The menstrual cycle… it gets a bad rap for causing monstruous moods and terrible pains, but I’m sure I don’t need to remind those of you struggling with fertility it is what makes the creation of new life possible. These hormonal and physical changes are normal as the uterus prepares for pregnancy.
The menstrual cycle has four phases (shown below) and on average a complete cycle lasts for 28 days – however each woman’s experience is unique to her.
The Four Phases:
Menstrual (1-5 days)
The lining of the uterus sheds, causing bleeding.
Follicular (6-14 days)
The ovary produces 5-20 follicles, which stimulates the uterus lining to thicken.
Ovulatory (15-17 days)
The ovary releases an egg (ovulation).
Luteal (18-28 days)
After ovulation hormones (progesterone and oestrogen) are released to maintain the thickened uterus lining. A fertilised egg will implant in the lining and this stimulates further hormones to be produced to allow for pregnancy. If not, the cycle repeats, starting over with the Menstrual stage.
Your cycle can be influenced by a multitude of factors including those you can and can’t control. If you’re planning on getting pregnant naturally it’s good to know what some of these are.
Factors that affect your fertility:
With age, irregular ovulation can occur. One study found women aged 19-26 years were twice as likely to conceive than those aged 35-39 years.
Alcohol can cause a rise in oestrogen levels which is incompatible with egg development and ovulation. This is simply one of the ways alcohol reduces fertility rates.
Like alcohol, excess body fat can elevate oestrogen levels which puts the hormones out of balance. The result can be a reduced capacity to ovulate. Overweight or obese women are also more likely to have irregular periods and ovulation, impacting their chances to conceive. Similarly, being underweight can cause can imbalance in hormones, impairing ovary function. An emphasis on maintaining a healthy weight is considered one of the best practices you can undertake to increase your chances of falling pregnant.
BOOK NOW TO IMPROVE YOUR FERTILITY WITH HELP FROM WOMEN’S NUTRITION
Adopting healthy eating patterns can prevent ovary dysfunction which can negatively affect ovulation and thus fertility. Research has shown the following to influence fertility in some way:
- Plant-based proteins – when compared to animal sources, consumption of vegetable protein can reduce infertility risks by 50%. In particular, red meats are seen to harm ovulation health more than white meats e.g. chicken and turkey (1).
- Low glycaemic index (Low GI) carbohydrates – Glycaemic index measures how quickly carbohydrates are digested into the bloodstream. Low GI foods enter at a slow, steady rate whereas high GI foods can cause a spike in blood sugars. GI becomes particularly important if you currently have or have a history of gestational diabetes. The research suggests eating more low GI carbohydrates has a beneficial effect the health of your Ovaries (2).
- Monounsaturated fats – Studies show consumption of trans fatty acids- found largely in processed and commercial foods- can impair ovary function. In contrast, mono- and polyunsaturated fats are not seen as harmful (3).
- Full fat dairy – dairy foods with a full-fat profile are seen to reduce risks of ovulatory infertility. Dairy provides ample nutrients and protein. To ensure the most benefit, choose full cream milk over skim milk. This goes for cheeses and yoghurt too (4).
- Folate – you might recognise folate as an essential nutrient in the conception phases of pregnancy, known to reduce neural tube defects. Recent evidence also suggests it might have an important role in ovulation too (5).
These lifestyle changes help maintain ovulatory health, ensuring you and your partner greater chances of fertility.
If it’s all too confusing why not speak to Women’s Nutrition today to get started improving your fertility!