Fertility: Three Vital Messages

by Leslie McGee RN, L.Ac.

 

Recently I took an on-line class with Heather Bruce. Heather is an acupuncturist with 35 years of experience who specializes in fertility. She lives in Australia, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I recently spent 4 hours with her on-line. Her class was called “A Bun in the Oven, NOT in the Freezer”.  I would love to share what I learned from her. Well, actually, much of what she had to say is harmonious with my philosophy of improving fertility, but what fun to hear it articulated so boldly! Let me share some of her wisdom.

Heather made the following statement:

The 2 most important things to improve fertility are FATS and SUNSHINE.

What???

That means that both men and women need to eat MORE high quality, natural fat.

And, that we need to either get plenty of sunshine (at mid-day, not 6 or 7 am) or take Vitamin D3 supplements.

Let’s start with the part about eating more fat.

First, let me explain what real high quality natural fat is, and what it is not.

Real fats are:

Butter, especially from cows eating grass

Lard (also much better if the pigs get sunshine)

Coconut oil

Fats from properly raised animals – so that means nice crispy chicken skin, the not-so-lean cuts of other meats, bacon, and so on

Olive oil

Un-natural fats – bad for your fertility – include:

All margarines, and “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” products

most vegetable oils (very inflammatory), including canola oil

Partially hydrogenated oils

Trans-fats

 

If you are reading this and trying to get pregnant, that means you are younger than me, and have probably been raised your whole life with the idea that non-fat, or low-fat is better. Some of you have never tried whole milk – you’ve been drinking 1 % or non-fat for your whole life!

Cattle grazing in an English Meadow in the Chiltern Hills with Farmhouse in the Background and Autumn Colours on the distant trees

Guess what? High quality fats, particularly saturated fats, are the building blocks of your hormones. This is true for men and women. So if low-fat has been your way of life for a decade or more, you must rectify this.  Research has noted a link between eating low-fat dairy and having trouble ovulating. (Human Reproduction 2007 May; 22(5): 1340 – 7.)

High quality fats are considered “essence nourishing” according to Chinese dietary wisdom. Essence is the foundation of your fertility. So that parallels nicely with the modern understanding that saturated fat provides the building blocks for all hormones. (I have another article on my web-site about essence – it is the KEY to fertility.)

The other reason that women should eat PLENTY of high quality fat both before and during pregnancy (and while nursing) is that our brains are 60 % fat.  High quality fat in Mom’s diet will provide the building blocks for brain development in the fetus and a more mature nervous system in the baby once she delivers.

Besides just ordinary good fats like butter, a special supplement of fish oil is also very good for both your fertility and the baby’s brain. I recommend 2 or 3 fish oil capsules a day…..even taking this 3 or 4 times a week will be well worth it. If you can get good fish to eat, that is fine, but taking a good quality fish oil capsule frees you from worrying about mercury contamination in fish. Good brands of fish oil include Nordic Naturals (www.omega-research.com), Carlsen’s, Barlean’s, and even Kirkland, the Costco brand, has been well-rated.

I talk to women about the importance of real, natural fat all the time. Been talking about it for over ten years. But I am starting to realize that the low-fat habit in modern life is really entrenched. Modern people seem to think that 1 teaspoon of butter is a lot (It is not – you should eat 2 or 3 tablespoons of butter every day!). Women have wondered how they should eat more butter. I ask and find out they don’t eat toast, don’t eat baked squash or a baked potato now and again, don’t melt butter on their vegetables. Wow……That’s a problem. Butter does not go on salads. It melts on cooked food, and is DELICIOUS. I think there is a very deep fear of eating fat. People say to me “Oh,  I’ll get a heart attack!!” NO, you will not. You will not gain weight, either. Fats are very satisfying and help us feel full and stop eating.

Recent research indicates that saturated fat is not the culprit in heart disease. (BMJ Open 2014 Apr 19; 4(4): e004487.) Researchers are exploring the idea that too much sugar may be increasing inflammation and promoting heart disease. So have some butter.

 

 

 

The Second Vital Message

The second part of Heather’s bold statement was the importance of sunlight and/or Vitamin D. Modern life means that many of us rarely get outdoors. We are not farmers and ranchers anymore. Vitamin D is formed in the skin in response to sunlight. The sun must be fairly high in the sky – 7 am walks outdoors will not create Vitamin D in your skin. In northern latitudes the sun is never high enough in the sky from November thru March. Therefore supplementing with Vitamin D 3 is the answer. You can check your vitamin D level (the blood test is called 25(OH)D) with your doctor’s help. Or you can visit www.vitamindcouncil.org and find the link to the ZRT Lab. They have a home test kit for $65…..it just takes a few drops of blood from your fingertip and they send a sterile lancet with the kit. Vitamin D levels should be around 50 to 75 ng/ml. You would be amazed at how many people are deficient in Vitamin D…even here in Tucson. In my practice I have found people with levels of 7. Levels in the low 20’s are not uncommon in modern, indoor people.

Vitamin D is vital for fertility! Vitamin D is actually not really a vitamin – it is a steroid and a precursor to many hormones. Having a functioning hormonal system (and fertility) requires adequate Vitamin D. It is a very cheap vitamin. If you are quite low it will take a few months to bring your level up.

Vitamin D has been shown to have benefit to sperm quality and motility as well.  (Eur J Endocrinol 2012 May; 166(5) 765-78.)

Here is a story: I have learned most of what I know about Vitamin D from John Cannell, MD and his website: www.vitamindcouncil.org. Dr. Cannell has been getting e-mail from many readers all over the world. A woman wrote telling him she worked as a nurse at a fertility clinic. After reading his website she started recommending that all the couples she met at the clinic should take 5000 IU of Vitamin D3 per day – both the man and the woman. She wrote that these couples started getting pregnant, on their own, before the IVF procedure! Then a few years later, she wrote again, saying she had been laid off from her job, as her recommendation of Vitamin D was bad for business – too many couples discovered that they didn’t need IVF after all! Both men and women should make sure their vitamin D is adequate for good fertility.

So that gives you a little explanation for why Heather Bruce says that fats and sunlight are crucial in improving fertility. And I agree wholeheartedly.

 

The Third Vital Message

Her class was actually called “A Bun in the Oven, Not in the Freezer” so she also spoke of the importance of keeping the uterus warm. This is the 3rd vital message I want to share with you.  Modern life has also brought along habits that would have startled your great-grandparents. People seem to like wearing less clothing. More flip-fops and sandals. Are you being exposed to cold? Too much Air-conditioning? How about all the cold foods people eat? Smoothies of blended frozen berries. Frequent salads. Chinese medicine considers all this to be potentially hard on a pregnancy. I always advise women to favor warm cooked food, especially in the first tri-mester, when the baby is tiny and delicate.

Acupuncture includes methods to warm points and areas of the body. This not only feels great, but I consider it a central part of my work to support fertility and full-term pregnancies.

In addition I have discovered a great inexpensive way to keep the uterus warm. The Chinese believe that the feet have a special connection to the uterus. I often see cold feet in women with fertility problems, and as we work together I am delighted when I hear that their feet are warming up. That means the uterus is warmer. Embryos like a warm uterus!! So here is what you can do. Go to Amazon and look for slippers that you microwave.  They are often filled with rice or barley which holds heat well after being microwaved. On Amazon search for “microwavable slippers” and several choices will pop up. Wear these for 20 minutes a day. (Follow the instructions and don’t make them too hot) Wear them during the second half of your cycle (luteal phase) for 20 minutes a day when you are hoping the tiny embryo is implanting. And then when pregnant, wear them for 20 minutes a day for several weeks. It will feel great. Sometimes after 12 or 13 weeks the warmth on your feet is suddenly not pleasant. That tells us that the baby is now generating plenty of warmth on his own. No need to add warmth to your feet after that point. But if it feels good you can use the warm booties thru-out the pregnancy.

 

So the 3 take-aways from this article for both men and women are:

  1. Eat real food and make sure you include PLENTY of high quality fats
  2. Check your Vitamin D level and supplement to raise it to 50 to 75 ng/ml
  3. Women: Stay warm! Don’t freeze your stomach with ice cold smoothies! Keep your feet warm!
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