In recent years, I have been helping more and more individuals get pregnant (no manual involvement on my part). Typically, I may be contacted after one or more failed cycles of fertility treatment as a ‘last resort’. Very occasionally, couples may get in touch in preparation for a cycle of treatment.
IVF, the most common form of infertility treatment, is a complex science. There are multiple stages of treatment, which start with basic blood tests to screen for hormone levels and end with the implantation of fertilized eggs at the woman’s uterus. Inbetween, individuals can expect to have up to 20 hormone tests, to be injected undergo regular ultrasounds, to have received stimulation drugs and an injection of hCG, to have eggs retrieved via a needle. If successful, the woman faces 10 weeks of daily progesterone injections.
Other variations in treatment include ICSI and GIFT. These techniques all work in different ways and become more appropriate in different situations. However, the scope of the article is not to discuss the specifics of each method. All share common aims and approaches and suffer from the same problem; that implantation of a fertilized egg does not guarantee pregnancy.
The problem is that becoming pregnant is a very complicated task which requires very precise activity from a huge array of different cells (above and beyond the sperm cells and the ova). If the actions of any of such cells are distorted in any way then the process may become bereft with problems. To guarantee success, scientists must engineer a solution that fully controls all functions of every cell in the body. To do that, we would first need to fully understand the function of every cell in the body and every connection it has with every other cell. With an average of 74 trillion cells in the human body, this remains an impossible task.
The paradox is that while IVF represents one of the most complicated and carefully-planned procedures in Western medicine, it almost ignores the effect that stress levels (either within the female or the male) have on the outcome of the treatment. Laboratories have often insisted that my clients (who are now under their care) present at the clinic by 7am for several days running so that they can obtain results before home-time. While I agree that tracking the interventions is important, surely it can be done without getting the patient out of bed each morning at 5am and a tortuous 2-hour journey across a congested London? Just because we cannot measure stress in a simple blood test does not mean it is not having a crucial effect on the outcome. Plenty of studies (Ebbeson et al, 2009; Facchinetti, 1997).
The other oversight made consistently is to ignore the male totally unless he is considered totally infertile. Even though we know that fifty percent of the function of the gamete is determined by the health of the sperm, a man’s role in this reductionist system is often limited to sperm donor and observer. There is an almost-unchallenged assumption made in fertility clinics that the health of the sperm is irrelevant providing it can be made to fertilize an egg. Not only does this place unfair pressure on the female, but it is also foolish to think that the nutritional status of the sperm cell has no impact on the successful implantation of of the zygote at the uterus or in the development of the foetus thereafter. In fact, Nieshlag and Behre (1997) found that 60% of infertility was due to factors within the male partner. Take home message: the man is not just an observer in the fertility process, although an ‘unhealthy’ male does indeed seem more capable of producing a child that an ‘unhealthy’ female.
Similar problems arise within both men and women. Fungal-type dysbiosis, an umbrella term that results in a myriad of insidious symptoms arising from disturbed intestinal balance, is a common issue that mainstream medicine continually misses and one that many individuals learn to just live with. Yet this is almost universally found in females that are having difficulty getting pregnant; this is not surprising. The body responds to dysbiosis as an infection (which it is), releasing raised concentrations of cytokines that tip the body’s cells into ‘infection-fighting’ mode. Infections have a potent affect at blocking pregnancy (Toth and Lesser, 2007). Adrenal function has a huge effect on sex hormones, immune function and cellular metabolism. Anyone who feels tired, struggles to sleep, finds themselves a slave to coffee often has poor adrenal function. Attempting to improve fertility without addressing adrenal balance is an exercise in futility.
It is not always about bacterial or adrenal imbalance. Sometimes, I look at the diets people eat (including those that are considered ‘healthy’), the toxic environments people live in, the unnecessary medical interventions people undergo and the poor sleep patterns and the the stress levels considered normal by most individuals in Britain. It is staggering that many people are even able to function, let alone that some even manage to conceive a baby. The only thing that shocks me more is how these factors are totally disregarded in fertility treatment unless they happen to result in acute/obvious disease or disturbed estrogen/progesterone levels. However, both common sense and experience prove that there are factors beyond these categories that compromise the function of the body and thus the internal environment.
Evolution has dictated that becoming pregnant is the most risky action a female can take. Her mobility and ability to flee/fight off attackers is now reduced, her nutritional status is now compromised and childbirth carries the risk of death for mother and child. Although these are not relevant in 2012, the body’s autonomous systems do not know this and make the same ‘decisions’ that have aided survival so successfully for 400,000 years.
Through complex moderation of hormonal balance (primarily through the reduction of sex hormones or an increase in stress hormones) the body can resist impregnation and therefore choose when it becomes pregnant. This is why pregnancy rates reduce during famine in Third World countries. Yet the same thing is happening in the Western world, with women often meeting their calorific requirement yet becoming starved of a myriad of essential nutrients. This is a simple fix.
Stress, adrenal imbalance and fungal-type dysbiosis are not quite as simple, but can be addressed and eliminated as problems. These stand out as the most common causes of issues in getting pregnant and, in my experience, represent the most important factors in achieving pregnancy (whether using IVF or not). I am not against IVF treatment – I happily work with couples using such approaches – although shelling out for IVF treatment for an undernourished and out-of-balance body is illogical, expensive and normally a recipe for disappointment.
Campagne D, (2006). Should fertilization treatment start with reducing stress? Human Reproduction, 21(7): 1651-58.
Ebbeson SMS et al (2009). Stressful life events are associated with a poor in-vitro fertilization (IVF) outcome: a prospective study. Human Reproduction, 24(9): 2173-82.
Facchinetti F, Matteo ML, Artini GP, Volpe A and Genazzani AR (1997) An increased vulnerability to stress is associated with poor outcome of in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer treatment. Fertil Steril 67, 309–314.
Gallinelli A, Roncaglia R, Matteo ML, Ciaccio I, Volpe A and Facchinetti F (2001) Immunological changes and stress are associated with different implantation rates in patients undergoing in vitro fertilization-embryo transfer. Fertil Steril 76, 85–91.
Nieschlag, E. and Behre, H. (eds) (1997) Andrology, Male Reproductive Health and Dysfunction. Springer, Berlin.
Toth AT and Lesser M (2007). Outcome of subsequent IVF cycles following antibiotic therapy after primary or multiple previously failed IVF cycles. The Internet Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics,
World Health Organisation: Global prevalence and incidence of selected curable sexually transmitted infections. In Overview and Estimates. Geneva: WHO; 2001.