Whether you’re seeking professional fertility counseling or would simply like to consider having a family one day soon, there are a number of factors to consider. Yes, fertility drug regimens can increase your chances, but so can maintaining the right kind of good health in both yourself and your partner. Reducing oxidative stress and keeping an eye on reactive oxygen species (ROS) production can actually improve your overall chances of becoming new parents. But what are these seemingly cryptic medical terms and what do they have to do with you? Below, we’ll talk about what you need to know, how these stressors can impact fertility and steps you can take to improve your health.
What exactly are these ROSs? Well, they aren’t species in terms of what we would normally recognize as a plant or animal life form. They’re molecules that, similar to ions, have lost an electron due to chemical reactions during normal metabolism. They’re also known as oxygen radicals or pro-oxidants and the National Institute of Health defines them as:
“Molecules or ions formed by the incomplete one-electron reduction of oxygen. These… include singlet oxygen, superoxides, peroxides, hydroxyl radical and hypochlorous acid. They contribute to the microbicidal activity of phagocytes, regulation of signal transduction and gene expression and oxidative damage to nucleic acids, proteins, and lipids.”
In other words, they fall into the catch-all category of “free radicals” and they aren’t especially good for you. When your body’s ability to regulate them and counteract their nasty effects falls behind the levels of these altered molecules contained in your system, you experience oxidative stress. While this has an impact on all your body’s functions, from brain chemistry to LDL cholesterol levels in your blood, it especially impacts fertility. This is where that oh-so-popular buzzword comes into play. Anti-oxidants, which are derived from food sources are your first line of defense. These molecules quite literally denature ROS molecules and render them harmless. Another source of antioxidants are those your body produces from building blocks contained in foods and beverages. But antioxidants alone are not enough to increase your fertility in an environment teeming with opportunities to tip that critical balance. Monitoring your behavior also becomes critical and avoiding actions or habits that increase oxidative stress are a secondary line of defense against the damaging impacts of free radicals or ROS molecules.
When we talk about keeping a healthy balance to improve fertility, we aren’t just speaking to one sex or the other. Taking steps to reduce oxidative stress in your system is great for both partners, and increases not only the likelihood of pregnancy, but a successful term and a healthy baby as well. Plus, these are easy to incorporate into your daily life, improving how you feel.
A diet rich in fresh, whole fruits and vegetables is one simple way to dramatically reduce ROS presence in your system. By ingesting nutrients found in bright red, yellow, orange and purple fruits or veggies and, of course, getting plenty of cruciferous and dark, leafy greens, you battle oxidative stress on two fronts. First, antioxidants act directly on free radicals in many cases, neutralizing them by supplying that missing electron and preventing damage. Second, they help to build healthy cells in all your body’s systems and boost your body’s filtration and detoxification systems—kidneys, liver and skin. Plus, dark chocolate, tea and red wine in moderation also contain a host of good antioxidants, so be sure to include these foods as well.
Along with your spectrum of fruits and vegetables, be sure to incorporate good fats, mono and polyunsaturated, and kick the bad ones to the curb—hydrogenated, most saturated and trans fats. Select fatty fish, seeds and nuts, avocado, olive oil and hard cheeses to give a boost to your body’s ability to fight free radicals.
That doesn’t necessarily mean lose weight at all costs. It means that you should foster an active lifestyle, make positive food choices, and reinforce healthy decision-making strategies. Losing weight will occur naturally if it needs to under these circumstances, as will gaining weight. That’s right, being fashionably thin may be impeding your quest for fertility. Smoking cigarettes is also one of the habits that contributes to an imbalanced system. If you smoke, make an effort to quit, because it will improve your fertility. For hopeful mothers, its often recommended that you quit smoking at least a year in advance of conception for prenatal health considerations.
While it is true that during the body’s natural process of detoxification the liver produces free radicals, it’s actually remarkably easy to assist in the neutralization of these substances. Oxidative stress will only occur if you are exposed to or ingesting more toxins than your liver can handle and not consuming enough of the nutrients your body needs to balance itself. The key theme here is balance. A healthy individual will have a natural fertility rate. When things become off-kilter—hormonal imbalances, or lifestyle stressors and dietary insufficiencies—infertility occurs. Additional therapies may be investigated after you’ve taken steps to ensure you and your partner are practicing healthy and happy lifestyles.