Coffee, Gluten & The Thyroid: The Fertility Connection

Do you struggle with thyroid issues that affect your fertility? Many natural health practitioners recommend a gluten-free diet to improve thyroid health and autoimmune thyroid issues like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. A gluten-free diet can help normalize thyroid levels, reduce symptoms, and potentially decrease the need for medication for some people.

However, it’s recently been discovered that certain foods, specifically coffee, cause similar reactions as gluten and may in fact decrease the effectiveness of your gluten-free diet. This could be why a person who has gone “gluten-free,” but continues to drink coffee, may experience symptom flare-ups.

What’s the Deal with Coffee and Gluten?

Next to water and tea, coffee is the world’s most popular beverage. While not a true source of gluten, non-organic coffee is considered cross reactive, meaning that it can cause the same reactions as gluten in susceptible persons. In a 2013 study, highly processed conventional coffees (like instant coffee and ground coffees) produced the highest cross-reactivity in people studied (organic whole bean coffee did not).

Further, there are health issues related to coffee, especially non-organic coffee. Here’s why commercial coffee can be a problem on a gluten-free or Fertility Diet.

• Commercial coffee is highly processed. Instant coffee, in particular, is regularly contaminated with gluten through normal processing techniques. Further, if you like decaf, toxic chemicals used in the decaffeination process can produce reactions (be certain to choose Swiss water process decaf).

• Similar to dairy, coffee contains potentially allergenic proteins. 10-14% of the dry weight of green and roasted coffee beans is protein. Coffee has been considered a suspected allergy food since 1978.

• Non-organic coffee is a highly sprayed crop. Most coffee is produced in countries with lax pesticide regulations. Up to 250 pounds of chemical fertilizers are sprayed per acre of conventionally produced coffee. People with autoimmune thyroid issues (like Hashimoto’s disease), immunological fertility issues, or gluten sensitivity are more susceptible to reactions from an overload of toxic chemicals in food.

• Commercial coffee is a source of immune-suppressing molds. Most coffee contains the toxic mold compound, ochratoxin A. People in good health can usually tolerate some exposure to ochratoxin A, but people who have been ill, with immunological fertility issues, or who have gluten sensitivity may have strong reactions to it.

Choose Organic Coffee or Switch to Herbal Tea

If you love coffee, but are considering going gluten-free for your thyroid health or fertility, try not to panic. You can still enjoy the occasional cup of coffee, but it’s important to choose your coffee wisely. While coffee is not a good daily fertility food, research finds that organic, whole bean coffees don’t produce gluten cross-reactivity.

Organic coffee beans offer a richer flavor, and are produced without all the toxic chemicals that may impact your health and fertility. Still, I only recommend having occasional organic coffee. Even organic coffee is acid forming, can imbalance estrogen and caffeine may increase miscarriage risk in large quantities.

For your fertility and thyroid health, consider switching to an herbal coffee alternative, or herbal tea like Red Raspberry Leaf tea or Conceptions Tea. Most herbal tea is gluten free (double check labels to be sure). While the occasional cup of organic coffee is not likely to cause harm, switching to herbal tea or an herbal coffee alternative is really the best choice when preparing for a future pregnancy with thyroid health issues.

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Male Fertility

For prospective fathers, healthy eating helps improve the chances for success. Certain nutrients such as folic acid, vitamins C and E and other antioxidants have been shown to improve the number of sperm produced, and ability of those sperm to fertilize the egg.

  • Nutrition and lifestyle
  • Antioxidants and other nutrients

Nutrition and lifestyle

There is good evidence that diet and lifestyle can have a major impact on a man’s fertility.

Smoking Several studies have linked cigarette smoking to lower sperm count, motility, and morphology.1 Smoking also increases levels of oxidative stress in the semen2 and can lead to sperm DNA damage and genetically abnormal sperm.3 If you’ve tried to quit without success, seek help from your family doctor.

Alcohol Use Excessive alcohol consumption has been shown to impair normal sperm. The evidence regarding moderate alcohol intake is less clear, but most experts agree it’s best to avoid more than one drink per day.

Sexual Activity The likelihood of a woman becoming pregnant is much higher when you have intercourse in the three days immediately leading up to and including ovulation. Some experts call these three days the fertile window. You can determine when the woman ovulates either by using basal temperature charts, or with an over-the-counter ovulation predictor kit.

The frequency of intercourse during the fertile window generally doesn’t matter. Although earlier studies seemed to show that several days of abstinence might increase sperm counts, more recent findings indicate that more frequent intercourse may in fact be better.

Avoid the use of any artificial lubricants such as K-Y Jelly® or Replens® which can be toxic to sperm.

Avoid excessive heat It is well known that the testicles should be cooler than the rest of the body for sperm production to be at its best. The harmful effect of a varicocele on sperm production is believed to result from the extra warming of the area caused by the dilated veins.

While there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that boxer style shorts are better than jockey type, it is important to avoid other sources of heat exposure to the testicles such as hot tubs, laptop computers, high-temperature work areas, or prolonged baths.

Healthful Diet Eating a healthful diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can be beneficial for sperm function and male fertility. Drinking enough water to stay well hydrated is also important.

Exercise Moderate exercise may be beneficial. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (walking, running, cycling, swimming, etc.) on most days of the week.

Caffeine Try to limit coffee or other caffeine containing beverages to one serving per day.

Environmental hazards If your work or hobby brings you into contact with environmental dangers such as pesticides, solvents, organic fumes or radiation exposure, you may be unknowingly affecting your fertility by impairing sperm production.

Harmful nutritional supplements Nutritional supplements that provide hormone-like substances such as DHEA or “andro” can actually impair fertility by stopping sperm production. If you are taking any of these types of supplements, or other products intended to build muscle mass, it’s best to stop.

Medications that Impair Fertility Certain medications or medical treatments can interfere with sperm production. Radiation treatment for cancer can impair testicular function. Many chemotherapy drugs will have a permanent effect on production. Some drugs, such as testosterone replacement therapy, can stop sperm production. This is a temporary effect that should reverse within a few months of stopping the testosterone. Your urologist or fertility specialist should be able to guide you regarding your medication use while you are trying to conceive.

References

  1. [PubMed Abstract] Kunzle et al. Fertil Steril. 2003; 79(2):287-91.
  2. [PubMed Abstract] Saleh et al. Fertil Steril. 2002; 78(3):491-9.
  3. [PubMed Abstract] Potts et al. Mutation Res. 423 (1-2):103-11.

Antioxidants and Other Nutrients

There is substantial scientific evidence to suggest that certain nutrients may help improve male fertility. A recent Cochrane Review found that antioxidants increased pregnancy and birth rates, and improved sperm motility in subfertile males.1

Vitamins C and E are essential antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from damage from oxidative stress and free radicals. Vitamin C is the most abundant antioxidant in the semen of fertile men, and it contributes to the maintenance of healthy sperm by protecting the sperm’s DNA from free radical damage. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps protect the sperm’s cell membrane from damage. Vitamin C functions to regenerate vitamin E, thus these vitamins may work together to improve sperm function. Vitamin C has been shown to improve sperm count, motility, and morphology.2 Men with low fertilization rates who took vitamin E supplements for three months showed a significant improvement in fertilization rate.3 Vitamin E supplementation in infertile men resulted in improved sperm motility and increased pregnancy rates versus placebo.4

Selenium is a trace mineral that functions as an antioxidant. Selenium supplements have been shown to increase sperm motility, and a combination of selenium and vitamin E has been shown to decrease damage from free radicals and improve sperm motility in infertile men.5

Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and carotenoid (plant pigment) that is abundant in tomatoes. This phytonutrient is found in high levels in the male testes, and research has shown that lycopene supplementation improves sperm parameters in infertile men.6

L-Carnitine is an amino acid derivative produced by the bodythat functions to transport fat so that it can be broken down for energy. L-carnitine is thought to also have antioxidant properties. L-carnitine’s primary benefit is to provide energy for the sperm, and thereby increase sperm motility.7

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that may play a role in sperm formation, testosterone metabolism, and cell motility. Zinc supplementation has been shown to increase testosterone levels, sperm count, and sperm motility.8

Folic Acid (folate) is a B-vitamin that is necessary for DNA synthesis. Low levels of folic acid have been associated with decreased sperm count and motility In a recent study, the combination of zinc and folic acid resulted in a 74% increase in total normal sperm count in subfertile men.19

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a naturally occurring antioxidant that is essential for cellular energy production. It is produced by the body and found in small amounts in some foods. CoQ10 levels are highest during the first 20 years of life, and decline with age. Studies have shown that at least six months of CoQ10 supplementation improves sperm motility in men with unexplained infertility.10,11 In a recent study, CoQ10 increased sperm density, motility, and morphology.12

References

  1. [PubMed Abstract] Showell et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011; 1:CD007411.
  2. [PubMed Abstract] Akmal et al. J Medicinal Food. 2006; 9(3):440-2.
  3. [PubMed Abstract] Geva et al. Fertil Steril. 1996; 66(3):430-4.
  4. [PubMed Abstract] Suleiman et al. J Andrology. 1996; 17(5):530-7.
  5. [PubMed Abstract] Keskes-Ammar et al. Arch Androl. 2003 Mar-Apr;49(2):83-94.
  6. [PubMed Abstract] Gupta and Kumar. Int Urol Nephrol. 2002; 34:369-72.
  7. [PubMed Abstract] Lenzi et al. Fertil Steril. 2003; 79(2):292-300.
  8. [PubMed Abstract] Hunt et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 1992; 56(1):148-57.
  9. [PubMed Abstract] Wong et al. Fertil Steril. 2002; 77(3):491-8.
  10. [PubMed Abstract] Balercia et al. Fertil Steril. 2009; 91(5):1785-92.
  11. [PubMed Abstract] Safarinejad. Int Urol Nephrol. 2012; 44(3):689-700.
  12. [PubMed Abstract] Safarinejad et al. J Urol. 2012; 188(2):526-31.

What your Basal Body Temperatures tell us about your fertility

I frequently ask my clients to take and record their basal body temperatures as it tells us so much about your fertility. However I am frequently presented with comments such as:

I already know when I’m ovulating, because I’m using an ovulation predictor kit.

I tried doing that, but it’s really hard for me to remember to take my temperatures so I stopped.

I don’t want to take my temperature every day.

I find people are more likely to take their basal body temperatures if they know WHY it’s important for their fertility. So here’s the short and sweet version of what I can tell from your basal body temperatures (BBTs):

  • Are you ovulating, and if so, when.
  • Is ovulation lining up with other signs like fertile cervical mucus?
  • Are you making enough of your hormones, such as estrogen, FSH, and progesterone?
  • Is your liver metabolizing hormones effectively?
  • Are you stressed?

Believe it or not, we can gather this information from your BBT’s. I always describe the process of taking your temperatures as something we can do to:

  • Help us gather more data to make sure we have a complete picture of what’s going on with your body
  • Help us make sure we don’t overshoot our goals

For example, I may have a patient that insists that she’s not stressed and that everything is really good. Then she starts taking her temperatures and they’re up and down, and all over the place. This indicates to me that her liver system is stressed and she’s not metabolizing her hormones properly. So even though she isn’t feeling the psychological aspects of the stress, her body is feeling them. Helping to correct this problem can help regulate ovulation, the overall cycle, even eradicate pain and PMS symptoms!

When working with me, I just want to see an average of your temperatures, so don’t worry if you miss a day here and there. It’s really not a big deal. And I always tell clients “it’s your job to take your temperature, and my job to dissect them to see what information your body is giving us”. So don’t worry what they look like, but please consider taking them. It creates more self awareness about your body and it may help you make progress faster towards your fertility goals. And after all, my job is to help you make progress as quickly as possible to improve your chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy.

Until next time, keep dreaming.

Sleep can affect male fertility

Sleeping too little or too much can affect a man’s ability to impregnate his partner, new research suggests.

The “sweet spot” appears to be 7 to 8 hours of a night, said study author Lauren Wise, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health.

Among the 790 couples the researchers followed, “we found both short and long sleep duration—less than 6 hours or 9 or more per night—were associated with a reduced probability of pregnancy,” Wise said.

Using 8 hours of sleep as the reference point, men who slept less than 6 or more than 9 hours a night “had a 42 percent reduced probability of conception in any given month,” she added.

The main explanation is most likely hormonal, Wise said. Fertility experts know that testosterone is crucial for reproduction and the majority of daily testosterone release in men occurs during sleep, she explained. Total sleep time, in turn, has been positively linked with testosterone levels in several studies, she added.

All of the couples in the study were trying to conceive, and they had been trying for no more than six menstrual cycles. The couples answered questions about and whether they had trouble sleeping. Those men who had trouble sleeping more than half the time were also less likely to impregnate their partner than those who didn’t, the researchers found.

While the study found only an association between sleep and fertility, “it can’t prove cause and effect,” Wise said.

But the link held up even after she took into account both the men’s and women’s ages, their , their frequency of intercourse, and other factors known to affect fertility.

More research is needed, Wise noted.

“It is possible that poor sleep duration could contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle, decreased libido, a decrease in sex, but we tried to control for all those factors,” she said.

The finding is welcome news to Dr. Peter Schlegel, vice president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

“There is very little data about how men’s sleep may affect fertility,” he said. “We know any stress can affect fertility for both women and men. This study strongly suggests that for men, aiming for the 7 to [less than] 9 hours of sleep helps to optimize their fertility and their chances of contributing to a pregnancy.”

Based on this new research, doctors counseling couples should talk about how much sleep the men are getting, Schlegel said. As for women and sleep, “we don’t know for sure,” he said.

Other research suggests that eating more fruits and vegetables yields better production of sperm than meats and fats, said Schlegel, who is chair of urology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Men who are at a healthy weight generally have better fertility, too.

One limitation of the study, Schlegel said, is that the researchers did not measure sperm counts. “But they looked at time to pregnancy,” he said, and “most would say the chance of a pregnancy occurring is probably the best measure.”

The findings were to be presented Wednesday at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting, in Salt Lake City. Research presented at medical meetings is considered preliminary until it is published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Could assisted reproduction reduce birth defects for older women?

Babies born to women aged 40 and over from assisted reproduction have fewer birth defects compared with those from women who conceive naturally at the same age, according to new research from the University of Adelaide.

This is contrary to widespread belief that the greater risk of birth defects after assisted conception is due to the frequent use of these services by older women.

The researchers believe this could point to the presence of more favourable biological conditions in IVF (in vitro fertilization) specific to pregnancies in older women – but they’re currently working to determine the exact cause.

Published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology (BJOG), the research is based on data of all live births recorded in South Australia from 1986-2002. These include more than 301,000 naturally conceived births, as well as 2200 births from IVF and almost 1400 from ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).

The average prevalence of a birth defect was 5.7% among naturally conceived births, 7.1% for the IVF births, and 9.9% for the ICSI births, across all age groups.

In births from assisted reproduction, the prevalence of birth defects ranged from 11.3% at its highest for women less than age 30 using ICSI, down to 3.6% for women aged 40 and older using IVF. For natural conceptions, the corresponding prevalence across age groups was 5.6% in young women, increasing to 8.2% in women aged 40+.

“There’s something quite remarkable occurring with women over the age of 40 who use assisted reproduction,” says lead author Professor Michael Davies from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute.

“We know from our previous studies that women who undergo assisted reproduction have an increased rate of birth defects compared to women who conceive naturally. We also know that among women who conceive naturally, the rate of birth defects increases exponentially from age 35 onwards. Therefore, it was widely assumed, but untested, that maternal age would be a key factor in birth defects from assisted reproduction.

“However, our findings challenge that assertion. They show that infertile women aged 40 and over who used assisted reproduction had less than half the rate of birth defects of fertile women of the same age, while younger women appear to be at an elevated risk.

“For women treated with IVF and ICSI combined, the greatest age-related risk of birth defects was among the young women, at or around 29 years of age. With a prevalence of 9.4%, their risk was more than double the rate of 3.6% observed for the patients aged over 40, and significantly higher than for fertile women of the same age, at 5.6%,” Professor Davies says.

Professor Davies says these results could have broader implications for infertility treatment, if researchers can understand why older women do better on assisted reproduction: “There is some aspect of IVF treatment in particular that could be helping older women to redress the maternal age issues we see among natural conception, where we observe a transition at around the age of 35 years toward a steadily increasing risk of birth defects. We don’t know what that is quite yet – it could be an aspect of hormonal stimulation that helps to reverse the age-related decline in control of ovulation.

“More research is desperately needed in this area to understand why this is occurring, and whether it could be adapted to both fertile and infertile women in future to prevent birth defects, which continue to be a major cause of death and disability in the first year of life globally,” he says.

Professor Davies says the research also uncovered that ICSI – which currently accounts for about 70% of all assisted reproduction treatments world wide – is “particularly adverse if a woman has never had a pregnancy.” These women had a birth defect rate of 11%, compared with 6.2% of women with a previous birth who used ICSI.

Older women have babies with fewer birth defects after IVF

An analysis of 300,000 births has suggested that older women who fall pregnant with help from assisted reproduction techniques are less likely to have children with birth defects than those who conceive on their own.

Higher maternal age and assisted reproduction are both linked to congenital anomalies, including Down’s syndrome, heart defects and cleft palates, meaning that IVF babies conceived by older mothers are thought to be especially at risk.

But a study led by Michael Davies at the University of Adelaide, Australia, challenges this assumption. Analysing births registered in the state of South Australia between 1986 and 2002, his team found that older women who conceived via IVF or intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) were less likely to have children with abnormalities.

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In addition, older women who had assisted pregnancies were less likely to have babies with birth defects than younger women who conceived using the same technologies.

Women aged 29 or under who conceived naturally had children with major birth defects at a rate of 6 per cent, compared to 8 per cent in women aged 40 or over. But in women who had IVF, birth defects dropped from 9 per cent in the younger group to 4 per cent in the older group, while for those who had ICSI, the rate fell from 11 per cent to 6 per cent.

What’s going on?

One explanation for the results could be that the drugs used to stimulate ovulation during assisted reproduction have a protective effect on the development of an older women’s eggs, says Davies. While younger women receive these drugs during fertility treatments too, the effects may vary according to age, he suggests.

An alternative theory is that IVF and ICSI embryos are still more likely to have birth defects, but that these are less likely to survive to full-term in older women.

“The implications are really quite profound because the age of first birth is increasing for women around the world,” says Davies. “Instead of seeing more adverse events from the age of 35, it would be very interesting if we could extend that optimal reproductive period to the age of 40, for example.”

But Peter Illingworth, at fertility company IVF Australia, says that although the results are intriguing, they will need to be validated in other populations because of their highly surprising nature. “I don’t think there’s enough evidence yet to start telling older women who are doing IVF that they’re going to lower their chance of congenital anomalies,” he says.

Does Caffeine Affect Your Fertility?

You wake up, groggy, to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. It takes a couple of cups to get you out the door in the morning. When the food coma hits after lunch, it takes a diet cola (or two!) to get you over the hump. This could describe many of us—but what if you’re trying to get pregnant? Does all the caffeine that gets you through the day hurt your chances of conceiving?

If you drink enough of it, the answer is yes, according to Ronald Gray, PhD, a professor in population and family planning at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A few years ago, Dr. Gray researched the question of caffeine and fertility. “What we found is that women who consume high amounts of caffeine daily take longer, on average, to get pregnant than women with low or no consumption,” he said. “They had nearly three times the risk of not being able to conceive after one year of trying.”

How Much Is Too Much?

What exactly constitutes a “high amount?” In Dr. Gray’s study, anything over 300 milligrams per day, which is the equivalent to about two 8-ounce cups of drip-brewed coffee, four 8-ounce cups of tea (hot or iced), nine caffeinated sodas, or 15 ounces of dark chocolate.

Other studies from research groups at Yale University School of Medicine and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have confirmed that consuming over 300 milligrams of caffeine per day reduces fertility, but a study from Alicante University in Spain found effects only at levels of 500 milligrams per day or more. The bottom line is that for your best chance of conceiving quickly, it’s best to reduce or eliminate caffeine consumption. Remember to count all of your caffeine sources when figuring out how much you need to cut back.

Cutting Back on Caffeine

How can you cut back without too much pain? We asked some women who were able to successfully limit caffeine to share their tricks:

“I was a serious caffeine drinker,” says Amy Story of Westford, Massachusetts. “I made a deal with myself. I’d nurse one diet cola all day long by pouring some into a tiny cup. After I drank the tiny bit of cola, I’d have to drink three times that amount of water. Then I gave myself permission to have another tiny cup of cola.”

“I switched over to decaf iced tea, slowly decreasing the number of glasses of the real stuff each day,” said Sally Haskell of Brentwood, Tennessee. “It was hard at first. I had to be careful to go slowly over many days, otherwise I’d pay for it with a whopping headache.”

Mary North of Ann Arbor, Michigan, recalls: “For me the ritual of making coffee in the morning and the smell and taste of that first sip are as important as the caffeine effect. I switched to decaf French roast and did not feel deprived.” Decaffeinated coffee and other beverages are not caffeine-free, but only contain about one-tenth the amount of caffeine.

How to Cope Without the Coke

Some other tips from the trenches of life with reduced caffeine:

  • Eat a protein-rich breakfast in the morning to maintain energy throughout the day.
  • Buy cans of carbonated, flavored water. Whenever the urge to have a soda hits, pop open a can of carbonated water. At least you get to hear that “pop” sound and have the fizzy mouth feel!
  • Although chocolate has caffeine, it is much less than what’s in coffee, so try drinking a hot chocolate instead of a coffee-based drink.
  • Put more milk in your coffee so that the same amount of coffee stretches out to two cups. (Plus you get the added calcium from the milk!)
  • Because caffeine stays in your body for several hours, drinking caffeine in the afternoon or evening can disturb your sleep, leaving you wanting even more caffeine the next morning. Break the cycle by eliminating late-day caffeine first.
  • Go slow—reducing caffeine intake too quickly can cause withdrawal symptoms like headache, nervousness, restlessness, and fatigue.
  • Don’t beat yourself up. Stress caused by unreachable goals or overly tight restrictions may be just as harmful to your well-being as a cup of coffee!

It may help to keep the goal in mind—a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Cutting back in the preconception period will help you when you do become pregnant, because the US Food and Drug Administration recommends an even lower intake (no more than 150 milligrams per day) during pregnancy. That’s about one cup of coffee!

Why women teachers have best chance of IVF success: Long summer holidays means they are less stressed and free to attend appointments

Working as a teacher makes it easier for women to become pregnant by IVF, a study shows.

Teachers were six times more likely than comparable occupations to conceive because their long summer holidays mean they are less stressed and freer to attend appointments.

But female bankers were 60 per cent less likely to become pregnant than women of similar income and education, the researchers said.

Jacob Anderson, who co-founded the website Fertility IQ with his wife Deborah, collected information from 1,123 respondents who had had fertility treatment.

In findings to be presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine congress in Salt Lake City, Utah, Mr Anderson says: ‘Patients who reported their occupation as teacher during the time of treatment recorded a six-fold higher likelihood of success, after controlling for variables like age, income, race and geographical location.

‘Patients who reported working in fields categorized as sales, marketing and public relations recorded a two-fold higher rate of success.’

But bankers and female software engineers had greater difficulty becoming pregnant. Mr Anderson told the Daily Mail that follow-up interviews with teachers showed that nearly all of them had their IVF cycle during the long summer school holiday.

This meant they were less stressed and freer for the appointments, which could otherwise be during work hours.

He said: ‘Most teachers think they have a very stressful job. But they have the summer vacation off to undergo IVF cycles, they can make appointments, get everything done, at a time when their stress levels go right down.’

He said that in the US the exception was teachers who worked in Catholic schools, where they may have to keep quiet about having IVF because it is not approved by the Catholic Church.

Bankers fared badly because in the ‘traditionally male-dominated’ profession it was difficult to get time off work for IVF appointments. This was despite many banks offering lavish financial support for fertility treatment.

Mr Anderson said: ‘What these women [bankers] tell us is they are leading a double life – they are not allowed out to go to appointments for fertility treatment.

‘This is a very fragile process – if you are hours too early, or hours too late, the IVF procedure may not work.’ In addition, high levels of stress produce a hormone, cortisol, that has been shown to have a negative impact on fertility.

Sales people – many of whom worked out of the office and were able to set their own schedules – were also more successful at becoming pregnant.

The difficulties of bankers becoming pregnant went against a trend where higher household income generally meant women having IVF were more successful.

Patients enjoying a joint household income of more than $99,000 (£81,000) were 80 per cent more likely to succeed at becoming pregnant than those earning less.

In conclusion, the authors write: ‘Patients working in the fields of education, sales, marketing and public relations may benefit in ways patients employed in other categories do not.’

Women with a bachelors degree were more likely than those without to become pregnant. But further degrees such as masters or PhDs did not increase the chances.

First working eggs made from stem cells points to fertility breakthrough

Scientists have for the first time shown that fully mature egg cells can be grown in the lab, raising hope for new infertility treatments.

Until now, researchers have only been able to produce cells that resemble sperm or eggs, but which can rarely produce live offspring because of abnormal organisation of their genetic material. But a team at Kyushu University, Japan, have now turned stem cells from mice into mature eggs than can be fertilised and develop into healthy, fertile adults. This could lead to a way for women who can’t naturally produce working eggs to have new ones made from their own cells.

Embryonic stem cells are living cells taken from an embryo that have the ability to develop into any other kind of cell. The researchers from Kyushu University team previously demonstrated that, under the right conditions, these cells could be turned into primordial germ cells, immature embryonic versions of sperm and eggs. But because they are immature, these germ cells can’t produce any offspring.

So the researchers adapted their methods to encase the stem cells in other cells taken from a mouse’s foetal gonad (the developing ovary or testis). This recreated an environment more like an ovary and, over a period of four to five weeks, the team saw the stem cells develop into cells resembling mature eggs.

Fucntioning egg cells

While the cells looked like mature eggs, the key question was whether they actually were functional egg cells. The team compared their lab-grown eggs with ones from an ovary and found they were the same size and organised their genetic material in similar patterns.

The researchers also showed that their eggs could be fertilised, implanted into a surrogate female and go on to produce live offspring. But only a very small number of their embryos created in this way developed fully to term – just 3.5% of all the embryos they transferred. Importantly though, the team reported that “all the obtained pups grew up normally without evidence of premature death.”

As all good scientists should, the researchers then replicated their experiments to test how robust their technique was. Initially, they used embryonic stem cells in their experiments, but these create an ethical dilemma because an embryo has to be destroyed to produce them.

In 2006, however, another researcher named Shinya Yamanaka and his team found that turning on just four specific genes in normal adult cells gives them all the potential to develop into other cells just like embryonic stem cells, but without the need to destroy a single embryo. The latest research showed that eggs made from these “induced pluripotent stem cells”, or IPSCs, were just as capable of being fertilised and producing healthy adult offspring as embryonic stem cells.

Research challenges

The findings from this study have clear implications for the treatment of human infertility. Being able to manufacture working eggs from regular cells could allow doctors to provide an alternative for women who don’t naturally produce functional eggs. But, as with all research studies like this, there are still some limitations that need to be addressed.

First, the overall success rate of this technique is still low – just 3.5% of all embryos implanted gave rise to live offspring, compared to 30% of those currently used for human IVF treatment. Obviously, this would need to be improved, potentially by using different lab conditions, hormonal treatments or by encasing the stem cells in adult gonadal cells rather than foetal ones. However, improving the efficiency of such complex lab techniques can be very difficult.

Second, this study was conducted in mice and not humans. While the two species are similar in the way their eggs and embryos develop, there are some key differences. So scientists still need to prove they can replicate the technique with human cells.

Finally, while the researchers went to great lengths to show that the eggs, embryos and offspring generated in this study were “normal”, the lab-grown eggs did display altered genetic patterns and unusual placenta growth. This means we need to research the full impact of the techniques used in this study on the long-term health of any offspring generated.

Still, the findings from this study open up new possibilities for the preservation and even restoration of fertility in women. As always these kinds of scientific breakthroughs, while there are clear benefits for many people, they also carry potential ethical implications. But the team at Kyushu University have pushed the boundaries of reproductive biology, opening new avenues that may one day help millions.

Why Stress Impacts Infertility More Than You May Think

A major factor that affects fertility health while trying to conceive (TTC) is stress. Although for most stress may not be the only reason why we aren’t conceiving, it certainly can have a significant impact on our chances of becoming pregnant.

Don’t be surprised, when you tell people you’re having trouble conceiving, if their response is something along the lines of “It will happen when you stop trying.”

There are cases where that is true. Couples may try for months with no success, then decide to take a break, and all of a sudden they’re pregnant. Removing the stress that we put on ourselves, especially the stress of trying to get pregnant, can greatly improve our fertility.

Stress can come from many directions. It can come from work, home, marriage, parents, finances, and more. And when we add the stress of trying to conceive that’s the cherry on top of the already over-iced cake.

Every one of those stressors can have a major impact on our fertility. When we are stressed, we aren’t practicing good self-care.

We typically aren’t eating a balanced diet. We might be eating lots of sugary foods or grabbing lots of meals on the go that aren’t healthy. We don’t get a good night’s sleep because we can’t turn our brains off, as we focus on everything going on in our lives.

We put stress on our marriages because we so badly want to become pregnant. We time our intercourse and take all of the fun and romance out of it.

When we do this, it becomes more like a chore. Then we get that negative pregnancy test at the end of the month, and we pile stress on top of grief and sadness, and the cycle continues over and over again each month.

The bottom line is struggling with a lot of stress while TTC does not lead to success. Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges couples face while dealing with infertility is trying to remove that stress, much of which may be caused by the infertility itself — cruel, isn’t it?

There is some good news though, there are ways to decrease and even eliminate stress from our everyday lives.

1) Try meditation, deep breathing and yoga.

Next time you feel stressed, stop, take a few deep breaths, and notice how quickly you feel relief. Now imagine taking those deep breaths for five to 20 minutes a day, eventually being able to focus on nothing but your breathing.

Can you imagine being that relaxed? With practice it’s possible.

2) Pamper yourself!

Treat yourself to a pedicure, schedule a massage, or plan brunch with the girls.

3) Seek counseling.

Whether with a professional or just a friend, venting is a great form of stress relief.

4) Take a trip!

If finances allow, whether for a week or a day, getting away can be helpful.

5) Take a break.

Although it’s hard, sometimes we just need to take a step back. This is especially true with TTC and fertility treatments — month after month, cycle after cycle, let down after let down.

When this is the case, a good way to get rid of the stress is to just stop and step back. Give your mind, body and soul a break. Your spouse is also more than likely under a tremendous amount of stress at this time too. Don’t forget to consider them as well.

6) Have an attitude of gratitude.

Count your blessings regularly — your house, your job, your health, your spouse, family, friends, your dog, having clean water to drink and food to eat. Always look for the positives! We almost always have something to be grateful for.

Recognizing you are stressed is the key to dealing with it. Take a minute to evaluate your current situation. If you’re unhappy, fatigued, frustrated, or feeling overwhelmed you might be stressed. Some stress is inevitable. Too much stress is harmful.

If you feel like you’re over-stressed, take some steps toward getting yourself healthy again. Practice good self-care regularly.

According to a recent study of 400 women 40 years of age or younger by the University of Louisville, when women felt stressed during their ovulation window, they were 40 percent less likely to conceive that month than months when they were less stressed.

“I hope the results of this study serve as a wake-up call for both physicians and the general public that psychological health and well-being is just as important as other more commonly accepted risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and obesity when trying to conceive,” said Dr. Kira Taylor, Ph.D., a researcher of the study.

The outcome of her study, and her conclusions, clearly support the concept that stress is a very serious risk factor, which should be discussed by treatment providers along with other risk factors.

Eating right, getting a good night’s sleep, exercising, and staying stress-free are all important keys to fertility health and all are highly recommended by doctors while attempting to conceive.

If you and your partner have been having trouble trying to get pregnant, some over-the-counter options are also available. The Stork® OTC is one such option. It uses cervical cap insemination to help sperm bypass the vaginal tract and be placed as close as possible to the opening of the cervix.