Types of infertility
Infertility is more common than you might expect, affecting up to one in seven couples. There are two types:
Primary infertility: when a couple who has regular, unprotected sex fails to conceive within a year.
Secondary infertility: when someone who has been pregnant in the past struggles to conceive again or carry a baby to full term.
Failing to fall pregnant when you want to (which is what fertility means) often comes as a shock, and losing a baby is deeply distressing.
The good news? There is a lot you can do to support your fertility naturally.
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Causes of infertility
There’s no one cause of infertility. In women, it can be a result of:
- Failure to ovulate, arising from irregular menstrual cycles, thyroid problems, polycystic ovarian syndrome and other hormonal conditions
- Problems with the uterus, including fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and scarring from previous surgery
- Taking medications, such as high-dose painkillers and spironolactone
It’s easy to forget that men play an equal role in a couple’s fertility too. In men, problems can stem from:
- Poor quality semen, which includes a lack of sperm, sperm that don’t move properly or sperm that are abnormally shaped
- Testicular issues, such as infections or injury, which affect sperm production
- Medicines or drugs, including illicit substances, which further damage sperm
Frustratingly, a quarter of infertility cases are ‘unexplained’. This means there isn’t an obvious medical reason for the failure to fall or remain pregnant—which is why it can be worth exploring imbalances in the body more widely.
How does being overweight affect fertility?
A delicate balance of hormones controls a woman’s reproductive cycle. Excess body fat (which produces its own hormones) can mess with this delicate balance, leading to irregular periods, problems with ovulation, and even a decline in egg quality.
It’s not just a female issue. Obesity is associated with lower fertility in men too, likely due to its knock-on effect on hormones and sperm quality.
But being underweight isn’t a good idea either, especially in women. This can halt the menstrual cycle altogether, making it impossible to fall pregnant.
To help optimise your fertility, you want your BMI to fall within the range 18.5–24.9.
How to get a fertility test
There are several tests available to check your fertility. You will be offered some of these through your GP if you’ve been trying to fall pregnant for a year or more, though you can take them sooner if you arrange them privately.
Male fertility tests
The key test for men is a semen analysis or ‘sperm test’. This test looks at:
- Semen pH
- Sperm concentration
- Total sperm number
- Motility (their ability to move)
- Vitality (how well they survive)
- Morphology (their shape)
Together, these values determine whether or not a man’s sample is ‘normal’. If it’s abnormal, there is a lot he can do to improve his sperm quality.
Female fertility tests
A woman will usually have a blood test to see how her hormones are functioning. This test may include:
- Sex hormones such as progesterone, FSH and LH
- Thyroid hormones such as TSH and T4
If she’s suspected of having an ovulation disorder, she may also have further tests for PCOS and other conditions.
Hormone tests can be helpful, but they don’t paint a full picture. Functional Medicine takes a much deeper approach to explore imbalances in the body that may be affecting fertility. You can read more about this below.
How does fertility treatment work?
Conventional fertility treatment works by stimulating ovulation and managing fertilisation.
As a first stage, a woman might receive a drug (typically clomiphene citrate) to induce ovulation.
If she does not fall pregnant within six months, she and her partner may be offered some form of assisted fertility treatment. This could be:
- IUI (intrauterine insemination), where healthy sperm is placed directly into a woman’s uterus.
- IVF (in vitro fertilisation), where an egg is first fertilised in a lab, and then transferred to the woman’s uterus as an embryo.
These techniques can be successful for some people, but they don’t address the underlying cause of fertility.
How to boost fertility in your 30s
The average age for women to become first-time mums in the UK is 28.9 years. This age is getting older every year—which means more and more people only become aware of their fertility in their 30s.
Whether you’re a man and woman, there is a lot you can do to boost your chances to conceiving naturally. Start here:
Eat well. Load up on fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, and keep your weight within a healthy range.
Reduce your toxic load. Cigarettes, drugs and excess alcohol all make you less fertile—so take steps to cut them out of your life.
Exercise sensibly. Both too much and too little exercise can reduce fertility. Exercise until you feel energised, not depleted.
Sleep soundly. A robust circadian rhythm is essential for a healthy reproductive cycle. Prioritise getting your 7–8 hours’ sleep each night.
Supplement smartly. Certain nutrients are essential for fertility (in both men and women). It’s wise to consult a practitioner to see what’s best for you.
Functional medicine approach to infertility
A fertile body is a healthy one. At the London Clinic of Nutrition, you’ll have a ‘fertility MOT’: a thorough clinical assessment to explore imbalances in your body that may be driving fertility issues.
Each approach is tailored to the individual or couple, but we may look at:
Nutrient status We test for nutrient deficiencies, and advise how to optimise your diet. We also recommend targeted supplements.
Hormonal function We use the comprehensive DUTCH test to look at female hormone levels, and we also use blood tests to investigate thyroid issues.
Toxicity We use stool testing and toxicity screens to investigate toxic overload and oxidative stress, both of which negatively affect fertility.
Vaginal microbiome Emerging research suggests that the vaginal microbiome can affect fertility. We use a pioneering, non-invasive test to look into imbalances.
Semen quality We can organise a semen analysis test at the clinic, and give personalised advice on how to enhance quality.
Lifestyle factors We take the time to learn about your stress levels, sleep patterns, exercise habits and more, as these affect your fertility too.
Drawing on all this information, you’ll get a targeted plan to boost your fertility and dramatically increase your chances of conceiving naturally.
Get in touch to speak with a member of the team today to find out how we can support you on your fertility journey.
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The London Clinic of Nutrition is a multi-disciplined health practice offering personalised nutritional medicine and naturopathy using the functional medicine approach.
100 Seymour Place
020 3332 0030