle or environmental factors, hormonal problems, testes that do not produce enough sperm, or genetic conditions. Male infertility can also result from diabetes and weight issues. Two reports showed that semen samples from diabetics had DNA damage, which is linked to higher miscarriage rates, decreased embryo quality and low embryo implantation rates. Obesity in men may affect fertility by decreasing seminal fluid and the production of healthy sperm.
Naturopathy is not a substitute for conventional medical care. Physicians need to know what alternative practices are being used to ensure safe, coordinated care. Some naturopathic treatments involve potential unwanted side effects, such as herbs that interact with prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Because the education and training in naturopathy is not consistent, be sure to find out if the naturopathic physician has training in how specific treatments interact with conventional medical care. Also check for any licensing or certification.
Alternative Medicine. “Exploring Alternative Infertility Treatments.”
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Resource Center
Epigee, Women’s Health. “Helping Fertility Naturally.”
Harvard Medical School. Six Steps to Increased Fertility: An Integrated Medical and Mind/Body Program to Promote Conception. Free Press, 2001.
Healthology.net. “Iron Intake Linked to Fertility Problems.”
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine on Naturopathy
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Somer, Elizabeth, R.D. Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy: The Complete Guide to Eating Before, During, and After Your Pregnancy. Revised edition. Holt Paperbacks, 2002.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health: Infertility.