When I discovered that cholesterol is the precursor to all steroid hormones including the sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc) as well as vitamin D it totally changed the way I looked at saturated fat (source, source). I had never considered what hormones were made of before and how important they are for optimal health and fertility. When our bodies don’t have enough cholesterol floating around to make hormones our hormones can get out of wack. For instance, estrogen dominance occurs when there is too much estrogen compared to progesterone throughout the menstrual cycle (source). Excess estrogen can lead to symptoms like dysmenorrhea (painful periods), heavy and/or irregular periods, fibroids, endometriosis, headaches, weight gain, ovarian cysts and breast cancer among others (source) (source). The pathway to optimal fertility involves achieving healthy menstrual cycles and balancing the sex hormones, so here are 6 ways to boost fertility naturally:
1. Eat more SATURATED fat!
As I mentioned above, cholesterol is the precursor to all steroid hormones including the sex hormones. That means that our bodies need the cholesterol in saturated fat to manufacture hormones. Cholesterol is found in every cell in the body, and plays an important role in maintaining the integrity of each cell membrane (source). In fact cholesterol makes up nearly half of each cell membrane. Women who eat low-fat dairy products have an 85% higher chance of infertility when compared to women who eat full-fat dairy products. What it all boils down to is that if we want our bodies to keep pumping out all of those sexy hormones needed for optimal fertility we need to make sure we get enough healthy saturated fats. So cook with healthy saturated fats like coconut oil, butter, lard, duck fat or tallow (preferably organic or grass-fed) when possible, and if you eat dairy products, stick to the full-fat options when chosing yogurt, kefir, sour cream, cream cheese, cheese and milk (preferably organic) instead of those gross tasting low-fat dairy products.
2. Stay away from vegetable oils!
Vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and margarine are a few examples of oils to stay away from. These oils fall under the category of polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and oxidize quickly in the body leading to inflammation. For the longest time I couldn’t really get my head around the term inflammation. I knew it was a bad thing, but the term felt vague to me so let me give a few examples. With a diet fairly low in saturated fat and fairly high in polyunsaturated fats I began getting sunburned after only a few minutes at a time in the hot sun. I also suffered from mind numbing menstrual cramps for years, and after eliminating most vegetable oils I don’t burn no matter how long I stay in the sun and for the first time ever I have experienced pain-free periods (woo-hoo!).
If we don’t supply our bodies with enough saturated fat, then our bodies have to use whatever is available to comprise our cell membranes. If we are consuming vegetable oils, then these polyunsaturated fats are incorporated into the cell walls where they can cause damage to the reproductive organs due to their instability and tendency to cause cell mutations and inflammation (source). Cooking with vegetable oils makes it even worse. When subjected to heat vegetable oils oxidize and become rancid causing them to become increasingly more toxic and inflammatory in the body. The takeaway here is to ditch the highly processed man-made oils in favor of healthy saturated fats. Another way to reduce our consumption of polyunsaturated fats is to go easy on the processed foods (or eliminate them altogether!). Anything with an expiry date longer than a few weeks or any food products that never go bad are, for the most part, not even real food to begin with!
3. Eat fertility foods for essential vitamins and minerals
Instead of reaching for a handful of pills and supplements, try getting the vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal fertility from food. When I was reading the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon I was introduced to the idea of sacred fertility foods that were eaten by traditional societies because they somehow knew that eating these foods improved fertility and lead to healthier children. Some of these foods include eggs, raw milk, liver and other organ meats, fish eggs, oysters, cod liver oil, and butter to name a few. The diets of these traditional cultures often contained upwards of 10 times the nutrients of the typical diet today. As women it has been ingrained our heads to take folic acid pills whenever pregnancy is a possibility, but why not eat liver instead? When we eat liver not only are we getting one of the highest natural sources of folate, but we are also getting a cascade of B vitamins including B12, vitamin A, vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, and all the co-factors that help our bodies to absorb significantly more than we otherwise would in a pill.
4. Reduce xenoestrogen exposure
This is a crucial step for balancing hormones and reducing estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are chemical and synthetic substances that disrupt the endocrine system and have estrogen-like effects in the body. Xenoestrogens are ubiquitous in our day to day lives these days. Some examples of where you might encounter them include make-up, skin care products, household cleaning products (especially the ones with strong fragrances), fruit and vegetables sprayed with pesticides, environmental toxins in the air, and plastics. A few ways we can minimize our exposure to xenoestrogens include switching to natural skin care products that do not contain parabens or other synthetic materials (lotion, makeup, deoderant, shampoo, conditioner, perfume), switching to natural cleaning products, choosing organic food when possible, and replacing plastic storage containers for food and beverages with glass containers.
5. Eat more cruciferous veggies
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage promote healthy estrogen metabolism in the body. They promote detoxification and have an anti-estrogenic effect in the body. Cruciferous vegetables contain several important nutrients including sulphur and something called indole 3 carbinol that detoxify bad estrogens from the body and support the liver in the detoxification process. So eating our broccoli and kale regularly helps our bodies to balance out our hormones by getting rid of excess estrogen.
7. Get more SLEEP
Getting to bed early and getting enough sleep is one of the keys to balancing hormones. Sleep deprivation is associated with increased cortisol levels, insulin resistance and weight gain. That means lights out! Getting adequate sleep helps our bodies to balance out those sexy hormones and improve overall health.
Now I want to hear from you! What have you done to boost your fertility naturally? Join the conversation in the comments below.