12 Reproductive Health Awareness Days for Your Organisations Event Calendar -image

12 Reproductive Health Awareness Days for Your Organisations Event Calendar 

Over the last five years in the UK alone, 1 in 5 employees undergoing fertility treatment left their jobs due to insufficient support from their employers—and a further 1 million women left their workplaces because of debilitating menopausal symptoms. These are just a couple of the stats that highlight the growing importance of workplace reproductive health benefits as an integral part of employee wellbeing.  As the adage goes, knowledge is power and one of the best places to start is ensuring your employees have ample access to educational resources surrounding their reproductive health.  Awareness days offer purposeful opportunities to provide employees with education and celebration over a range of important issues. This can in turn foster your organisation’s culture whilst making your employees feel seen and supported.  This 2024, why not build some of the following key female reproductive health-focused awareness days into your internal events calendar?  2024 Calendar of Reproductive Health Awareness Days 1. International Women’s Day When: March 8th 2024 What: A globally recognised campaign that celebrates women’s achievements social, economic and political achievements whilst raising awareness for gender equality.  2. National Endometriosis Action Month When: March 2024 What: A globally recognised month of action for the 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth who suffer from the reproductive health condition endometriosis.  3. National Infertility Awareness Week  When: April 21st – 27th 2024 What: A UK-focused awareness week highlighting the challenges, mental and physical, faced by those struggling with infertility. 4. Black Maternal Health Week When: April 11th – 17th 2024 What: A globally recognised week to amplify Black female voices and raise awareness for the historically higher maternal mortality rates in Black women.  5. Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week When: 29th – 5th May 2024 What: A global weeklong campaign dedicated to awareness around mental health struggles before, during and after pregnancy.  6. National Women’s Health Week When: May 12th – 15th 2024 What: A UK-focused weeklong campaign encouraging women and girls to make their health, physical and social wellbeing a priority. 7. Fibroids Awareness Month When: July 2024 What: A globally recognised month to raise awareness about uterine fibroids that affect around 2 in 3 women.   8. Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month  When: September 2024 What: A globally recognised month to support those who’ve been diagnosed with or indirectly affected by ovarian cancer.  9. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Month When: September 2024 What: A globally recognised month of action for the 1 in 10 people assigned female at birth who suffer from the reproductive health condition PCOS.  10. Menopause Awareness Month When: October 2024 What: A globally recognised awareness month focused on breaking the stigma surrounding menopause, including World Menopause Day on the 18th of October. 11. Baby Loss Awareness Week When: October 9th – 15th  What: A UK-focused week-long event dedicated to supporting those who have suffered pregnancy or infant loss.  12. National Fertility Awareness Week When: October 30th – 5th November What: A UK-focused weeklong campaign initiated to raise awareness about fertility issues, treatments and reproductive health education.  What next? Embedding reproductive health awareness into an organisation’s event calendar is an imperative step toward fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace culture. The alarming statistics revealing the impact of insufficient support on employee retention underline the urgency of addressing these issues.  By incorporating key awareness days and campaigns, such as International Women’s Day, National Endometriosis Action Month, and Menopause Awareness Month, employers can provide educational resources and celebrate the diverse aspects of female reproductive health. This not only promotes a sense of acknowledgement and support for employees but also contributes to a workplace environment that values the holistic well-being of its people.  At Hertility, we’re shaping the future of the workplace by supporting companies to become Reproductively ResponsibleTM. One way that we do this is through a range of CPD-accredited educational workshops that focus on female fertility and reproductive health. Ultimately, our aim is to change attitudes around reproductive health, both for individuals and in the workplace, and to encourage everyone to be proactive by tracking their reproductive health. We’re calling this the Reproductive Revolution! If you’d like to take proactive steps in this direction in 2024, get in touch – benefits@hertilityhealth.com. 

What are the Five Main Factors that Affect Fertility in Women?-image

What are the Five Main Factors that Affect Fertility in Women?

In this article, we’ll delve into the five main lifestyle factors that play a pivotal role in female fertility, and how you can shape and optimise your lifestyle to support your reproductive health. Quick facts: Understanding female fertility When embarking on your fertility journey, whether it’s trying to conceive for your first or your fifth—planning is everything.  Understanding the various lifestyle factors that can affect your fertility is crucial for both individuals and couples looking to begin their conception journey.   Lots of couples conceive without any issues, but 1 in 6 heterosexual couples face fertility struggles, so if it’s taking longer than you’d hoped, know that you’re not alone.  The earlier you know what’s going on inside your body, the earlier you can take action to support your future fertility goals.  There are lots of different factors that can impact female fertility—including age, lifestyle factors, hormones, reproductive health conditions and environment.  To get pregnant and have a baby, lots of these biological and environmental factors come into play. When one or more of these factors fall out of sync, that’s when you might face difficulties with fertility. Let’s take a look at some of these factors and how you can prepare for your fertility journey. Age and fertility First, let’s explore what fertility is from a biological perspective. Ovulation plays a critical role, marking the release of an egg from the ovary. For a pregnancy to occur, a healthy egg must meet healthy sperm (usually in the fallopian tube) where the egg gets fertilised. Plus, the uterus (womb) must be in optimal condition so the fertilised egg can implant and grow into a healthy baby. But unfortunately, biology often has other plans for us. We hear a lot about the ‘biological clock’ when it comes to women and those assigned female-at-birth (AFAB). This references the deterioration of both the quality and quantity of your eggs over time—known as your ovarian reserve.  Women and those AFAB are born with all the eggs they’ll ever have. Each menstrual cycle, you lose eggs. Once you hit your mid-thirties, this decline increases even more rapidly. Add in hormonal changes as a result and collectively, it reduces your ability to become, and often stay, pregnant. For a pregnancy to occur, you need healthy eggs. So from a biological standpoint, the younger you are, the healthier your eggs will be.  While an Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) test can help you to understand how many eggs you have left, it can’t tell us the quality of the eggs we have. Additionally, after the age of 35, there’s a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications and negative health outcomes for the baby. There’s also a higher risk of miscarriage, high blood pressure, and gestational diabetes. Plus, chromosomal conditions like Down’s syndrome are more common. Despite misconceptions, ageing affects male fertility too. From age 40 onwards, sperm quality and sperm function decrease with significant implications to pregnancies and births including increased time to conception and increased risk of miscarriage. Lifestyle choices and fertility The idea that our fertility is out of our control is somewhat of a myth. Whilst biological and genetic factors play a big role—there’s a lot we can do to support our reproductive health.  Through lifestyle choices, we can impact the quality of our eggs and contribute to a healthier reproductive environment. Eating a well-balanced, nutritionally rich diet, getting regular physical exercise, managing stress, getting enough sleep and stopping or reducing smoking and excess alcohol can contribute to improving your fertility. This is because your lifestyle choices directly impact your hormones, and hormonal balance (involved in regulating your menstrual cycle) is crucial to a successful conception, pregnancy and healthy baby. Let’s take a look at some lifestyle tips that can help take care of your fertility Eat a fertility-friendly diet One of the best things you can do to support your fertility is to focus on your nutrition. Eating a Mediterranean diet—one that’s based on plant foods like fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains with a moderate amount of dairy, fish, meat and eggs—can be really beneficial.  Check out our fertility-friendly meal plan, and fertility nutrition shopping list to support your healthy diet.If you’re trying for a baby and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, taking prenatal supplements like folic acid is important as it can help prevent major birth defects by supporting neural tube development. Get regular physical exercise Getting regular physical exercise is healthy no matter where you are in your fertility journey, but be wary of overexercise. Too much vigorous physical activity can stop ovulation, cause irregular periods or stop them altogether, known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. An absent period is often a sign that something’s not quite right, so it’s worth speaking with a healthcare professional if you’re worried. Limit smoking and alcohol Smoking, alcohol and recreational drug use are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and complications during conception and pregnancy. Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that can disrupt your hormones and impact your fertility. It’s also been linked with early onset menopause. There’s limited evidence to know how vaping affects fertility (although early studies suggest it could affect the ability to implant and result in lower birth weights) but if you’re trying to get pregnant, not vaping is safer than vaping.  The lack of information doesn’t mean it’s safe, but by stopping, you’re being exposed to fewer chemicals. Get help to quit smoking in the UK with the NHS. Excess alcohol consumption is not only associated with hormone imbalances, there is no safe level of alcohol that can be consumed during pregnancy as it can lead to adverse health effects for the baby.  In women and those assigned-female-at-birth, disrupting your hormones can affect your menstrual cycle causing irregular periods which can affect ovulation, reducing your chances of conceiving. As well as its impact on our hormones, drinking and smoking negatively impact our general health which can lead to knock-on impacts on our fertility making it harder to become and stay pregnant, […]

The Ultimate Guide to Fertility and Pregnancy Nutrition-image

The Ultimate Guide to Fertility and Pregnancy Nutrition

Having a healthy diet and active lifestyle is essential for good health at all times, but when you’re trying to conceive or pregnant—it’s even more vital. Here, we’ve laid out everything you need to consider for your nutritional health if you’re starting your conception journey.  Quick facts: Nutrition and fertility During all stages of the conception journey—right from trying to conceive, through to pregnancy and postpartum—nutrition needs to be front and centre for both your health and your baby-to-be.  Questions we frequently hear include ‘which foods increase fertility?’, ‘what are the best foods for pregnancy?’, and ‘what nutrients are needed for pregnancy?’. In this article, we’ll tell all and take a deep dive into everything pregnancy and fertility nutrition. Follow these tips for what to and what not to eat for optimal health during your conception journey. Key nutrients to eat when you’re trying to conceive When trying to conceive, you’ll need a high-nutritional diet. This is because nutrition directly impacts our fertility and can shape the health of your baby during those vital first 9 months of its life.  Whilst there are no specific guidelines for a recommended ‘fertility diet’, the Mediterranean diet offers a great template for the kinds of foods you should be consuming.  This diet is rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It includes smaller amounts of dairy, eggs and lean meat and limits processed and red meats and ultra-processed foods.  Due to the abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the Mediterranean diet, it is rich in antioxidants which have been shown to protect sperm and eggs from DNA damage and oxidative stress.  Diets opposing this way of eating, such as those poor in fruit, veg and dairy, but high in saturated fat, have been associated with an increased risk of pregnancy complications.  Here are some key nutrients and minerals found in the Mediterranian diet that are especially important for pregnancy. Vitamin D How much Vitamin D do I need when trying to conceive? Folic acid and folate If you are currently trying to become pregnant, it is advised to take at least 400 mcg of folic acid supplement every day. You should supplement for 12 weeks before conception and at least three months after conceiving.  It is also a good idea to include food sources of folate in the diet such as dark green leafy veg, avocado, citrus fruit, peas and lentils. Folate (Vitamin B-9) is very important in red blood cell formation and for healthy cell growth. Studies have shown that taking folic acid can greatly reduce neural tube defects in the baby (defects in the brain and the spine). Neural tube defects affect one in 1,000 pregnancies, with 190 babies born with an NTD every year in the UK. Omega-3 fatty acids Omega- 3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are antioxidants that are found in oily fish such as salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines or mackerel. Aim for two portions per week of fish (140g each), one of which should be oily.  Plant-based sources include flax, hemp, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, rapeseed oils, linseed vegetable oils and soya products. Plant-based sources aren’t as rich, so you may want to consider supplementing with 450mg EPA/DHA per daily adult dose of Omega-3 every day if you’re vegetarian or vegan. Avoid taking Omega-3 supplements that contain fish liver, such as cod liver oil. Some benefits of taking Omega-3 fatty acids when trying to conceive are:  Fat plays a crucial role in the production of hormones and is needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. So in addition to omega-3 PUFAs, you should also be focusing on including healthy fats from monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, olives, nuts, avocados and seeds. Monounsaturated fats are associated with improved pregnancy and live birth rates.  Fibre In a study in the US, higher fibre intake was associated with an increased chance of conception. Those who had a higher fibre intake had a 13% higher chance of conceiving, compared with those who had a lower fibre intake. How much fibre should I be eating when trying to conceive? In the UK, it is recommended that we all aim for 30g of fibre per day. The carbs-to-fibre ratio is also extremely important. More carbs than fibre can lead to reduced fertility, whilst more fibre-to-carbs is more beneficial for fertility. Some foods that are high in fibre: Protein Adequate protein intake whilst trying to conceive can positively affect egg and sperm development. To increase your chances of getting pregnant, make sure you and your partner are getting enough daily protein.  The average adult needs around 0.75 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. However, active individuals, especially those doing weightlifting or resistance training, will need to up their intakes.  What foods are high in protein?  Animal meats are high in protein but according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, it found that infertility was 39% more likely in women who ate high intake of animal proteins.  Women who ate plant-based proteins were much less likely to be diagnosed with infertility, linked to a reduced risk of ovulatory infertility. High-protein foods that can help aid fertility include fish, eggs, lentils, beans, tofu, quinoa, chickpeas, yoghurt, seeds and nuts. What’s the best type of protein when trying to get pregnant? The best type of protein when trying to get pregnant is plant-based protein. Including more minimally processed, plant-based sources of protein in the diet and fewer animal sources of protein could improve ovulatory infertility. This doesn’t mean you have to become fully vegan. You can simply limit your consumption of animal proteins and make a conscious effort to consume more plant-based proteins (better for you and the environment). Some plant proteins include chickpeas, lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds and quinoa. Iron and planning for pregnancy Iron is essential for the reproductive system and too little iron can cause anaemia. Women need 14.8mg of iron […]

7 Ways Your Diet Can Help Manage Menopause Symptoms-image

7 Ways Your Diet Can Help Manage Menopause Symptoms

There are several ways to manage the symptoms of menopause through nutrition. The best way for you will depend on your symptoms and preferences. Talk to your Hertility Menopause Nutritionist to get a tailored approach to managing your menopausal experience. Quick facts: Nutrition for menopause symptoms Nutrition and diet can play a big role in managing menopause symptoms. Eating a healthy diet can help to reduce hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and weight gain.  Importantly, it can also reduce your risk of associated health conditions, like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. These can result from low levels of oestrogen postmenopausal.  As people progress through the stages of menopause, it’s common for body weight to fluctuate. There are several ways to manage the symptoms of menopause, including lifestyle changes and hormone replacement therapy. 3 lifestyle tips to help with menopause symptoms Exercising regularly Exercise can help to reduce hot flashes, night sweats, and improve sleep. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. This includes weight training and light cardio activity. Getting enough sleep Getting enough sleep can help to reduce hot flashes and night sweats. Try to create a comfortable sleep space with a separate sheet and duvet. This is in case you need to remove one at night.  Try to keep your room cool and avoid blue light in the hours before bed. You can get some glasses that have blue light reflectors in them. Also, avoid caffeine after midday. Reducing stress and unhealthy habits Stress can worsen the symptoms of menopause. Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation, or spending time in nature. Counselling sessions can also help with stress management. Try to cut back on any unhealthy habits like smoking. Smoking can worsen the symptoms of menopause.  7 ways nutrition can reduce menopause symptoms Healthy eating and exercise may seem obvious when it comes to managing menopause and perimenopausal symptoms. However, approaches to this may vary depending on your symptoms and how much they are affecting your daily life.  Here are some tips for using your diet for menopause symptom management. Try the Mediterranean-style diet The Mediterranean-style diet is a great place to start. Well researched in its positive effects on heart health, managing menopausal symptoms and reducing heart disease risk.  This way of eating is rich in heart-healthy nutrients such as healthy fats and fibre. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans and unsaturated fats such as olive oil and oily fish.  It includes smaller amounts of dairy, eggs and lean meat and limits processed and red meats and ultra-processed foods. Eat more oily fish  Oily fish like trout, sardines, herring, anchovies, mackerel and salmon can help to reduce inflammation that is associated with menopause. The risk of heart disease increases after the menopause due to the decrease in oestrogen which is an important hormone as it works to reduce inflammation in the blood vessels.  Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish are beneficial to heart health and in maintaining normal cholesterol levels. Therefore, taking HRT containing oestrogen and or optimising your diet and lifestyle can lower your increased risk of heart disease that is associated with the menopause and also reduce cholesterol.  Plant-based sources include flax, hemp, chia and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, rapeseed and linseed vegetable oils and soya products such as beans, milk and tofu also contain omega-3’s.  It should be highlighted that plant-based sources are not as rich as a source and should be consumed in addition. Therefore you may consider supplementing if you do not consume oily fish. Eat more pulses and beans Lentils and chickpeas are a great plant-based source of protein, fibre, and iron. They help to maintain energy levels and support healthy weight management. A decrease in oestrogen in menopause impacts where fat is stored and the rate of body fat gain.  Oestrogen increases the storage of fat around our bums and thighs, which is associated with a ‘pear-shaped body’, whereas increased androgens after menopause increase the accumulation of visceral abdominal fat causing weight gain and redistribution of body fat to the middle and around the organs, including our heart.  This is what’s sometimes known as an ‘apple-shaped body’ and in turn can have negative effects on our health.  Resistance and weight-based training are also beneficial for central adiposity – that’s weight found around your tummy.  Try some soya products Soya is a great way of increasing your calcium intake and works well for anyone with diet restrictions. It helps maintain healthy bone density and around 2 to 3 portions of soy per day may reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes.  There is also some evidence that isoflavones improve symptoms of vaginal dryness. Soya beans are the main dietary source of isoflavones. A large glass of soya milk (250ml) will provide approximately 25 mg of isoflavones, but not all soya foods contain isoflavones due to some processing methods removing them.  Isoflavones do not behave like the human hormone oestrogen, therefore you could consider adding in some isoflavones into your diet such as tofu, tempeh, soya milk or yoghurt and edamame beans. Dairy or calcium-fortified alternatives  These provide a wide range of benefits including protein, calcium, vitamin D and probiotics, which are important for our bone health, mood and gut health. During menopause, oestrogen, a hormone that protects and maintains our bone density rapidly declines, increasing our chances of osteoporosis.  50% of women or people assigned female at birth over the age of 50 will suffer a fracture due to poor bone health. Changes to your bone health are silent and may go unnoticed so it’s really important to keep your bones healthy.  It’s essential to live an active lifestyle, including implementing weight-bearing and strength-building exercises to strengthen bones so that you limit your risk of falling and breaking your bones, but also it’s so important to eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Up your intake of […]

Stress and Periods: How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle-image

Stress and Periods: How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle

Stress is bad news, period. It can affect the menstrual cycle, and just about every other bodily process. In this article we’ll cover exactly what stress is, the science behind it, how it can impact our periods, and some top tips for managing it. Quick facts: What is stress? Stress is defined as a state of worry caused by a difficult situation. It’s always been a part of human life and is a fundamental element for our survival.  Stress is a natural part of life and impacts us almost daily. Whilst a small amount of stress can actually be good for us (believe it or not), chronic stress and burnout can end up negatively impacting almost all of our body’s processes—including our menstrual cycles. The bodily changes you feel when you’re stressed are akin to what your ancestors felt when they were running away from life-threatening predators. Except, nowadays, predators take on the shapes of boardrooms, bosses and bills. Stress is classed as a state of ‘disharmony’, disrupting the carefully coordinated balance that your body is consistently fine-tuning. Usually, your body’s reaction to stress is temporary and it’s able to revert to its previous state.   However, it’s increasingly common to be exposed to prolonged periods of stress or several different, unresolved stressors, which cannot be adapted to—resulting in chronic stress. This can feel never-ending and all-encompassing, impacting both our mental and physical health.  This is the type of stress linked to depression, fertility issues and other health problems. The science behind stress The body’s reaction to stress is coordinated by something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). The hypothalamus, in the brain, helps encourage the production of hormones like cortisol aka stress hormone (1). These kickstart the body’s stress response and divert the brain’s attention away from other processes, like coordinating your reproductive system. When we are chronically stressed, our cortisol remains constantly high. This can put us in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, leading to the body being unable to adequately support other bodily functions. What is a ‘normal’ period? To understand how stress may affect your menstrual cycle, it’s important to understand what a ‘normal’ or average cycle looks like. A ‘normal cycle’ can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days, depending on the individual.   A one-off longer or shorter cycle is still considered normal, but if yours are consistently irregular, it’s worth getting checked out as they could be caused by an underlying health condition, such as PCOS. Can stress affect your period? Stress can affect your period in many different ways. This is because your menstrual cycle and your body’s response to stress are both coordinated by the same part of the brain—the hypothalamus. If you have high cortisol it can disrupt the hypothalamus, disrupting the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).  GnRH controls the production and regulation of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH), two hormones incredibly important for the regulation of the menstrual cycle.  If FSH and LH become disrupted, you’re likely to experience disruptions to ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity. This can also disrupt sexual desire and arousal. One study found that women experiencing high levels of stress showed lower levels of sexual desire, linked to elevated cortisol levels. Can stress delay your period? Elevated cortisol levels as a result of stress can effectively delay ovulation by blocking the release of LH. Without a surge in LH, you won’t ovulate. This can make your cycles longer and potentially heavier. On the flip side, high levels of stress are also associated with shorter cycles. Can stress stop your period? In situations of chronic stress, ovulation can be prevented for long periods of time (known as chronic anovulation), stopping your period altogether. This can be due to psychological stress but also periods of intense exercise or eating disorders. Missing periods due to stress is called functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea. How do I know if stress is the cause of my menstrual cycle changes? Without the analysis of a medical professional or hormone test, it’s not possible to know for certain that stress is the cause of your menstrual cycle changes.  Lifestyle factors often work in tandem. Changes to your cycle may be because of a handful of interacting factors. That being said, there are steps you can take to get a better idea of whether stress could be behind your period irregularities.  Tracking your periods and symptoms, either with a period tracking app or just using a calendar or diary can help you understand if stress is linked to your cycle. Make a note of how irregular or regular your periods are and any symptoms like pain, acne and how you’re feeling emotionally, including stress.  You can also take our Online Health Assessment. Our assessment analyses your biometrics, medical history, periods and lifestyle factors, to calculate your risk profile and help determine the cause of your symptoms. By looking at the pattern between your menstrual cycle and stress levels, you should be able to spot if there’s any obvious link. Even if they aren’t linked, just being able to rule out stress as the cause of your period troubles is helpful—you’ll then at least know to direct your attention elsewhere. If you are under stress consistently, it may be difficult to pinpoint that this is what’s causing your irregular cycles. The best way to establish what is going on with your cycles is to look at your hormone health – you can do this using our tailored at-home Hormone and Fertility Test. By looking at hormones such as testosterone and thyroid-stimulating hormone, we can eliminate other things which can affect your cycle, such as PCOS or abnormal thyroid function. How can we manage stress? Although experiencing stress might not feel great in the moment, it does serve an important purpose and actually, in small doses, it’s a powerful motivator, helping us to work harder and achieve our goals.  Although our modern-day stressors might not be as dangerous as the threats facing our ancestors, they do still present […]

Hormones and Smoking: How is it Affecting Your Health?-image

Hormones and Smoking: How is it Affecting Your Health?

Can smoking cause hormonal imbalances? Just like the negative consequences to heart and lung health, smoking can also negatively impact our reproductive health. Read on to find out.  Quick facts: How smoking affects the body It’s a well-known fact that smoking can have a negative impact on health, with both active and passive smoking being associated with multiple forms of cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Despite this, in the UK, as of 2019, 28% of men and 22% of women aged between 25 and 34 years are current smokers, according to published health data in England (1)—and a whopping 175 million people assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) smoke worldwide. But whilst smoking’s effects on the heart and lungs are fairly common knowledge, fewer people are aware that it can also influence the body’s hormones. But how exactly are hormones and smoking linked? In this article we’ll look at: Does smoking affect hormones? Despite the lack of public awareness, there is plenty of research that shows how smoking can impact and even wreak havoc on our hormonal health. The chemical components of cigarette and cigar smoke can disrupt the normal functioning of our bodily systems, including the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a network of glands which influence the production, secretion and regulation of hormones throughout the body, such as the hypothalamus, thyroid, adrenal gland, and even the ovaries.  This disruption might lead to lasting effects on all kinds of hormonally regulated processes, including sexual function and reproductive potential, our metabolism and even our sleep.  As mentioned, both active and passive smoking (also known as second-hand smoking) can cause these nasty effects, with some research even indicating that prolonged exposure and inhalation of cigarette smoke can even affect the onset of menopause (3). There are over 4,000 substances in cigarettes that display reproductive toxicity. How does smoking affect different hormones? Smoking has been linked to abnormal changes and fluctuations in various hormone levels, including: Let’s take a look at each of these in detail. Smoking and testosterone Studies have consistently shown that smoking increases testosterone in AFAB individuals. Those who smoke have been found to have higher serum testosterone levels in their blood than those who don’t (4).  This is because smoking is inherently pro-androgenic, meaning it has a positive effect on androgen hormones like testosterone. Increased testosterone levels can bring on side effects such as excess body hair growth (hirsutism), acne, greasy hair and skin, irregular periods and low libido. The main reason for smoking’s pro-androgenic effects lies with nicotine. As tobacco is metabolised, the nicotine within it produces a compound known as cotinine, which inhibits testosterone breakdown (17). However, it’s interesting to note that similar studies performed on ageing men have indicated that, over a long enough timespan, smoking can reduce testosterone levels in those assigned-male-at-birth (AMAB) (16). Smoking and oestrogen As well as being pro-androgenic, smoking is also anti-oestrogenic, which means it has a negative effect on oestrogen levels. Studies have shown that women who smoke have  lower progesterone and oestrogen levels in both their blood and follicular fluid (the fluid which surrounds the developing egg, important for egg growth) (2,5).  Smoking even affects the conversion of androstenedione to oestradiol by cells within the eggs (2). This switch is mainly driven by the effects smoking has on the production of these hormones.  As well as negatively affecting oestrogen production and metabolism by your liver, smoking increases the levels of a hormone called sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) which binds to oestrogen—preventing it from performing its essential functions around the body. Symptoms of low oestrogen can include low libido, fatigue, and negative mood changes. Smoking and gonadotropins Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) are both gonadotropin hormones. These are hormones released from the hypothalamus (a part of the brain) to regulate the menstrual cycle and induce ovulation.  Unsurprisingly, smoking has been found to affect gonadotropin levels as well. Studies have shown that habitual smokers tend to have higher levels of FSH and LH in the first half of their cycle and during their periods, than non-smokers (6,7).  Disrupted FSH and LH levels can lead to problems with both fertility and menopause. Smoking and Anti-müllerian hormone Anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) is produced by granulosa cells within the ovarian follicles. It’s used as an indicator of ovarian reserve, sometimes referred to as egg count. Research has shown that smokers generally have lower AMH levels. One study in particular found that current smokers have  44% lower AMH levels than non-smokers (8), indicating that smoking can be directly toxic to the eggs within the ovaries. Another study showed that, in smokers, the fluid produced by the granulosa cells (known as follicular fluid) also contains increased levels of harmful nicotine toxins (9). Chemicals derived from cigarettes and smoking have even been detected in the cervical mucus (10). Smoking and thyroid hormones Cigarette smoke has been found to have both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on thyroid hormones. Both active and passive smoking have been linked to decreased levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and increased levels of free thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) (11,12).  Because the thyroid gland plays an important role in the regulation of many different bodily functions such as growth and development, disruption in thyroid level can have huge knock on effects all around the body. The thyroid can also affect fertility.Smoking is consequently a known risk factor for thyroid-related disorders, especially Grave’s disease and Goitres (13,14). Smoking and prolactin Prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and is most commonly associated with milk production and altering breast physiology, but it also has a number of different roles throughout the body.  Chronic long-term smoking has been found to be associated with decreased prolactin levels (14), which can cause irregular menstrual cycles, difficulty breastfeeding and negative mood changes. Smoking and cortisol Smoking has also been linked to increased cortisol levels in the blood. It also affects hormones involved in the production of cortisol (2), which can disrupt the regulation of its levels. Cortisol […]

Alcohol and Fertility: Drinking While Trying to Conceive-image

Alcohol and Fertility: Drinking While Trying to Conceive

If you’re trying to conceive, or thinking about trying soon, it’s a good idea to get clued up about how alcohol can impact fertility and your chances of conception. Read on to find out how drinking can impact female and male fertility. Quick facts: The relationship between alcohol and hormones If you’re trying to conceive, or beginning to think about starting a family, chances are you’ve probably recommended to stop, or at least cut down, drinking alcohol…  Not exactly the news most of us want to hear, but unfortunately alcohol consumption can affect our fertility (in both women and men) and therefore, our chances of conceiving. Although all alcohol can affect fertility, new research has indicated that in those assigned-female-at-birth, both the timing of alcohol consumption, in relation to where we are at in our menstrual cycles, and the quantity we drink can determine how bad it’s negative effects are.  But do we need to cut the vino out all together? Or is there space to find a happy medium? Let’s take a look at exactly how alcohol and fertility are linked and what the effects of drinking are at different stages of the menstrual cycle and conception. Can you drink while trying to get pregnant? Any form of alcohol consumption may impact our ability to get, and stay, pregnant.  Less is known about alcohol’s effects on fertility and chances of conception than about its harmful effect on pregnancy, but overall the NHS currently recommends that alcohol should be avoided by women who are actively trying to conceive. This is to keep any possible risks to a baby that might be conceived to a minimum, as we may not know that we’re pregnant until a few, or more, weeks into a pregnancy.  If we’re drinking and do become pregnant, we may risk unintentionally exposing the baby to alcohol. Since there is no known safe level of alcohol for a developing foetus, the safest approach is to avoid it.  Additionally, as we mentioned before, alcohol will also affect our ability to get pregnant in the first place—so if we’re trying to conceive, it’s also best to reduce our drinking to a minimum. Does alcohol affect fertility? In short yes—any form of alcohol consumption has been found to affect both female and male fertility. Some studies suggest that even low to moderate alcohol consumption, which is classed as two drinks or less per day, can be associated with reduced fertility in both men and women.  However, there have been some recent studies that suggest in women, timing of alcohol consumption can play a part in determining its negative effects on our ability to conceive. Let’s take a look at female fertility and alcohol a little more closely… Female fertility and alcohol A recently published study by the University of Louisville was the first of its kind to investigate alcohol consumption’s effects on fertility during different phases of the menstrual cycle. Whilst researchers observed a significant association between heavy drinking and a reduced likelihood of conceiving at all points during the menstrual cycle, light to moderate drinking varied significantly.  The study found that when participants drank in moderation, around 3-6 alcoholic drinks per week, during the luteal phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle, after ovulation), it resulted in a 44% reduction in the chance of conceiving compared to non-drinkers.  However, during the follicular phase (the second half of the menstrual cycle, before ovulation) and during ovulation, only heavy drinking was associated with a reduced chance of conceiving. Light and moderate drinking during these phases did not impact the participants chances of conceiving compared to non-drinkers. So what does this mean for the average person? Basically, if we’re in the first two weeks of our cycle and we’re trying to conceive—it might be safe to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner. However, everyone’s cycle is different and we will all ovulate at different times—literally no cycle is exactly the same. If we’re trying to conceive and in the last two weeks of our cycle, it’s probably best to steer clear of the booze all together. Why does alcohol affect fertility? Although the exact cause isn’t known, it’s been suggested that alcohol disrupts hormone levels, which in turn, can have knock-on-implications for our fertility.  Studies have shown that alcohol intake is associated with an increase in levels of oestrogen, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and  Luteinising Hormone (LH), in addition to a decreasing our progesterone levels. In those assigned-female-at-birth, disrupting just one of these sex hormones can disrupt the menstrual cycle and our ability to ovulate, thus reducing our chances of conceiving.  High oestrogen levels can also lower the chance of implantation—which is when a fertilised egg or developing embryo attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. If implantation fails, no pregnancy will occur.  Aside from its effect on our hormone levels, alcohol also negatively impacts our general health—which can lead to knock-on impacts for our fertility, making it harder to get, and stay pregnant, in addition to raising the risk for foetal conditions and other birth complications. Male fertility and alcohol Despite most conversations centering on female responsibility when it comes to fertility—it’s important to remember that male fertility is also affected by alcohol consumption.  Similarly to those assigned female-at-birth, alcohol also disrupts the normal balance of hormones in men—including reducing testosterone levels, which again becomes more pronounced with heavy drinking over a longer period. Does alcohol affect sperm? A study of 1221 men in Denmark found that sperm quality decreased in men who reported drinking more than 5 units (around 3 small beers) of alcohol a week. This decrease in sperm quality became even more pronounced in men who reported drinking over 25 units of alcohol in a typical week (around 10 pints of beer). Can a man drink alcohol while trying to conceive? Although alcohol intake in men when trying to conceive will not harm any possible pregnancy that may occur, as mentioned above, it will likely affect […]

16 Lifestyle Tips to Help Boost Fertility-image

16 Lifestyle Tips to Help Boost Fertility

If you’re looking to conceive soon, nutrition can have a big impact on your fertility and reproductive health—both positive and negative. Get to know which foods are natural fertility boosters and valuable lifestyle changes that can improve your journey to conception. Quick facts: Why are diet and nutrition important for fertility? As the saying goes, we really are what we eat. Our diets and nutrition impact almost all of our body’s processes—all the way from our metabolism to our mental health. But one often overlooked area is how food can impact our fertility. When trying to conceive, you’ll need a high-nutritional diet. This can increase your chances of conceiving and help to create a healthy home for your baby during their vital first 9 months. Even making small changes to your lifestyle and nutrition choices can go a long way. Here are 16 evidence-backed tips from our Registered Nurse and Associate Nutritionist, Emily Moreton to help prepare your body for pregnancy. You can also book an appointment with a Hertility Nutritionist for a personalised plan. 1. Follow a Mediterranean-style diet Whilst there are no specific guidelines for a recommended fertility diet, the Mediterranean diet, is associated with improved fertility in both women and men. Known for its abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants. These have been shown to protect sperm and eggs from DNA damage and oxidative stress. A study involving 15,396 participants, which looked at how different diets affect fertility, showed that sticking to the Mediterranean diet improved birth and pregnancy rates significantly, with a 91% higher chance of success. This diet is also high in fibre and rich in vitamins and minerals that support fertility and pregnancy. Think lots of veg, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, pulses, olive oils, avocados and oily fish. 2. Eats foods high in antioxidants Eating a diet rich in a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables can provide a wide range of antioxidants that support fertility and overall health. Think making a rainbow on your plate. Foods high in antioxidants include fruits (such as berries, apples, and citrus fruits), vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and carrots), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 3. Increase intake of plant-based proteins In general, you should focus on lowering your intake of red and processed animal meats and focus on adding plant-based protein sources into your diet.  This can include fertility-friendly and micronutrient-rich beans, lentils, peas, soya beans, and chickpeas. Plant-based protein sources help to support healthy ovulation and are high in antioxidants and nutrients, such as iron and fibre, which are really important during pregnancy.  Low iron levels can add to your tiredness or even could cause iron deficiency anaemia. Iron deficiency during pregnancy can increase the risk of pregnancy complications. It is also important to keep your iron uptake up postpartum too, to replace any iron lost at birth.  You’ll also find some protein in whole grains such as quinoa. If you are opting for plant-based meat alternatives (‘fake meats’), choose a brand that is not ultra-processed and low in additives. 4. Cut down on sugar Cutting down on sugar can be beneficial for fertility. This is because too much sugar can lead to insulin sensitivity, disrupting certain reproductive hormones and causing inflammation. Insulin spikes have been associated with poor egg quality and sperm production and could affect implantation. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2018 found that women who consumed two or more servings of sugary drinks per day had a 50% higher risk of ovulatory infertility compared to those who consumed less than one serving per month. Reducing sugar intake and opting for a balanced, low-glycemic index diet can help improve insulin sensitivity and overall reproductive health. Limit sugary foods and high glycemic index foods such as cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, energy drinks, sweets, white rice and white bread. Check the labels for high sugar content. 5. Take pregnancy supplements Folic acid Folic acid is an important supplement during pregnancy because it decreases a risk called neural tube defects. This is a defect that can occur during the development of the baby’s brain and spine.  If you are currently trying to become pregnant, it is advised to take at least 400 mcg of folic acid supplement every day for 12 weeks before conception and for at least three months after conceiving. Some people are at an increased risk of their baby having a neural tube defect and so it is advisable to speak with your doctor as they may recommend and prescribe you a higher dose.  Prenatal vitamins Prenatal vitamins typically contain a combination of various vitamins and minerals that are important for both maternal and foetal health. While folic acid is a main component of prenatal vitamins, these vitamins usually contain a range of other nutrients as well.  These include iron, calcium, vitamin D and other essential vitamins and minerals needed to support maternal health and the baby’s development during pregnancy. Tip: More often than not, doctors will suggest taking prenatal vitamins instead of just folic acid supplements because they cover a wider range of needs for both mum and baby’s health. However, it’s essential to consult with your doctor to determine the most appropriate approach for your unique needs.  6. Take Vitamin D for pregnancy  A previous study has shown that both men’s and women’s vitamin D levels impact fertility and IVF results. It showed that Vitamin D supplements reduce risks for mums and babies, might prevent bone problems, and play a role in foetal development.  How much Vitamin D should I take? It’s recommended that all adults at all stages of life should supplement with 10 micrograms a day of Vitamin D, in the UK. This is particularly true if you are trying to conceive, or you are pregnant—so be sure to supplement right through from the preconception period to breastfeeding.  Prenatal vitamins often contain vitamin D, but the amount can vary […]