We've answered some FAQs about this sensitive problem.
1. What can women in their 20s do to increase their fertility now so they don't have problems when they try for babies down the track?
They can avoid contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Chlamydia is the most prevalent sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the world and in Australia the incidence has quadrupled in the last 10 years. Chlamydia often causes no symptoms at all, therefore, many women are unaware they have it. If not treated promptly, chlamydia can cause structural problems to the reproductive organs, such as blocked tubes. If the tubes are damaged, IVF is often the only option.
Women also need to look after their health. Women in their 20s are often not health conscious, however poor diet, smoking, high alcohol intake and lack of vegetables can prematurely age the eggs inside their ovaries.
Cigarette smoking can age the ovaries up to 10 years; therefore, a 25 year old woman can have the ovaries of a 35 year old. An unhealthy lifestyle can prematurely age a woman's reproductive organs. We commonly see women in their late 20s with poor egg quality; these women have a typical diet and lifestyle - typical generally means very unhealthy.
2. What are the most common misconceptions about fertility?
Many people believe that infertility only occurs in older women (late 30s, early 40s). We see many women with infertility in their late 20s.
The other misconception is that IVF is always there as a back up if a woman can't fall pregnant. IVF isn't as effective as a lot of people assume; according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the average success rate in 2007 was 17% per cycle. Commonly IVF fails due to poor quality eggs and/or sperm. IVF does nothing to improve the quality of eggs or sperm; only improving a person's overall state of health can achieve that.
3. What advice would you give to a woman who's having trouble falling pregnant?
First she needs to look at her menstrual cycle; if it is irregular or she has very heavy bleeding, or very painful periods, it is likely she has a hormone imbalance and this must be addressed first. A woman needs to find out if she is ovulating. There are several ways of determining this, which are covered in the book 'Infertility - The Hidden Causes' - checking cervical mucus, measuring basal body temperature and there are urine test kits to check ovulation. The woman needs to take a good look at her diet and also her overall state of health.
People often fail to realize that every part of the body is connected, and several health problems can impair fertility - such as thyroid problems, immune problems, digestive problems and nutrient deficiencies.
4. Are there any "fertility super foods"?
No one food can make or break a woman's fertility; it is her day to day diet over the years that determines her ability to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. However, appropriate nutrient-rich foods include vegetables, nuts, seeds and foods rich in essential fatty acids such as oily fish, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, flax seeds and chia seeds. Our hormones are made of fats, therefore, they are an integral part of a fertility diet. One of the most common hormone imbalances resulting in infertility in young women is polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). A major contributing factor is low fat, high carbohydrate diets; meaning diets high in sugar, flour, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and breakfast cereals. In women with PCOS, these foods can inhibit ovulation.
5. Do males need to pay attention to their general health too when it comes to them wanting to father a child?
The health of the male partner is a major determinant of pregnancy success. Men make up half the child - ie. a male provides 50% of the DNA that makes up a child, therefore, his diet and lifestyle will have a huge bearing on not only a successful pregnancy, but also a healthy child. Sperm counts have more than halved in the last 50 years. Sperm quality and quantity have been falling dramatically in recent years. Several researchers believe that male factor infertility is rising faster than female infertility. We regularly see reports of very poor sperm quality in men with poor diets, who eat very little vegetables, lots of junk food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. Luckily, this is quite quick and easy to fix and we see remarkable improvements in men who are willing to clean up their diet and lifestyle.
Therefore, the husbands and boyfriends need to go on a health kick together with their female partner to improve fertility and the likelihood of a healthy baby.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.