In case you haven’t come across us before, let me tell you a little but about naturopathic doctors. Naturopathic medicine is a licensed profession. Naturopaths must complete an undergraduate degree, complete the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program at an accredited school, and pass North American and Ontario exams. Continuing education is required.
The philosophy of my practice is to support the body in doing what it is naturally meant to do. I believe that this should be first-line treatment for infertility. From a naturopathic perspective, you cannot improve your fertility without improving your overall health. In fact, menstrual cycle patterns can be a sensitive indicator of overall health.
I begin infertility treatment with a holistic assessment. I ask about many areas of my patient’s life in order to find clues as to what may be contributing to infertility. For example, poor sleep can reduce melatonin levels. Supplementing with melatonin appears to improve rates of IVF success.
Menstrual cycle symptoms can provide information about the function of sex hormones. For example, increased premenstrual breast tenderness indicates that the influence of estrogen is too high.
Naturopathic doctors are able to order and interpret lab tests. This includes tests related to sex hormone function, ovarian reserve, semen analysis and more. Specialized tests may also be used, including food sensitivity testing.
Physical exams can reveal information about hormone function. For example, breast underdevelopment, indicated by the size of the areola, can reveal a longstanding deficiency of progesterone.
The results of my assessment determine the treatment plan. Naturopathic treatment of infertility includes nutrition advice, lifestyle changes, nutritional supplements and herbal medicine. These treatments are supported by scientific evidence. Here are some examples.
Nutrition advice – Following a diet high in vegetables and low in snacks increases the likelihood of pregnancy with in vitro fertilization.
Lifestyle changes – Timing intercourse to happen during the couple’s fertile window can resolve some cases of infertility. This can be accomplished by basal body temperature monitoring, use of LH test strips or monitoring changes in cervical mucous.
Nutritional supplements – Taking supplements can impact the quality of egg and sperm cells. Taking fish oil supplements can improve sperm quantity and quality. This may be because of the high concentration of polyunsaturated fats within sperm cells.
Herbal medicine- Ovulatory disturbance is a common cause of infertility. Taking the herb black cohosh has been found to improve the likelihood of ovulation.
Naturopathic and conventional treatment can and should be pursued simultaneously. There are things a naturopathic doctor cannot do that a conventional fertility specialist can. Imaging tests, prescriptions and assisted reproductive technologies for example. I believe that all options should be on the table and none should be excluded based on whether they are ‘natural’ or not. The point is to have a baby, not to win a philosophical debate!
Dr. Andrea Hilborn is a naturopathic doctor in Kingston, Ontario