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How to Start Improving Your Health and Increasing Fertility

Making Smart Changes You Can Keep

By

Updated January 04, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may help increase fertility.

Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that may help increase fertility.

Photo © User just4you from Stock.xchng

Are your health habits fertility friendly? Take this quiz and find out!

If you've been struggling with getting pregnant, you may be wondering if it's possible to increase or improve your fertility on your own. Maybe there are lifestyle changes you can make, a fertility diet you can try, or some other non-treatment steps you can take to boost your chances for conception.

First, the bad news: While research has found correlations between fertility and certain good health habits, there's not much data to suggest direct causation. In other words, just because women who ate full-fat dairy products like ice cream were more likely to conceive, it doesn't mean that eating ice cream will get you pregnant, or that the ice cream had anything to do with it. (And yes, that's a real study finding!)

The other bad news is that most couples dealing with infertility will need more than lifestyle changes to overcome their fertility challenges. There are people who make serious lifestyle changes and get pregnant without further treatment, but there's little data to suggest this is going to happen for the majority of infertile couples.

Now, here's the good news. Researchers have found that some healthy changes may improve the chances of fertility treatments working. There are also some bad health habits that decrease fertility. If you drop the bad habits, your fertility may increase.

But how do you go about making these changes? And how do you know what changes to make?

Make Health Changes for the Right Reasons

In my opinion, a vital key to making successful health goals is not to do this only for your fertility. That may work for some, but for most, this is a recipe for disaster.

Why? Because as your fertility challenges increase or decrease, you may feel more or less motivated to continue. If you have a depressing month, your motivation may drop completely.

Another reason not to tie health improvement only to fertility is that you may judge your success or failure by your pregnancy status.

If you lose 10% of your body weight, and you were overweight, that's a great health success. Research has found that losing 10% of your body weight can improve ovulation in obese women. But if you do this solely to get pregnant, and you don't get pregnant after losing the weight, you may misjudge your efforts as a failure. That may lead to reverting to old habits and regaining back all the weight.

Instead, make lifestyle changes because you want to be healthier. Do it so you'll feel better physically and emotionally. And yes, maybe it'll improve your fertility too -- but don't see that as the sole purpose.

Make Healthy Sane Goals

Another important key to improving your health and fertility is to not go too crazy. For some reason, people love to grab hold of the extremes. Few people want to just eat more veggies and fruit, cut down on excess calories, and exercise. They want to take on gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, anything-you-can-buy-in-a-normal-food-market-free diets that require one full hour of meditation each morning and a 10 mile walk after dinner each night.

When researching changes to make, be sure to consider the source. For example, is an article on supplements going to be unbiased if you find it on a website that sells supplements? Probably not. Is an article on a very complicated "fertility diet" -- written by someone who just happens to sell an expensive book on how to keep their complicated diet -- really a good source for information?

If something sounds crazy, it probably is. Speak to your doctor before you take on any "health" changes that you're unsure about.

Taking Vitamins, Herbs, and Supplements

You may have read that certain vitamins or herbs are good for fertility. For example, many doctors recommend prenatal vitamins with while trying to conceive.

Before you start taking any vitamins or herbs, speak to your doctor. Just because herbs are "natural" doesn't mean they are absolutely good for you. Poisonous mushrooms are also natural, but they certainly aren't safe!

Some herbs interact dangerously with prescription medications, and some herbs may increase the effects of fertility drugs if you take them at the same time. (Increasing drug effects without your doctor's knowledge is not a good idea.)

Vitamins can also be harmful. Taking excess does of vitamins without an expert's supervision is a bad idea. Combining different supplements may also have adverse effects, some of them dangerous.

Common sense, combined with advice from your doctor, will help you make good choices. Also, if you begin to experience strange symptoms after starting an herb, supplement, or vitamin, stop taking it and speak to your doctor.

Get Support

Another key to staying motivated is making sure you have support. Support can come in a variety of ways. Your partner is perhaps one of the most important sources of support. If your partner is willing to make healthy life changes with you, that'll be even better.

Your doctor is another potential source of support. Speaking to her, explaining your goals, and getting feedback are a few ways she can help. She may recommend or refer you to other helpful experts, like dieticians, personal trainers, or physical therapists. Also, just telling someone -- especially your doctor -- will help motivate you to keep your health resolutions.

Friends can offer another kind of support. If you've decided to start exercising, for example, you may want to join a class together, or make a weekly date to walk or jog. You may also find support online, either through Facebook friends who you share your new health adventures with, or on forums and message boards that focus on healthy living (just watch out for extremes).

Wherever you find support for yourself, it's important to know you are never alone. There are people who can help you along, provide you with new knowledge, and be there when you're feeling overwhelmed.

Research-backed steps you can take to improve your fertility:

Evaluate your health habits with this fun and quick quiz: How Fertility Friendly Are Your Health Habits?

Sources:

Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC. "A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility." Human Reproduction. 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. Epub 2007 Feb 28.

Jan Willem van der Steeg, Pieternel Steures, Marinus J.C. Eijkemans, J. Dik F. Habbema, Peter G.A. Hompes, Jan M. Burggraaff, G. Jur E. Oosterhuis, Patrick M.M. Bossuyt, Fulco van der Veen and Ben W.J. Mol. "Obesity affects spontaneous pregnancy chances in subfertile, ovulatory women." Human Reproduction Advanced Access. December 11, 2007.

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