Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers
 
 

 

New South Wales Sunday Telegraph
17 August 2003

Great Expectations
by Bronwen Gora

The healthier you are, the more likely you are to conceive. Bronwen Gora investigates how your approach to life affects your fertility.

Neglecting our health before we try to conceive is akin to putting ourselves on an anti-evolutionary spiral, says internationally renowned natural fertility expert Francesca Naish. "If you don't, you're reproducing with people who nature says are fundamentally unfit to reproduce."

Natural fertility practitioners say the age-old traditions of healthy eating and living at least four months prior to conception are more important than ever. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans knew that drinking alcohol around the time of conception, not just during pregnancy, would damage the development of the foetus.

And in a modern world where toxins, pollutants, nicotine, fast food and sneaky chemicals such as xenoestrogens are everywhere, both men and women should be careful about what we touch, eat and breathe, pre- and post conception.

Anyway, it makes a lot of sense when you look at the animal world. "If you think about how vets or farmers approach stock-breeding they would never breed from unhealthy animals," says Naish.

Natural fertility is not just for the 15 per cent of Australian couples who find themselves infertile, either. "What we find is that when people have followed pre-conception health care their children have less allergies, asthma, behavioural problems, cry less often, sleep more easily and their immune systems are stronger," says Naish. "Pre-conception health is about more than helping people become more fertile. There are huge environmental issues children have to deal with nowadays and if they're born with robust health they're more likely to be able to cope."

So, if you want to maximise your chances of not only conceiving but having a perfectly healthy baby, you need to adopt pre-conception health care at least four months before conception, as that's how long it takes for the egg to mature and sperm to generate.

First of all, there are all the obvious things to cut out, such as sugar, caffeine, alcohol, saturated fats, food additives and processed foods. All these contribute to nutrient loss at a time you need your body to be in perfect condition. Eat organic food, and avoid microwaves as they destroy essential proteins by disrupting enzymes that help us absorb vitamins and minerals, says Naish.

"Detoxification is hugely important because there are so many toxins in the environment," says Naish, a world leader in her field who has helped thousands of couples in her 25 years at The Jocelyn Centre for Natural Fertility Management in Sydney. Among the most serious are the xenoestrogens, industrial chemicals found in soft plastics such as food containers, cling wrap, water bottles, polystyrene packaging, pesticides, vinyl and even shampoos. These mimic oestrogen in the body in a bad way and have been proven to cause damage.

"Xenoestrogens are a huge problem," Naish says. "They're in our water supply because of pesticide residue, and are in many hormone-fed animal products."

Such hormonal imbalances are a sign of the times, says naturopath Sally-Anne Bertram, a naturopathic supervisor at Sydney's Nature Care College. Women who see her with fertility problems are usually suffering from oestrogen dominance caused by anything from the pill to hormones in food. "I re-establish their hormonal systems with herbs and supplements and it usually takes three cycles to get back in sync," says Bertram.

The natural way
Radiation from computer screens, mobile phones and X-rays affects sperm and eggs too, according to natural fertility nous. Even eight hours of high altitude flying in a plane can give you a dose of radiation roughly equivalent to a chest X-ray. "Radiation will affect DNA and chromosomes," says Naish.

Computer users should fill cushions with epsom salts and place them on their laps, as the salts will absorb much of the radiation. Relaxation is another big factor. Stress can hamper the production of reproductive hormones, delaying or inhibiting ovulation.

Natural fertility doesn't exclude modern methods, either. "If we find infection in regular medical checks we'll use antibiotics," says Naish. "There's a place for everything. We'll even support people through IVF, although we consider it the last resort. It's a splendid way of dealing with certain fertility problems, but if you don't prepare beforehand and deal with underlying health issues you're not going to get a good conception rate and there's more possibility for health problems."

Pre-conception health, while hugely important, is also only part of the story and most practitioners will marry it with natural fertility methods. Timing techniques, such as observing changes in cervical mucus (known as The Billings Method) and using temperature readings, are important to ensure the sperm and eggs are in peak condition at conception.

Naish also helps women to synchronise their natural ovulation with the lunar cycles, as some women will ovulate twice in one month. In the 1950s Dr Eugen Jonas concluded that a woman is fertile when the sun and moon are at the same angle as at the time of her birth - whether or not it coincides with her mid-cycle ovulation. "We simply chart the times when this is likely to happen - and we try to get the two cycles to synchronise with deep relaxation techniques and suggestion," says Naish.

A natural fertility program is also likely to include antioxidants, nutrients and herbal remedies. What the wannabe parents are prescribed depends on what they've been exposed to over their lives, so Naish asks whether either partner has been exposed to radiation, chemicals or heavy metals. "Chemicals are known to disrupt foetal health and egg and sperm production," says Naish.

Hormonal imbalance
Some nutritional supplements are timed to the wire. "Folate is needed on days 27 and 28 of the pregnancy to allow the neural tubes to close, but what most people don't realise is that all nutrients are needed at various stages of the pregnancy and they work in combination, not isolation," says Naish.

Among other important minerals are magnesium and zinc, as deficiencies can block conception. Naish says the decreased levels of zinc caused by the pill could be the reason why some women find it hard to conceive straight after they stop taking it. "A lot of women recover quite easily when they come off the pill," Naish says. "But we see a minority with severe hormonal imbalances when they come off."

There's plenty of evidence now that natural fertility programs work. One of the most telling studies was in the UK. Over two years, 367 couples - 60 per cent of which had fertility problems - went on pre-conceptions program. By the end of the two years, 89 per cent of the couples had given birth to healthy babies, 81 per cent of which had previously experienced fertility problems.

The researchers also noted that if the same number of people did not practise pre-conception health care, the expected rate would be 70 miscarriages and 12 malformations. Food for thought.

For more info call The Jocelyn Centre on (02) 9369 2047, see www.fertility.com.au and read Natural Fertility by Francesca Naish and The Natural Way to Better Babies by Francesca Naish and Janette Roberts. (Sally Milner Publishing).

Fertile ground
Dietary advice
· When Dianne and Peter had trouble conceiving, medical tests found only one per cent of Peter's sperm was normal. The most likely explanation was in his past. "He'd done industrial chemistry at uni and was exposed to a lot of chemicals," says Dianne.

"And then straight after uni he worked in a paint factory for two years. He'd come home with a film of powdery stuff on him and he would get really sick." That was 10 years ago, and since then Peter hadn't exactly followed a healthy diet, either. So Dianne put Peter on a better diet, and gave him both a multi-vitamin and 100mg of zinc daily. Six months later, six per cent of Peter's sperm were normal which doctors said were still too low to give them a reasonable chance of conceiving.

Days after starting IVF treatment, she discovered she had already fallen pregnant. Dianne is sure it was Peter's improved health that made it happen.

"I think the multi-vitamins and high zinc really did contribute to me falling pregnant," she says.

Computer-aided babies
Computerised fertility tracking is on its way. Overseas, computers are helping women calculate their fertile times. Dr Terri Foran, medical director of FPA Health (formerly Family Planning NSW) says Persona is available through Boots pharmacies in Britain.

"The computers measure the hormones in the urine," Foran explains. "You put the information into the little computer over time and as you put more information in it gives you a green, red or amber light. There are lots of amber lights at first but over a few months it builds up a pattern of your cycle. It's a computerised Billings method that works not on symptoms but on the fertility hormones in your urine."

 
   
   

 

 

 

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