10 March 2021 (updated)

Infertility-What's Causing It, and What to Do About It

Around 10% of couples struggle with infertility when trying to conceive. While there are plenty of medical and nonmedical reasons for fertility problems, there are also many ways to increase the odds of getting pregnant.

What Causes Infertility

There are numerous causes for infertility, ranging from chronic illnesses like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) to lifestyle choices. Much of the time, couples are not completely infertile but have "subfertility" or reduced fertility, which can be caused by lifestyle factors. These include physical and psychological aspects that can stand in the way of pregnancy. While a lot of literature focuses on female infertility causes, men are the source of fertility problems about one-third of the time.

Lifestyle and Infertility

We all know that a balanced diet and sufficient exercise are key to physical and mental fitness, but they're also important for improving fertility. When we're making healthy lifestyle choices, we feel better. When we feel better, we're usually less stressed since we're taking care of our bodies. 

Opt for a healthy diet with unprocessed food, lots of fresh vegetables, and good fats nourish us. Quality sleep can also be crucial towards helping us feel our best.  While exercise is fantastic, don't overdo it. Certain competitive sports or heavy physical work can also cause fertility problems and prevent pregnancy. Just taking care of your body's basic needs might go a long way towards improving fertility. 

The Weight of Infertility

The chances of getting pregnant decrease if you are underweight or overweight. If you are underweight (with a body mass index below 18), your menstrual cycle may be irregular, and in some months, you may not ovulate at all – thus causing infertility.

Obesity can also have a negative effect on fertility. Obese women (a BMI of 30 or more) are more susceptible to hormonal imbalances, which also interferes with their ability to ovulate. The fatty tissue is active tissue and able to produce hormones that can make pregnancy more difficult. If you are planning a pregnancy, you should try to have normal body weight.

Stress and Infertility

As in many other areas of life, stress can be our greatest enemy. First and foremost, stress affects our physical bodies. Courtney Denning-Johnson Lynch of Ohio State University in Columbus and her research team found an elevated level of the stress marker alpha-amylase in saliva reduces the chance of conception by almost 30 percent.

Secondly, stress impacts our mind and thoughts. If you're stressed from difficult situations at work, are you really going to be in the mood for love? If you're not feeling clear-headed and relaxed, anxiety can really put a damper on your libido.

Couples who have been trying in vain to conceive a child might want to consider some changes to their way of life. Just adopting a healthier lifestyle might be a good start.

Smoking, Alcohol or Drugs Shown to Decrease Fertility

Smoking, alcohol, and drug consumption are not only unhealthy for your own body but also hamper the possibility of getting pregnant. Studies show that smokers wait longer to get pregnant and are more infertile than non-smokers. The toxic substances from tobacco smoke also damage the eggs and sperm.

Heavy alcohol or drug consumption can also be a reason for reduced fertility. It can take your body longer to recover from the alcoholic cocktails and become ready for pregnancy. Regularly increased alcohol consumption in the year before the desired pregnancy reduces the number of eggs obtained through artificial insemination or other assisted reproductive technology, according to the trade journal "Fertility Sterility."

Men with increased alcohol consumption have higher estrogen levels, lower sperm count, and an increased proportion of malformed sperm. Moral of the Story: Avoid binge drinking and too much alcohol if you're trying to conceive.

Medicines Can Have an Effect on Infertility

It's not only the birth control pill that prevents pregnancy, but also medications that are not associated with contraception. If you want to have children, you should make a list of your medications and clarify whether they can have the side effect of negatively affecting fertility. Talk to your doctor if you wish to have a child but need to take regular medications. You might even have to stop taking some medications during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Gynecological and Hormonal Causes of Infertility

Various gynecological maladies such as cysts, obstruction of the fallopian tubes, adhesions, endometriosis (occurrence of tissue similar to the uterine lining outside the uterine cavity) or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome- a metabolic disorder characterized by ovarian cysts, cycle disorders, and/or hyperandrogenemia) can be the cause of a woman not becoming pregnant.

Due to these disorders, the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes make pregnancy more difficult.  Even if you have these symptoms, pregnancy is still possible with suitable therapy, so ask your doctor about possible treatments. 

Remember, even if you have one of these conditions, you can still conceive, in many cases. While endometriosis accounts for many infertility cases, most women with it can still have a normal pregnancy. 

Hormonal disorders in the female body can also affect fertility. A blood analysis by a gynecologist can discover whether the hormones are in equilibrium and suitable for enabling pregnancy. Hormonal disorders can be influenced by an appropriate lifestyle or medication to increase your pregnancy chances.

Congenital deformations of the reproductive organs, such as the fallopian tubes, can cause infertility but are uncommon. In rare cases, women develop immunological defense reactions against the partner's sperm or against their own eggs so that fertilization cannot take place.

Sex and Fertility- Timing Is Everything

A woman can only conceive on certain days of her cycle: shortly before, during, and after she ovulates. So, you need to be sure you're timing efforts to conceive effectively. There are various methods to determine fertile days, like charting your monthly cycle or even wearing an ovulation monitoring device so that you can have sex on these days. When in doubt, regular sex increases the chance of getting pregnant. During fertile days, sex is recommended at least every two days.

Women have a much smaller time window to conceive a child than men, and the biological clock ticks louder and louder as they get older. So, if possible, it's better not to wait too long to try to conceive. The British Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has found that the ideal time to get pregnant is between 20 and 35. With every passing year, the chances of becoming pregnant naturally decrease. Also, the danger of high-risk pregnancies increases from 35 years of age.

Even if you fall into the "advanced maternal age" category, adopting healthy habits will increase your chance to conceive and help keep your baby healthy and safe during pregnancy.

Environmental Pollutants and Toxins Reduce Fertility

Environmental pollutants and toxins are ubiquitous- we can't avoid them.  But cadmium and lead can especially interfere with bodily functions when we're trying to conceive.

Studies have shown that they can reduce fertility, with lead affecting men in particular. Certain foods, such as tuna, contain high levels of lead and can negatively affect our health when consumed in large quantities. Cadmium can affect the fertility of men and women equally. Environmental toxins such as pesticides or radioactive radiation are also suspected of negatively affecting men and women's fertility.

Possible Causes of Infertility in Men

It's not just women who can struggle with infertility; men play an equal role in the process. Old age, hormonal disorders, low sperm count, or inadequate sperm quality can be reasons for reduced fertility. Other causes can be damage or infections of the testicular tissue and the spermatic ducts.

Diseases such as diabetes, psychosomatic disorders like stress negatively affect fertility.  The consumption of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs can also decrease sperm count in men.

Infertility and Technology

Once you have a general idea of the cause of your infertility, you can pursue various treatment options. The field of assisted reproductive technology has come a long way over the past decades, and there are wonderful fertility treatments that can help with male or female infertility. 

If you think assisted reproductive technology might hold the solution to your infertility problems, be sure to talk with your doctor about potential treatment options. 

Dealing With Infertility

Many possible causes stand in the way of pregnancy. Sometimes they're easy to spot. Other times, there really isn't a clear, scientific reason we can't conceive. You may want to talk with family on a secure network like FamilyApp about some struggles you have since there could be a genetic component to infertility that has affected many members of your family.

If you desire to have a child: 

  • See a doctor you can trust and let him or her examine you for possible causes.
  • Talk openly and honestly about your feelings with your partner.
  • Don't put too much pressure on yourself, not to burden your partnership.
  • Research fertility treatment options.
  • Look into adoption if you are not able to have your own children.
  • Find a support group. You're not alone in your struggle or desire to have children.

If you're looking for more support, check out the resources at RESOLVE, a National Infertility Association.



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