Our reproductive health must be supported at any age, but most of us only begin to think about this seriously when planning on starting a family. Our hormones are complex and sophisticated systems working on cyclical rhythms and can be influenced by our environment, what we ingest, food we consume and emotional stress. Everyday practices can assist in removing by-products of hormonal metabolism (e.g. reduce excessive oestrogen), nourish our cells and protect our DNA and provide the nutrients to support our reproductive tissues.
For the ladies:
· Firstly, if you are taking the contraceptive pill you may want to consider supplementing with these nutrients as they may become depleted – zinc, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate and vitamin B3. Also consider extra fibre into your diet to excrete excessive hormones from your bowel.
· A tablespoon of ground linseed (or flaxseed) meal helps to regulate oestrogen metabolism (modulate overly high oestrogen levels), reduce perimenopausal symptoms and provides essential fatty acids for optimum cellular health. Add to muesli, yoghurt, protein shakes or smoothies.
· Evening primrose or borage oil (2000 mg per day) contain GLA which may reduce premenstrual symptoms such as fluid retention and irritability. Another way to reduce this is to minimize an overconsumption of red meat and dairy, this may also help to reduce painful menstruation.
· Consume a low glycaemic index diet – whole, unprocessed foods such as complex carbohydrates, good proteins and LIMIT refined carbohydrates (soft drinks, confectionary, juices, white bread/pasta) as this causes ups and downs in blood sugar and can contribute to insulin resistance. This has a strong link as a contributing factor to polycystic ovarian syndrome. Chromium, vitamin B3, cinnamon and lipoic acid can assist in managing sugar cravings.
· Minimise binge drinking and quit smoking cigarettes – they are both toxic to bodily tissues, and can cause fertility problems later down the track.
· Get regular check-ups by your doctor – pap smears every two years, even if you have received the Gardisil injection – it will not protect you 100% against cervical dysplasia or cancer.
· Practice yoga and meditation – many places offer free or low cost meditation courses, and various gyms have daily yoga classes. This promotes relaxation, enhances libido and sexual health and limits the emotional and mental stress that can have a big impact on hormone levels due to adrenal stress.
· Support your libido – the oral contraceptive pill can have detrimental effects on libido and sex drive, stress and poor diet are also contributing factors. Herbs that can assist in this area are damiana, shatavari and withania – speak to your Naturopath or herbalist for an appropriate prescription or recommendation.
· Women who exercise have a lesser incidence of premenstrual syndrome than sedentary individuals so get moving!
· Consume a rainbow of foods as the colours represent antioxidants! These protect our DNA – our genetic fingerprint that we pass on to our offspring. Consuming lots of colourful fruit and vegetables will have an impact on our cellular health and ensure that we are protecting and nurturing our health which will have positive effects on our future children. (This applies to both men and women)
· Just a note on soy products – consume only fermented, organic, non-genetically modified varieties and limit your soy consumption due to potential anti-thyroid and nutrient binding effects. E.g. have one serving of soy products per day such as tempeh, miso, soy milk (Bonsoy brand is preferred) or tofu.
For the gentlemen:
· Just like the ladies, men will benefit from high antioxidant consumption which is found in colourful fruit and vegetables – have a variety everyday! Broccoli is particularly good for liver function and to promote excretion of hormonal metabolites. Sperm are highly sensitive to free radical damage so limit binge drinking, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs and cigarette smoking.
· Avoid environmental estrogens – as they are a large contributor to disorders of the male reproductive system and hormonal issues. They can be avoided by not heating and eating from plastic takeaway containers or re-using water bottles. If taking your lunch to work, use glass or ceramic containers and BPA free water bottles. Choose meat and eggs that are NOT fed hormones (read the labels – know where your food is being sourced), drink only filtered water, xenoestrogens (environmental estrogens) result in lowered sperm count and lowered testosterone levels.
· Consume legumes and linseeds as they will modulate estrogen levels by preventing the binding of environmental estrogens to receptors – they are also high in fibre to bind and remove estrogens from the gastrointestinal tract.
· Avoid heavy metal toxicity – especially if you work as a tradesman or are exposed to heavy metals (e.g. lead exposure to mechanics and painters, etc) as this results in lowered sperm count and dysfunctional sperm. To help excrete these heavy metals from the body – speak to your Naturopath about a detoxification program, or take a potent antioxidant supplement. Taurine, chlorella, glycine, glutamine, cysteine and alpha-lipoic acid are key nutrients in this detoxification process.
· Support sperm membrane fluidity – by consuming essential fatty acids – we require around 3-6g/day of omega 3 for optimum health. Taking vitamin E alongside this will also help to protect the cellular membrane of the sperm.
· Lycopene is an antioxidant specific to helping male reproductive health and lower the incidence of prostate disease – it is found in cooked tomatoes and must have oil for absorption – a good source is tomato paste mixed in a little extra virgin olive oil.
· Zinc is a key mineral for male hormonal health as it is needed for testosterone production, sperm formation and motility. It also negates the ‘bad’ testosterone pathway (dihydrotestosterone production) which is thought to be responsible for male pattern baldness and prostate enlargement.
· Siberian and Korean ginsengs are Chinese herbs that are associated with improving virility in men, stamina and energy as well as sexual debility. They may increase sperm count and growth of the testes as well as reproductive capacity.