From the surprising fallout of antioxidants to the side effects of celiac disease—the reasons why women might not be getting pregnant that people aren’t talking about.
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Choosing if or when to have children isn’t always easy, and just because you’ve made the decision to do so, doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing from there on out. Infertility affects 7.3 million Americans according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, which means about one in eight couples will have trouble conceiving. One in eight! There are a few common causes that are often discussed such as endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (in fact, the entire month of September is devoted to raising awareness about PCOS), but what about the factors no one talks about? Women often bear the brunt of feeling at fault, but it turns out the causes are split right down the middle: 30 percent of infertility cases are attributed to women and 30 percent to men (both partners are responsible for 30 percent, and 10 percent are unexplained). So what else aren’t we being told?
Antioxidants are the hottest selling ticket in today’s world of wellness and the shelves at Whole Foods abound with bottles of supplement. But popping antioxidant pills could cause problems when it comes to getting pregnant. Professor Nava Dekel at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel says that antioxidants may cause infertility in women. Her research showed that antioxidants applied to mice ovaries caused a significant drop in ovulation because the process seems to rely on “harmful” inflammatory reactions that antioxidants battle. Jacob Teitelbaum, director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers of America, supports this claim, warning that taking more than 1,000 mg of known-antioxidant vitamin C daily may cause infertility.
How much can the health of your mouth have to do with what’s happening in your lady parts? More than you’d think. Researchers from the University of Western Australia found that women with gum disease take longer to conceive than women without it. A study of 3,700 women showed those with gum disease had elevated blood markers (cytokines) for inflammation, which can trigger reactions in many organs, including the endometrium (uterus lining). In other words, keep your choppers in tip-top shape. That flossing you hate to do could actually help you conceive. Women who want to get pregnant should make an appointment with their dentist if they notice any gum bleeding or swelling. The good news is that gum disease is totally reversible if you catch it early.
As we mentioned, men are responsible for just as many cases of infertility as women, but for some reasons you would never expect. Sensitivity to gluten is the dietary restriction du jour, and guys who suffer from celiac disease may have a low sperm count. The same goes for those taking certain anti-fungal or ulcer medications. Also, prolonged bicycling may cause infertility (due to overheating the testicles), as may exposure to heavy metals. And you might want to ask him to put down the pipe. Some studies have shown that men who smoke weed regularly have lower sperm counts and impaired sperm motility (possibly because THC affects the sperm’s swimming ability to reach an egg).
As if menopause wasn’t something most of us are already less than excited about, sometimes it can come early and cause infertility. If you’re experiencing menopause symptoms (hot flashes, irregular periods, night sweats, poor concentration, and irritability) and are under 40, you could have what’s called Premature Ovarian Failure (POF)—a condition that affects one in 100 women. It’s still somewhat of a medical mystery and researchers remain unclear about its exact cause. But, they have discovered two POF groups: those with follicle depletion (due to chemo or radiation treatment, or an abnormal or missing X chromosome) and those with follicle dysfunction (autoimmune disease, low number of follicles). Studies have also shown that women who smoke more than 10 cigarettes daily are 40 percent more likely to have early menopause, thanks to the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke, which can prematurely trigger genetic signals that cause the ovaries to shut down.
The realm of infertility can be a tough one to navigate, especially when there are so many factors at play. But the more you know, the less frustrating the prospect of getting pregnant will be. And you can make an informed decision about the best way to grow your family, whether it involves conception or not.
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