Can I Prevent Infertility?

As with everything else to do with health issues, prevention is always better than the cure when it comes to infertility. That being said many causes for infertility are genetic, meaning that there is nothing you can do about preventing that specific cause. Everyone’s body is different, and with a system as complex as our reproductive organs it is not surprising that things can go wrong despite our efforts. There are important steps you can take to preserve fertility however, and give you the best possible chances when you come to conceiving.

Diet and preventing infertility

It might be surprising, but a healthy diet can be vital to maintaining fertility for both men and women alike. A healthy diet is nutritious and balanced, getting in all the essential amounts of important nutrients found in many different foods. This is so much more than just getting in protein and eating fruit and veg, fertility is profoundly affected by minerals like zinc and substances like folic acid which you can find in abundance in certain foods.

Certain foods are recommended as you are trying to conceive and during pregnancy, food high in folic acid for example, such as spinach, peas, lentils and asparagus. It is important that you stick to a balanced diet so that both you and your baby are provided with adequate nutrition. Make sure that you eat fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, protein and dairy. Foods high in sugar and fat should be eaten in small amounts.

Making sure these foods are a regular part of your diet is important to maintaining your general health and your fertility. There is a wealth of information online about the right nutrition for you and your partner, so looking into what you should be eating and making the necessary adjustments, even if you aren’t planning on getting pregnant any time soon, can be extremely beneficial in the long term.

Managing your weight and preventing infertility

Your weight has been shown as an important factor where your fertility is concerned. Being over or underweight can undermine your fertility because of the important role that fat cells (which accumulate as you put on weight) play in your hormonal balance. Hormones are extremely important in maintaining fertility, particularly for women whose menstrual cycle is maintained by a monthly cyclical change in hormone levels. Women who are overweight or underweight are found to release eggs (ovulate) less regularly than women who maintain a healthy weight.

A healthy weight can be deduced through the body mass index (BMI), which takes into account your body weight and height to give a figure that puts you on a scale that can tell you whether you are overweight, underweight, or perfectly healthy. For women a BMI between 19 and 25 is healthy and offers you the best chance of conception and pregnancy. BMIs above 29 and below 19 are classed as overweight and underweight respectively, and if you find yourself scoring in these ranges then you should consider taking steps to adjust your weight for the sake of both your general health and fertility.

Men are certainly far from exempt where weight is concerned, as men who are overweight with a BMI above 29 tend to be less fertile then their healthier counterparts. The best solutions are always a healthy diet full of the nutrition your body needs, and regular exercise.

Smoking, alcohol, and infertility

Toxins such as alcohol and smoking are to be avoided as they can have severe effects on your chances at pregnancy. Most women will be aware that alcohol is going to lower their chances of conceiving, but even drinking as little as three units a week can affect the chances of conception. Excessive alcohol can possibly even prevent ovulation completely.

The effects of alcohol are not restricted to women, drinking can lower fertility rates in men as well as increase the chances of still birth following IVF treatment, between 2 and 8 times more likely than if no alcohol is consumed.

The British Medical Journal states that smoking can reduce a woman's chance of pregnancy by 40% each month due to damage done to the ovaries, this damage can lead to a higher risk of miscarriage as well as cervical cancer which could lead to surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries, leaving you permanently infertile. Cigarettes can also cause hormonal imbalances, this change in balance the hormones could affect the regularity of your menstrual cycle or, in extreme cases, prevent ovulation completely.

In men, smoking can lead in an abnormality in the production of sperm. The sperm count of men that smoke is significantly lower than those that don't. Smoking will also have a negative effect on your blood vessels, if enough damage is done to the vessels that blood flow will be restricted. Men with decreased blood flow and unhealthy blood vessels may find that they are unable to get an erection. Between the ages of 30 to 50, an estimated 120,000 men are infertile as a result of smoking.

Caffeine can also have a surprisingly high effect on the chances of conception. Women who drink 3 or more cups of coffee per day are 176% less likely to conceive within 12 months. Caffeine is also not recommended as it is associated with unhealthy birth weights. That being said it is not necessary to cut caffeine out completely, the maximum daily intake should be 200mg

Regular health checks and preventing infertility

It is important to make sure that as a woman you are up to date with your smear tests for cervical cancer. This is critically important to your health and fertility as cervical screening can catch any cancer early on, giving you the best prognosis If you are diagnosed. This test should be performed every 3-5 years according to the NHS, although this depends on your age so it’s worth consulting your GP if you have any more questions.

Although a prickly topic, STDs can hinder your fertility and so visiting a sexual health clinic to double check is always a good idea. Some illnesses, the best example of which is chlamydia, don’t present with any obvious symptoms so you won’t know you are ill. Chlamydia can potentially cause infertility if untreated, so testing for it is always a good idea.

Your GP might recommend other tests if you tell him or her that you are planning to conceive, including a test for German measles, also called rubella, which can cause birth defects during pregnancy. If you have a history of hereditary illness in your family, meaning genetic diseases that are passed down from generation to generation, then testing for these is an option and may be recommended by your GP.

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