Archive for the ‘Fertility’ Category

The Summer Fertility Plan

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you’re hoping to start a family in the next few months you’re not alone. Fertility experts say the period between May and July is a boom time for people trying to get pregnant, not only because sunshine boosts mood and libido, but also because many couples these days are looking to give their children the advantage of being born older in the academic year.


However, with infertility rates rising and many women leaving it later and later to try for a baby, starting a family isn’t always easy. It may seem as if getting pregnant is easy and natural, but over 16 percent of couples in the UK have problems getting pregnant. That’s one in six! The good news, however, is that there is a lot you can do to increase the odds. Many simple lifestyle changes for both men and women (the quality and quantity of your partner’s sperm matters just as much when it comes to getting pregnant) can not only improve your chances of conception but also ensure your baby is born healthier. Follow my simple summer fertility plan below to get you thinking along the right lines, and for more in depth practical advice about how to get pregnant as soon as possible read my latest book: Get Pregnant Faster.


The first step is to get your body ready and to make sure your partner’s body is ready too. Remember it takes two to make a healthy baby!


For him:


Chill out: Stress has a damaging effect on sperm count. A study recently presented to the British Psychological Society conference showed that men with higher stress levels could be at risk of fertility problems. Stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol in the body which is thought to reduce sperm reduction. Exercise is also good for easing stress and one study showed that exercising for 40 minutes a day lowered cortisol levels.


Wear boxers: Men should avoid hot baths and saunas and stick to cool showers to increase their sperm count. According to a study by the Brazilian Society of Urology, men who had tepid showers instead of hot baths were found to have a five fold increase in sperm production. This is because sperm need cool conditions to thrive, which is why tight underwear and trousers are not advised as it causes too much heat to build up in the testes. Encourage him to wear boxers instead.


Quit smoking: If your partner smokes this increases his risk of fertility problems. The toxins from cigarette smoke can make sperm sluggish and increase the number of abnormal sperm. The damaging effects of smoking increases with the number of cigarettes smoked every day. Although some men are able to simply quit many others find it extremely hard, so encourage your partner to visit his doctor for support and to discuss the best way for him to quit.


Laptops and mobiles: There is some evidence to suggest that carrying mobile phones in a man’s trouser pocket and using computers on their laps may increase their risk of fertility problems. Encourage your partner to use a landline, carry their mobile in a bag and to use a desk instead of their knees when using a laptop.


Slow down with the beer: Study after study has shown that alcohol consumption can increase abnormal sperm count and produce a lower proportion of healthy sperm. This is because alcohol inhibits the body’s absorption of fertility-boosting nutrients like zinc. If you are struggling to conceive encourage your partner to slow down on his alcohol consumption or to stick to only a couple of drinks a week.


More organic: Some fertility experts believe that the pesticide residue found on many fruits, vegetables and grains can affect sperm counts, so encourage your partner to eat organic food or to scrub fruit and vegetables to limit exposure to potentially harmful substances. It also goes without saying that a fertility-boosting diet for men is a diet that is rich in natural, fresh foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and oily fish and low in processed foods, such as ready meals, sugary snacks, cakes, pastries and crisps.


For you:


As soon as you start trying for a baby be sure to take a good multivitamin and mineral containing folic acid to reduce the risk of your baby having spina bifida. With the exception of wearing boxer shorts, all the fertility boosting tips above also apply to you because smoking, stress, alcohol and poor diet can all damage your fertility. But you can further boost your chances by focusing on the following:


Avoid coffee: Caffeine can have a damaging effect on your fertility, so it makes sense to cut it out altogether when you’re trying for a baby. Drinking more than 300mg a day (two to three cups) has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.


Do a protein check: Protein helps to keep your blood sugar levels stable and gives your body the even supply of nutrients it needs to support a healthy reproductive system. Good sources include oily fish, soya, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, pulses and beans.


Watch your weight: Being overweight can damage your chances of getting pregnant, so if you need to lose some weight before trying for a baby focus on exercising more and eating a healthy diet. And if your partner is overweight encourage him to lose weight too, as studies show that men who are overweight are more likely to have fertility problems than men who are not overweight. Avoid extreme diets – they can play havoc with your hormones and alter your monthly cycle. Being underweight can harm your chances of conceiving just as much as being overweight, so you need to make sure you are eating enough.


Cut down on the wine: One study of women above the age of 30 found that those who drank seven or more alcoholic drinks a week were twice as likely not to conceive, so it’s really worth cutting out alcohol altogether while you try for a baby, or at the very least sticking to two glasses of wine a week.


For both of you:


Have more sex: It may sound obvious but the chance of conception per cycle increase from about 15 per cent for couples having sex once a week to about 50 per cent for couples having sex three to four times a week. Also, sperm quality deteriorates if it is retained for more than three days so frequent ejaculation through the cycle ensures the sperm is fresh and healthy at key fertile times in your cycle (see below). But it’s better to have sex every other night, rather than every night, to help build up good quality sperm.


Window of opportunity: Your egg only survives for 24 hours and sperm live for only four to five days in your vagina, so your window of conception for fertility each month is fairly short. This optimum time is usually between day 10 and day 17 if you have a regular 28 day period cycle. If your periods are irregular you may notice that your temperature is slightly higher when you are fertile and that you produce more vaginal fluid – resembling clear egg white – at this time.


What if nothing happens? If you haven’t conceived after two years of regular unprotected sex and are under the age of 35, and after one year if you are over 35, it’s time for you and your partner to think about consulting your doctor for fertility testing. A sperm sample will be checked for low sperm count, motile sperm and number of abnormal sperm, while a blood test can check a woman’s hormone levels to see if she is ovulating. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis can affect a woman’s fertility, as can sexually transmitted diseases which can damage the fallopian tubes if not treated. If a problem is found you may need to visit a fertility clinic for assisted conception, but still use all the recommendations above as they can help to increase the success rate of techniques like IVF (which is only 25% on average in the UK). Up to 30% of cases are unexplained and this is when the nutritional and lifestyle recommendations really come into their own. Some women also find natural therapies, such as acupuncture and reflexology, can help them conceive because they reduce stress levels and help to work on hormone balance.

8 natural ways to boost your sex drive

Friday, May 1st, 2009

If you often find yourself not in the mood for sex, or simply can’t remember when you last had sex, try some of these natural solutions to get your libido back on track:


1) Practise your Kegels: Get your vaginal muscles in shape again by practising your Kegels (pelvic floor exercises). Kegel exercises can help strengthen your pelvic muscles and combat incontinence and make sex more enjoyable. To find out which muscles you need to use, the next time you go to the toilet stop urinating in midstream by contracting your muscles; these are your pelvic floor muscles. Use these muscles to perform a Kegel, contract them and hold for a count of five and then relax. Repeat this ten times, at least five times a day, and you should find it easier to reach orgasm. If you need extra help, then there are some good pelvic toners on the market. There are two I would recommend, so for more information go to or call 0845 8800915.


2) Give yourself a vitamin boost: If you’re feeling too tired to make love ensure you are getting enough of the correct vitamins and minerals. Nutrient deficiencies can drain your energy and dampen your libido so a healthy diet is a must, as is cutting down on caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, all of which can interfere with your sex drive. Also be sure that your multivitamin and mineral supplement contains enough vitamin C, B complex and magnesium – these nutrients are all vital to help your body combat libido-sapping stress, balance your blood sugar levels and keep your vagina lubricated.


3) Treat yourself and your partner to a massage: Aromatherapy massage oils, such as jasmine, sandalwood, ylang ylang and rose, are all thought to stimulate sex drive. So why not give your partner a massage and ask him or her to return the favour! Massage helps release dopamine – the body’s natural pleasure chemical.


4) Catuaba: When no amount of aromatherapy massage can get you in the mood, you may want to try Catuaba – a Brazilian herb that is known as the ‘tree of love.’ The bark contains substances that may act as a natural aphrodisiac within five to 21 days of taking extracts regularly.


5) Muira puama: If your partner is the one who struggles to get into the mood you may want to encourage him to try muira puama. This fragrant Amazonian shrub has been used for centuries to boost libido by stimulating production of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine. It may also help boost the production of sex hormones and boost circulation to the genital area.


6) Boost your serotonin levels: The key to boosting libido is stabilising serotonin levels. Excess amounts of serotonin (the brains ‘feel good’ hormone) cause fatigue and a decrease in sexual desire. But serotonin deficiency is associated with low moods, lack of concentration and poor appetite control. To help your brain and body strike a serotonin balance, make sure you eat five to six small, balanced meals and snacks every day containing complex carbohydrates and healthy protein.


7) Foods to spice up your sex life: Although there really aren’t any aphrodisiac foods as such, there are certain foods that contain crucial nutrients for healthy libido. Make sure you include plenty of the following in your diet:


ApplesApples are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre that can boost immunity and general health and wellbeing. Good health and a healthy libido go hand in hand.

Avocado – The Aztecs called the avocado tree ahuacatl or “testicle tree.” While avocados can indeed look like that body part, they also contain high levels of folic acid, which helps metabolise proteins, thus giving you more energy. They also contain vitamin B6 (a nutrient that increases male and female hormone production) and Vitamin E, both of which are vital for overall sexual function (and a smooth complexion).

Beetroot – Well known for its immune-boosting and blood-building properties, beetroot contains nutrients that help support the liver, which is where sexual hormones are metabolised. It is also rich in iron, calcium and potassium, all of which promotes healthy circulation to the reproductive organs.


Cherries – Cherries may be small, but they are a big source of antioxidant compounds – such as the antioxidant flavonoid quercetin, a high intake of which has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, strokes and heart attacks. They are also bursting with vitamins and minerals that can boost health and energy – and so boost your libido.

Cinnamon – According to Chinese medicine cinnamon is thought to tone the kidneys and produce a strong flow of energy, and it is linked to virile sexuality. Studies have also shown that the smell of cinnamon can also boost concentration and alertness.

Garlic – Yes, you might need to stock up on some extra breath mints, but it’ll be worth it! Garlic contains allicin, an ingredient that increases blood flow to the penis. As such, it’s a highly effective herb for increasing libido. If the odour just won’t work, or you can’t stand garlic, you can always encourage him to take garlic capsules instead. (The one I use in the clinic is called Aged Garlic – see the Resources Page).


Strawberries – Berries (such as strawberries, blueberries and blackberries) are not only rich in the sex hormone zinc but are also are incredibly high in antioxidants, which helps to optimise blood flow to the sex organs. They also have the lowest glycaemic load of any fruit, meaning they provide sustained energy levels at only a few calories.


Tomatoes – The juicy tomato, or “love apple,” is a potent source of antioxidants which have strong anti-cancer, anti-ageing and libido-boosting properties.

Mangoes – Apparently the mango is known as ‘The Love Fruit’ and has been used as an ancient Viagra. The Kama Sutra recommends drinking the tropical juices before sexual play – and who can argue with the bible of love! This wonder-fruit contains zinc, a natural sex aid, and sugar and nutrients for stamina. In India mangoes are very important for couples and feature at weddings and other celebrations as a symbol of love and joy of life.

Figs – These are high in amino acids, which are believed to increase libido. The shape of a fresh fig and the sweet, juicy taste are two tangible aspects that are highly pleasurable.


8) Go to your GP: If healthy diet and lifestyle changes don’t work and you feel you’ve tried everything, go to your GP to rule out underlying medical disorders that may be dampening your libido, such as high blood pressure or thyroid dysfunction. If no medical reasons are found, your GP may advise counselling if loss of libido is stress related.

Miscarriage: Reducing the risk

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Suffering a miscarriage is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a woman, and to her partner. Many women conceive easily and are not emotionally or physically prepared for the shock of losing a baby. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, usually before the twelfth week of pregnancy, and it can happen without a woman even realising she is pregnant. Sometimes there is a medical reason for a miscarriage, but other women miscarry but have completely normal test results.


Some established reasons include health conditions affecting the mother, such as hormonal, immune system or blood clotting problems and anatomical abnormalities of the womb. In most cases these can be treated, resulting in a successful pregnancy. Abnormal or poor quality sperm is another reason – underlining the importance of your partner being as fit and healthy as possible when you try for a baby.


Lifestyle factors 

There are a number of diet and lifestyle changes that you and your partner can make that will reduce your risk of a miscarriage. Let’s take a look at the major risk factors that research has clearly identified.


The latest research has established that diet and lifestyle factors play an important part in preventing or increasing the risk of miscarriage. For example, a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has suggested that drinking just two cups of coffee a day while pregnant can double the risk of miscarriage. Large scale studies like this suggest a link between coffee drinking and miscarriage, so that is why I typically advise patients attending my clinics to avoid caffeine.


The latest government recommendations also suggest avoiding alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy. In my opinion, alcohol is a complete ‘no no’ when it comes to fertility and miscarriage for both men and women; not only because it can cause deficiencies in vital nutrients for fertility, such as zinc and folic acid, but also because it acts as a toxin to your partner’s sperm, to your egg and to your baby should you get pregnant.


Smoking is also a risk factor – there is an undoubted and proven increased risk of miscarriage if you smoke. It is estimated that smoking is responsible for up to 5,000 miscarriages a year. Even smoking just one cigarette a day reduces the chances of becoming pregnant and increases the likelihood of miscarriage. Passive smoking is also toxic. Research shows that it can increase the risk of miscarriage.


If your partner smokes this can have a direct impact on his sperm in terms of both quality and quantity and some experts believe that chemicals in smoke can damage the DNA in sperm, further increasing the risk of miscarriage.


Certain nutritional deficiencies, for example folic acid, iron, zinc and calcium, can significantly increase your risk of miscarriage – so it is essential to eat well and take a good fertility vitamin and mineral supplement (I use Fertility Plus for Women and Fertility Plus for Men supplements in the clinic – see the Resources Page). A diet rich in fresh whole foods, whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes with sufficient amounts of oily fish, nuts and seeds is especially valuable when you are trying to get and stay pregnant. You should avoid nutrient poor processed foods that are high in added sugar or artificial sweeteners, saturated and trans fats, additives and preservatives.


All women of childbearing age should take a daily dose of 400 mcg folic acid in case they fall pregnant, but if you are taking a good fertility supplement this amount of folic acid will already be included. The UK is more deficient in this nutrient than any other European country and good levels of folic acid in early pregnancy can help prevent miscarriage. Research by the Miscarriage Association has also found that two thirds of women who took prenatal supplements reduced their risk of miscarriage by 50 per cent.


What about age? 

When it comes to the risk of miscarriage age is a well-established factor. Women over 40 are five times more likely to miscarry than those aged 25 to 29. But putting into place good lifestyle, dietary and supplement changes can make a difference to the quality of your eggs, no matter what age you are. (For more information on this, see my book ‘Getting Pregnant Faster’.) However, research from the Columbia University School of Public Health in New York has found that the fertility of men also declines with age. The risk of miscarriage was three times greater when the man was aged over 35 than if he were younger than 25. It’s obvious why a woman’s ability to have a healthy pregnancy reduces with age – as women are born with a set number of eggs that age as she does – but it’s less clear why male fertility should decline as men produce fresh sperm all the time. My opinion would be that due to lifestyle factors, stress and poor diet, the man could be producing sperm that are not as healthy as when he was younger. But because men are continually producing sperm, it means that by making sure he is following a healthy diet and not deficient in any vitamins and minerals it is possible to change the quality of the sperm.


Does weight matter?

According to the Miscarriage Association Study women who are underweight with a BMI of under 18.5 per cent are up to 70 per cent more likely to miscarry. At the other end of the scale, quite literally, women who are overweight risk high blood pressure, diabetes and an increased risk of miscarriage. So if you are planning a pregnancy it really makes sense to think about how healthy both your diet and your weight are. You don’t need to be extreme and lose lots of weight as research has shown that changing your weight just a little by eating and living healthily while trying to conceive, and during your pregnancy, is beneficial.


What about exercise and sex?

Staying fit both before you get pregnant and while you are pregnant will help you cope better with the demands of pregnancy, labour and motherhood. And, contrary to popular opinion, there is no link between high intensity workouts and miscarriage. Having said that, it is always best to consult your doctor about the amount of exercise you do when you get pregnant and you should stop exercising immediately if you feel pain, shortness of breath, faint or notice any bleeding.


As far as making love is concerned studies show that sex during pregnancy does not increase your risk of miscarriage. The exception is if you have any bleeding. 



The Miscarriage Association Study also found that women under stress are more likely to miscarry, and experiencing more than two stressful or traumatic events during pregnancy trebled the risk of miscarriage. Worryingly, other studies have found that the most common stressful event was having a demanding or high stress job – especially one with high levels of public contact, such as a nurse.


Stress also affects a man’s hormone balance. Some researchers also believe that stress causes miscarriage because it triggers the production of malformed sperm or eggs if the woman is under stress. Pregnancies created by a damaged sperm or egg tend to result in miscarriages so early that you may not even realise you are pregnant and just think you are having a heavy period.


It’s important to keep things in perspective as far as stress is concerned. Women in Third World Countries who are under huge levels of stress still manage to have successful pregnancies, so getting stressed about the amount of stress in your life is futile. However, if you do find yourself feeling stressed a lot of the time – or unhappy about your relationship or your work life balance – you do need to bear in mind that this could interfere with your fertility.


Recurrent miscarriage

For many women who come to my clinic the problem is not getting pregnant but staying pregnant. All too often they have been told to keep on trying, but new research shows that if the problem is the result of an autoimmune disorder trying again and again can just make things worse. So if you have had one miscarriage already, especially if you are over the age of 35, I strongly advise you to seek advice to help you get to the root of the problem. You are welcome to contact my clinic, or see the information on the link between autoimmune disorders and miscarriage in my book ‘Getting Pregnant Faster’. Above all, don’t give up – but do get help. 


Don’t worry 

In a nutshell, even while planning to get pregnant or in the very early stages, the best thing you can do to prevent the possibility of miscarriage is to look after yourself by following a healthy diet and lifestyle. The next best thing you can do is be happy. The more worried you are about the possibility of miscarriage the more anxious and stressed you will become and, as we’ve seen, stress isn’t good news for a healthy pregnancy.


If you feel anxious, or if something is making you anxious at work or home, try a relaxing class such as yoga, or do something to distract yourself or to change your situation. Remind yourself that the majority of pregnancies turn out just fine. And if you get pregnant and feel terrible because of nausea, comfort yourself with the thought that studies show that women who suffer nausea in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are almost 70 per cent less likely to miscarry. It seems that the worse the sickness, the better the odds of having a healthy baby.