Though fertility medicine offers more advanced technologies than ever to help women get pregnant, don’t forget the simple things you can do right now to preserve your fertility and maintain your reproductive health. Your number one priority is to get healthy. A healthy body and mind support fertility and may even protect against infertility. Here’s a checklist of specific steps you can take to preserve your fertility:
Smoking is significantly associated with diminished ovarian reserve and will cause you to go through menopause one to two years earlier. Bottom line: Smoking prematurely ages your ovaries– and also your skin. And don’t forget about the dramatically increased risks for cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Quit smoking! Do it now for your reproductive health– while you still have eggs. Nicotine patches, gum, Zyban (Wellbutrin), and even Chantix may be healthier alternatives to smoking. Talk with your doctor if you feel you need help to quit.
Smoking is a very powerful ovarian (and testicular) toxin: According to one large study of non-smoking couples, if even only one partner was regularly exposed to second hand smoke, the couple had higher rates of infertility, miscarriages, and children with birth defects.
Get To or Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese is associated with many medical problems, including higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney, liver, and joint problems. It is also associated with significantly higher rates of infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects. We also know from a very large study by Drs. Chavarro and Willet at Harvard University that a low-glycemic index diet is associated with higher rates of fertility. A low-glycemic index diet is essentially a healthy diet– one that avoids sugars, processed carbohydrates, and fats and includes lots of vegetables and nutrients. Even people with a normal weight can improve their fertility by improving their diet. In addition, exercise can help you get to or maintain a healthy weight to help you preserve your fertility and reproductive health.
See Your Doctor for Regular Check Ups
Make sure you have a yearly visit to your gynecologist and primary care doctor. The practice of medicine is becoming more proactive today, and we are starting to learn much more about wellness. While doctors’ visits in the past were all about diagnosing and treating disease, good doctors today can help you do the right things today to lower your risks for disease tomorrow.
Address Specific Risk Factors
Do you have a family history of diabetes? You may need to be more careful about your diet, even if you are a normal weight. Do you have a family history of premature ovarian failure? Do any genetic diseases run in your family? Do you or anyone in your family have fibroids? Have you had previous pelvic surgery? These are examples of factors that may impact your reproductive health risks. Talk with your doctor about your personal and family medical history to assess your personal risks. Talk with your doctor about ways to further assess those risks and to lower them.
Does anyone in your family have endometriosis, where cells of the uterine lining grow outside of your uterus? That increases your risk for endometriosis significantly. Endometriosis is strongly associated with infertility, and women on birth control pills tend to have much slower progression of their endometriosis. So, if you have endometriosis, part of your fertility preservation plan may be to take birth control pills.
Many women with irregular periods or no periods have a condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Birth control pills can normalize the hormonal environment in these women’s bodies and lower their increased risks for ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus). If you have PCOS and are ready to conceive you will usually need to take medication to induce ovulation. It is important to see your gynecologist or a reproductive endocrinologist before you conceive if you have PCOS.
For women with no periods due to a condition called hypothalamic amenorrhea, birth control pills can also help them to stay healthy by maintaining hormonal support of their reproductive organs and by protecting their bones from osteoporosis.
Don’t Delay For No Reason – The Biological Clock Is Real
You cannot have a baby before you are ready, but at the same time, do not delay becoming pregnant for no reason. Infertility treatments today are quite successful but do not guarantee success. Age-related female infertility is still one of the most difficult forms of infertility to treat successfully. Be informed about your decisions, and good luck!