WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Certain conditions and deficiencies can also influence your reproductive health. Not all the research is conclusive but do take everything into account when you are trying to conceive
PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects one in five women of childbearing age. The two main hormones involved are insulin and testosterone. When produced in higher levels than normal, these hormones may lead to symptoms such as: Irregular periods
Excess hair growth on face, stomach and back
Acne or pimples
Easy weight gain
Difficulty getting pregnant Increased risk of diabetes Increased risk factors for heart disease Anxiety or depression Not all women with PCOS will have all these symptoms as the condition can vary between women and symptoms change with age.
On a positive note, most women with PCOS are able to conceive, but may take a little longer to get pregnant.
Symptoms can be reduced by eating well, exercising regularly and generally staying healthy. Visit Jean Hailes for Women’s Health at jeanhailes.org.au for practical advice on diagnosis and management of PCOS.
SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS STIS
STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia can affect the fertility of both women and men. Before starting a family, both of you should get tested to minimise the risk of passing it on to your child. Safe sex is the best protection.
Chlamydia is a very common bacterial infection. It affects fertility because of inflammation of the urethra and/or the cervix. Left untreated, the infection can travel to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. When the infection moves to these areas, it is referred to as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
PID may form scar tissue and adhesions, which can result in chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy and fertility problems. About 75 percent of women and 25 percent of men will not experience symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they include: Pelvic pain
Painful and heavy periods Deep pain with vaginal sex Bleeding between periods or after having sex Frequent and burning urination Unusual vaginal discharge
Do you have PCOS-related infertility and considering fertility treatment? Results of a 2017 study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that women who were vitamin-D deficient when starting fertility treatments were 40 percent less likely to achieve a pregnancy. Your doctor can check your vitamin D levels with a blood test and recommend supplementation.
REAL LIFE HAPPY ENDING
“I am 175cm and was 118kg when I first tried to get pregnant. It just was not happening so I decided to see a fertility specialist. She told me my hormones were fine, that my weight was most likely the problem, and that losing just five to 10 percent of my body weight was proven to help. I also had to work on losing weight in case we ended up having to try IVF because the clinic would not do it unless my BMI was under 30. I lost 18kg and ended up becoming pregnant naturally.”
PCOS is a hormonal condition that affects one in five women
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that usually affects the genital area, although the throat or anus may also be affected. It is transmitted during vaginal intercourse, but can also be transmitted during anal or oral sex. Often, there are no symptoms, but it sometimes causes: Unusual vaginal discharge Pain while urinating
Like chlamydia, if left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to PID, which in turn can cause infertility.
Diabetes is associated with lower rates of fertility but many women with diabetes have been able to conceive, particularly if glucose levels are well controlled and you maintain a healthy body weight. It is a good idea to see your doctor for a review at least three to six months before you plan to conceive.
If you are planning to get pregnant, it is important to talk to your doctor about prescription medication or any over-the-counter medication to make sure that they are safe to take while you are trying to conceive and during pregnancy itself. In the same vein, speak to your doctor before stopping any medication.
TAKING THE PILL?
If, like many women, you use an oral contraceptive, do not be too concerned if you have trouble getting pregnant right after you stop taking it. Danish researches have found that once you go off the pill, it can take between two to six months to conceive.
Fertility can be affected by a range of genetic abnormalities. The Malaysian Genomics Research Centre provides comprehensive information. Visit www.mgrc. com.my/genetic-screeningservices/dtect/. The most common genetic cause of infertility in women is Turner Syndrome.
Cancer and its treatments affect your ability to have children. Most chemotherapy drugs can damage your eggs. This depends on your age, the types of drugs you are taking and their dosage, making it hard to predict how the chemotherapy will affect your fertility. Radiation treatments use high-energy rays to kill cancer cells, which can damage your ovaries.
Talk to your doctor, nurse, or another member of your healthcare team about fertility before treatment when possible. There might be ways to save or protect your fertility before and maybe even during treatment.
For more information about cancer and fertility, visit the Cancer Research Malaysia website at www. cancerresearch.my.
Environmental toxins known as endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with your hormones and may affect fertility.
Some examples are BPA (bisphenol-A), PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls), and phthalates. They can be found in plastic drink bottles, food containers and cosmetics (hair products, makeup and perfume).
These chemicals may also be found in household products (surface cleaners and disinfectants).
It can be challenging to avoid everyday chemicals entirely but you can reduce your exposure by drinking out of glass bottles as often as possible, microwaving your food in ceramic plates and bowls instead of plastic, reading the labels carefully on products and washing your fruit and vegetables with water that has a bit of vinegar added to it.
New research suggests that even mild thyroid dysfunction – when your thyroid is functioning at the low end of the normal range – may contribute to unexplained infertility. The study found women who have unexplained infertility were nearly twice as likely to have higher levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) than women with normal levels. Elevated TSH levels can be a sign of an underactive thyroid.
NATURAL FERTILITY BOOSTERS
Targeting your health from different angles can help with fertility issues. There are natural therapies you can try. Some help lower stress to boost fertility while others appear to have a direct beneficial effect on reproductive health. Whichever you choose to try, check with your GP first.
Acupuncture has been a treatment for infertility and menstrual disorders throughout history of Chinese medicine. These are some of the main research areas for acupuncture as well as their fertility-boosting effects:
In some studies, there were no benefits to having acupuncture, whereas in other studies, women were more likely to become pregnant if given acupuncture while undergoing fertility treatment.
Quality of sperm:
When men were given acupuncture every fortnight for two months, more sperm was produced.
In one study, when women had acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine alongside a fertility drug like Clomid, they were more likely to conceive. In another study, women who had acupuncture ovulated more often, compared with those who just had physical therapy sessions.
Stress is known to negatively impact reproduction and studies shows acupuncture lowers anxiety and stress.
Repeated acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the return of ovulation without adverse side effects.
Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in women with endometriosis-induced infertility.
Your reproductive system is on a cycle linked to your circadian rhythm, so getting lots of sleep is important. If getting to sleep or staying asleep is a problem, visit sleephealthfoundation.org.au. for tips on how to sleep better.