Five Hidden Causes of "Unexplained" InfertilityJun 19, 2020
When you're diagnosed with infertility it feels like you've reached a dead end.
If you're one of the 30% of struggling couples handed the ambiguous diagnosis of “unexplained” infertility, it feels like THE end. Your flickering hope of conceiving suddenly feels totally inconceivable!
"Unexplained" infertility is a negative diagnosis. It's given when your medical team has explored your reproductive systems, they know there's a problem, but they haven't found the true cause.
BUT, what if your struggles getting or staying pregnant aren't because of your actual reproductive system?
There is a lot more to your miraculous selves than a uterus, fallopian tubes, and happy sperm! Let's explore five other reasons that could be contributing to your male or female fertility difficulties.
Your immune system is supposed to PROTECT you. But what if it ATTACKS you?
If you have an autoimmune (AI) disease your immune system gets confused. It mistakes your healthy cells & tissues for harmful invaders & attacks them. Yep, an internal civil war!
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, & celiac disease are just a few of over 100 autoimmune conditions that cause your healthy tissues to be attacked, damaged, & destroyed.
What about pregnancy? A properly functioning immune system sees pregnancy as a safe & desirable state for your body. The early embryo might initially seem “foreign”, but your clever immune system resists attacking it.
In fact, your immune system is SO smart, that it transforms to PROTECT the new embryo from being harmed by outside pathogens. The first weeks of pregnancy send your immune system into high alert!
If your immune system is already confused, like with an autoimmune disease, high alert turns into freak out! Your misguided immune system can attack the embryo causing heartbreaking consequences.
Perhaps you already know you have an autoimmune condition, but autoimmunity can also stay silent for many years. Your only “symptoms” of a hidden autoimmune condition might be conception failures, premature ovarian failure, or recurrent miscarriage.
What Can You Do?
👉🏼Autoimmune conditions affect mostly women, so early diagnosis and proper treatment are key if you’re trying to conceive.
👉🏼If you’re already diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, get it under as best control as possible before trying to conceive. Calming your immune system is a must to get and stay pregnant.
👉🏼If you suspect an autoimmune condition, ask your provider to test for elevated levels of autoimmune antibodies. There are many, including general immune cells and specific markers for thyroid, celiac, arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases.
👉🏼Figure out flares to your immune system and work to manage those. Stress, food sensitivities, gut imbalances, and toxins can overwork an already taxed immune system.
👉🏼Determine what food and lifestyle interventions are best for you. These can bring about wonderful transformations for many!
When it comes to fertility, a healthy thyroid gland is essential!
I talk about this one a lot, but it’s too often overlooked and it shouldn’t be! Hypothyroidism is the unexplored root cause of many women’s fertility struggles.
Your thyroid gland is like command central for your body. Every cell in your body needs thyroid hormone, so when production falls everything suffers. Metabolism decreases, mood sinks, digestion slows, energy tanks, your brain powers down, and fertility plummets.
If your thyroid is struggling to take care of YOU, it sends out a signal that now is NOT the time to try to care for ANOTHER human. In a way, it’s protecting you from an anticipated loss.
Specific to fertility, hypothyroidism:
- Can prevent ovulation. You might still have a period bleed, but without the energy they need, your ovaries produce low-quality eggs or no eggs at all. Long-term hypothyroidism can also decrease your ovarian reserve.
- Increases prolactin from your pituitary. Prolactin encourages breastmilk production & INHIBITS ovulation. It’s like natural birth control for new mamas. That’s great if you’re breastfeeding, but not when you’re trying to conceive!
- Reduces progesterone production. This means a short luteal phase & not enough uterine lining for a fertilized egg to implant.
- Hashimoto’s, the autoimmune cause of hypothyroidism, packs an especially potent punch to fertility. If your immune system is attacking your own body’s tissue, like it does in any AI disease, a newly forming human is at high risk. Having thyroid antibodies alone increases your risk for miscarriage to two to three times higher than women without them.
What Can You Do?
👉🏼Ask for a FULL thyroid panel that includes TSH, Total T3 and T4, Free T3 and T4, Reverse T3, and both TPO and TG antibodies. Work with a functional practitioner who knows what to do with these values! More on the importance of a complete thyroid evaluation HERE.
👉🏼Monitor your basal body temperature. If you wake to temps consistently below 97.5º this could indicate hypothyroidism.
👉🏼Include restorative sleep, nourishing foods, a quality prenatal, and stress management activities.
Food sensitivities are like pathogens to your immune system.
When you eat a food that your body sees as an invader, your immune army sends out chemicals to attack it. Trouble is, unlike a true “bug”, foods can’t be killed. So, these chemicals stay active looking for something to deactivate. Guess WHO that is?
Like an autoimmune disease, these destructive chemicals end up attacking YOU! This causes whole-body inflammation with a list of symptoms as unique as you are: migraine, joint and muscle pain, chronic fatigue, digestive distress, and SO much more.
What about fertility?
A hyperactive immune system and widespread inflammation signal DANGER to other body systems, namely, your reproductive system. It’s told to power down to “protect” you from getting pregnant.
Excessive inflammation can be added stress for inflammatory conditions like endometriosis and PCOS.
Your hyperactive immune system might see an embryo as an invader, causing heartbreaking consequences.
Food sensitivities are unique in a few ways:
- They are dose-dependent. One strawberry might not do much, but a full cup or eating them daily might over-activate your immune system. Multiple reactive foods eaten together can also create an inflammatory cascade.
- Symptoms are often delayed or constant. Migraines, eczema, joint pain, and PCOS are all inflammatory conditions that can be caused by food sensitivities. Unlike immediate allergic reactions, sensitivity reactions can take up to 3 DAYS to show noticeable symptoms. Finding the offender on your own can be quite difficult!
- You might not feel a physical symptom, but that doesn’t mean a fire isn’t burning. SILENT inflammation has enormous consequences, especially if your main symptoms are your fertility struggles.
What Can You Do?
👉🏼Avoid foods that you know make you feel lousy, even if they’re supposedly “healthy” foods. Symptoms that we can feel usually have much deeper roots that we can’t.
👉🏼Work to improve your gut health. Food sensitivities can increase if you have a damaged gut lining.
👉🏼Consider testing to identify your personal inflammatory foods. I use the MRT test with my clients to look at 170 foods and chemicals.
They can’t let go of each other! Stress contributes to infertility and infertility sure causes stress! Anyone?
“Stress” is a general term with MANY causes. Stressors can be:
Nutritional: under eating, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies/sensitivities
Physical: over exercising, gut infections, inflammation
Relational: partner conflicts, social distancing/isolation, frustrations from your physician or other health practitioner
Mental: financial worries, lack of sleep, health fears
Emotional: repeated miscarriage, cancelled treatments, feeling “unexplained” or “broken”
When negative stressors like these never end, neither do your response hormones. Powerful responders like ADRENALINE & CORTISOL are meant to help you work FAST and for a SHORT TIME.
What happens when the stress alarm doesn’t shut off? When your body doesn’t respond efficiently to stressors, your nervous system stays in fight-or-flight mode.
That means no relax and reproduce! Helpful hormones turn into harmful reactors causing inflammation, decreased reproductive hormones, and fertility shut-down.
Adding to the daily stressors of life, “unexplained” infertility sends already elevated stress to the stratosphere! There is hope in seeing a problem and being able to address it. If the problem remains invisible, you’re left feeling "broken”, and these uncertainties can keep stress at its peak.
Consistently high cortisol causes:
- Decreased progesterone which causes a shorter luteal phase and decreased chance of implantation.
- Increased blood sugar, insulin release, higher testosterone, and decreased ovulation and egg quality.
- Decreased thyroid function that metabolically slows down every cell in your body. This lack of energy to all your cells causes significant fatigue, inadequate energy for your ovaries to mature your eggs, and decreased ovulation and egg quality.
What Can You Do?
👉🏼Experiment to find your favorite pause button: gratitude journaling, deep breathing, acupuncture, dancing, meditation, listening to music, etc.
👉🏼Make restorative, quality sleep each night and sunshine every morning high priority.
👉🏼Reduce high-intensity exercise for a bit if that’s your norm.
👉🏼Seek out a therapist to talk through specifics for you and your partner.
👉🏼As painful as it can be, share your story with friends and family who can listen, support, and love you without judgement.
Plastics & metals & pesticides, OH MY! These environmental villains can impair female and male fertility alike.
Excess toxins or your inability to clear them can also increase inflammation, suppress your immune system, and lead to autoimmune conditions. I think we’ve talked about that one before!
What are These Toxins and Where are They Hiding?
XENOESTROGENS are man-made chemicals that mimic your natural estrogens. BPA, parabens, phthalates, and others bind to your estrogen receptors, reducing your ability to excrete estrogen. This can cause estrogen dominance and raise your risk for hormonal cancers. It also upsets the sex hormone balance you need for fertility, increases time to pregnancy, reduces IVF success, and can cause endometriosis and fibroids.
To reduce your exposure, AVOID:
- Canned foods—BPA and other chemicals line the interior of the cans
- Commercially-raised meats and dairy
- Tap or other unfiltered water
- Plastic storage containers and water bottles
- Store register receipts
- Cookware with non-stick coatings
- Commercial, chemical-based cleaning products
- Mainstream cosmetics and skin care
- Birth control pills—talk with your doctor if you’re taking this
- Food additives and dyes
- Air fresheners, perfumes, and deodorizers
METALS like mercury, lead, and arsenic have been shown to be higher in infertile couples. These reduce levels of luteinizing hormone, decrease egg quality and quantity, increase time to conception, and can cause uterine fibroids.
To reduce your exposure, AVOID:
- Dental amalgam fillings
- Air, water, and soil from areas known to be contaminated
- High-mercury seafood like swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel, orange roughy, and bigeye tuna.
PESTICIDES decrease production of luteinizing hormone, all sex hormones, and are linked to a younger average age at menopause in those exposed .
To reduce your exposure, AVOID:
- Non-organic produce
- Home lawn and garden sprays
- Soil and water from areas known to be contaminated
What Can You Do?
👉🏼Use “non-toxic” beauty products when possible. Choose what goes on your skin just as carefully as what you eat.
👉🏼Opt for homemade household cleaners made from vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, or rubbing alcohol.
👉🏼Limit high-mercury foods & cosmetics. Consider talking with a biological dentist if you have mercury fillings.
👉🏼Choose organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables when possible.
👉🏼Consume adequate fiber and fluids to encourage elimination. Talk to your practitioner about ways to support liver function and detoxification.
👉🏼Start with ONE thing! This is a lot, but ONE change will lead to another and another.
Do you think any of these factors could be contributing to your fertility struggles?
If you're wondering where to even start, let's set up a FREE 30-minute strategy call. We'll figure out exactly which of these could be a hidden cause for you and you'll learn exactly what your next step needs to be!
In joy and health,
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