Reproductive medicine today offers more advanced technologies than ever to help women get pregnant, but don’t forget the simple things you can do right now to preserve your fertility and maintain your reproductive health.
When trying to conceive, 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 steps you can take right now:
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 your skin. 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 to get the right help so you can quit smoking successfully.
Smoking is a very powerful ovarian (and testicular) toxin. A large study of non-smoking couples showed that even when only one partner was regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, the couple had higher rates of infertility, miscarriages and children with birth defects.
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. Research studies show1 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 previously had 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. Also know that risk factors aside, the biggest factor negatively impacting your reproductive health is ovarian aging and no amount of healthy diet and exercise can effectively counter its impact.
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 the bodies of women with PCOS 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 – The Biological Clock Is Real
You cannot have a baby before you are ready, but at the same time, do not delay becoming pregnant. Infertility treatments today are quite successful but do not guarantee success. Many older celebrities that have babies from IVF have done so using donor egg, but they may not tell you that. Age-related female infertility is still one of the most difficult forms of infertility to treat successfully. Be informed about your decisions and understand the tradeoffs.
Dr. Chen is committed to raising public and physican awareness of issues relating to conception, problems conceiving, and fertility therapy. A practicing fertility physician, she received her undergraduate degree from Brown University and her medical degree from the Duke University School of Medicine. She completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology and a fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition she has studied bioethics. See more at: www.sbivf.com