Guest blog by Monika Friedman, a Fertility Coach.
When I found out I had very low AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone measuring the remaining eggs you have) and diminished ovarian reserve at the age of 29, I freaked out and hit rock bottom (one of several during my 5 years of trying to conceive). But then I turned that all around and followed three things to improve my fertility: Mindset, Lifestyle, & Fertility tactics. These 3 areas are now the ingredients of my Full Circle Fertility Method and have not only worked for myself but for so many women I’ve helped over the years to get closer to their dream of becoming a mother. I’m sharing these with you today.
- Your Mindset and Stress Levels
Stress and fertility are not friends. You probably experienced the inherent stress that infertility and miscarriages bring up, so I encourage you to limit your overall stress as much as possible as it can significantly impact fertility. I know this is hard to do and you probably hear this all the time. I’ll walk you through ways you can help lower your stress.
It is never too late to calm your nervous system and let it know that you are safe, relaxed, and ready to conceive. The release of cortisol, common in times of stress, sends a message to your brain that you are in physical danger- like that you might get eaten by a lion (because deep in our brains, we are still cavewomen).
Prolonged stress releases so much cortisol that it may suppress and create an imbalance of your reproductive hormones such as luteinizing hormone (LH), which affects ovulation; follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which affects egg growth; and most importantly progesterone, which is crucial for implantation and sustained pregnancy.
So, how can you lower your stress levels on a daily basis?
Try mind-body connection techniques; research has shown that they can increase IVF success rates by 52 percent. These mind-body tools include daily relaxation, visualization, breathing, and yoga.
My favorite technique is a daily visualization of yourself in your safe and happy place. Circle+Bloom’s guided meditation program Reduce Stress to Improve Fertility is a great way to get started. Or one of their tailored programs for specific fertility journeys including IVF & IUI, and FET, or a Natural Cycle.
2. Lifestyle Factors
This has 3 key parts to it – your diet, exercise, and environmental toxins.
Improve Your Diet
When talking about egg health, the focus is on cellular health, the quality of mitochondria (powerhouse of the cells that produce cellular energy to support growth and maintenance and determines if chromosomes in egg cell will split evenly!) as well as lowering oxidative stress on cells! First rule of thumb: give yourself 3 months to improve your egg health; that’s how long follicular genesis (growth path) takes and for hormones to settle.
A balanced diet has been found to stabilize our reproductive hormones, improve egg quality, improve the uterine lining, and lower inflammation.
Think of how you can improve your diet (ex: Mediterranen) and introduce as many fresh, organic, pesticide-free, and wholesome foods as possible while limiting processed, sugary foods, and saturated fats to lower inflammation. We want to aim for a high ratio of protein to support egg growth (up to 80mg/day) as well as monounsaturated fats, such as avocado, nuts, and salmon.
Consider using this time to speak to a health practitioner or nutritionist about taking supplements to boost your fertility. Some common ones to look into with our doctor or nutritionist are:
- CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant and my number one recommendation to lower oxidative stress on egg cells.
- A good prenatal vitamin that includes Folic acid/folate, Vitamin D , Vitamin E , Vitamin B complex
- A good probiotic
- Fish oil
- Oh, and some women swear by Maca (though it’s not everyone’s taste).
Let’s talk about DHEA, a supplement that has risen to popularity among diminished ovarian reserve fertility warriors and has shown to improve IVF outcomes. DHEA is an androgen hormone, along with testosterone, which are needed for follicle stimulation. So, FSH may respond better if you have more balanced levels of androgens. Please speak to your doctor to see what your DHEA levels are at and if a 3-month supplement treatment could be beneficial for your individual circumstances.
If you are actively trying to conceive, this is NOT the time for high-intensity workouts, nailing your marathon time, or working on that six pack. Again, high intensity workouts can have a direct negative impact on our reproductive hormones, specifically LH, FSH, and progesterone.
Instead of HIIT, try walking, biking, swimming, yoga, and Pilates. Basically, work out as though you are already pregnant – and know it is not forever. You’ll be able to go back to your old workout routine after you’ve had your baby. Low impact exercise is key for improving microcirculation in body, i.e. better blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to your ovaries and uterus. Regular exercise has also shown to help fight mitochondrial damage.
EDCs, aka endocrine disrupting chemicals, include parabens, phthalates, and BPA. These chemicals basically mimic our hormones, sending signals that are not supposed to be sent and giving cells the false impression that real estrogen has docked on. False estrogen signals can lead to a number of reproductive and neural development malfunctions. Exposure to EDCs has shown to result in lack of ovulation (anovulation), slower follicle growth, lower antral follicle count and oocyte viability, earlier menopause, lower implantation, and higher miscarriage risk.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals also increase oxidative stress in cells. All of our cells in the body need a balance of antioxidants and pro-oxidants, but when pro-oxidants are higher, it causes oxidation of the cells which leads to faster aging and lower quality, i.e. sperm and egg quality.
Avoid plastics, metals, and pesticides is key. Here are some other key things to keep in-mind:
- Avoid non eco-friendly household cleaning products. Look for more natural options such as Ecover, Meyer’s, and Seventh Generation.
- Avoid synthetic personal care products including lotion, shampoo, and beauty. Opt for more natural, BPA, paraben, and perfume-free brands such as Jason’s, Weleda, Alba, C & The Moon. For make-up, try Glo Skin Beauty.
- Ditch all your old Teflon cookware (pans) as they may still contain un-coated aluminum. Instead invest in non-toxic ones.
- Shop for organic and pesticide/chemical-free vegetables, fruits and meats. While these may be a bit more expensive, the benefits are worth it: think about nourishing your body only with the best foods, like fueling your car with high-grade gas instead of one that damages the engine.
- Counterbalance the oxidative stress with antioxidants. CoQ10, Vitamin C, all kinds of berries (try goji berries), beets, spinach, kale…oh and acai bowls (yum!)
3. Your Fertility Tactics
Low AMH often doesn’t respond well to high stimulation
Understanding the kind of cards you’ve been dealt (though it’s a bitter pill to swallow, I know) gives you the ability to make better decisions. Knowledge is power! So, being diagnosed with low AMH, diminished ovarian reserve, etc. might simply mean that you must adjust your timing and manage your expectations. It might take a lot longer than you would have thought to get pregnant and you might need help in the form of assisted reproductive treatments, such as IUI/IVF. Typically, women with low AMH are low responders to stimulation drugs, so the number of follicles you produce during a treatment cycle might just be 1-2.
Here is my personal mantra for all of you in this situation: You only need one good egg. Not 20 like other women waking up next to you after egg retrieval. Just one good egg!
But that, unfortunately, might take a few more rounds of IVF (and everything that comes with it…) until you get there.
Know that donor eggs are also an option, but my recommendation is to always try your own eggs first- at least once.
So the question is: Is your fertility doctor ready to take you on as a patient and willing to give your body the chance with the right protocol, which may include lower stimulating doses and several tries?
Are you mentally ready for this marathon?
If yes, amazing things can happen. I’ve been there and I trust these can happen to you too.
Low AMH and diminished ovarian reserve do not define your fertility and ability to become a mother. The priority is to improve your egg health and overall fertility, while managing your expectations along the way.
I invite you to download my Ultimate Mind-Body Fertility Guide for more ideas how to take care of your emotions, deal with anxiety and improve fertility.
As a fertility coach Monika provides emotional, lifestyle & practical fertility support for women, helping them to increase their chances of conceiving and manage their emotions along the way.
She’s a 4-time IVF warrior turned fertility coach, mind-body teacher, health & life coach. Her own journey to becoming a mom (1 IVF, 1 naturally conceived baby) has made her passionate about helping make YOUR path easier.