Why it’s not enough to start pre-conception care when you start trying to have a baby…
The final stages of maturation for sperm takes around 65-76 days. The final stages of oocyte (egg) development takes around 100 days. In these stages of development, the quality and overall health of the sperm and egg are affected by anything that both prospective parents do during this time. This is why pre-conception care needs to start as early as 3-4 months before starting to try for a baby.
As prospective parents, BOTH parents need to take responsibility for the health of the DNA that they will be passing on, after all, the child will be inheriting half the DNA from EACH parent. Each parent ultimately has the choice to optimise their overall health to subsequently optimise the health of the sperm or egg they will be providing for conception.
The goal is to be as nutritionally replete and overall healthy as possible during the pre-conception period which is optimally between 3 – 4 months prior to beginning to try to conceive. The reason behind this time frame is that should you be attempting to correct any nutritional insufficiencies or frank deficiencies before conceiving and, depending on your individual levels, it can take up to 3 – 4 months plus to correct a proper deficiency. It can also take that amount of time for a specific nutrient to specifically affect its changes on reproductive health. This is especially true of dietary interventions as there may be digestion, absorption and assimilation issues. Additionally, it may take that amount of time to reduce inflammation that is occurring, or to control a pre-existing infection or health condition such as insulin resistance or low thyroid function which may have adverse effects on reproductive health. These things take time.
Everything you eat, drink, take, are exposed to, or undertake in that time can and will influence fertility in an individual. For example, research suggests that approximately 50% of infertility cases are male factor related. It also shows that up to 80% of cases of male infertility are due to elevated levels of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress negatively affects fertility in numerous ways, including damage to the sperm membrane, the DNA and the motility, which can lead to the inability of the sperm to be able to fertilise an egg. Research also has shown that taking supplemental antioxidants (under the supervision of a well-versed practitioner) for minimum 2-3 months can improve sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology.
On the other side of the fence, you have female factor fertility issues. A few generations of women who have been on the oral contraceptive pill (OCP) for sometimes 10-15 years before deciding they’d like to conceive. Commonly, it can take 6-12 months before their cycles return to a regular cycle (some needing quite a bit of assistance to return at all) and in some people the problems they went on the pill for all those years ago have just been masked. Taking the OCP also causes some key nutrient depletions including folate, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E and the minerals magnesium, selenium and zinc – all essential for reproductive health and pregnancy. Being able to replenish these nutrients before conception again, takes time.
Every individual will be different and that’s why individualised treatment plans are necessary for both of the parents. Naturopathic treatment looks through all of the variables that may be affecting sperm and egg quality and overall fertility, including oxidative stress, stress, immunity, nutrition, allergies and intolerances, mental health, hormones, pre-existing conditions and infections, exercise, lifestyle, toxin and chemical exposure, environmental exposure etc. The importance of individualised treatment has never rung truer than with fertility.
Then it comes down to choosing the right supplementation. Store-bought supplements often contain cheap and poorly absorbable forms of the nutrients that are in them. Seeing a qualified practitioner who is across the differences in these forms is essential to getting the most out of your pre-conception care. For some people genetic variants actually effect the utilisation of the synthetic form of folate - folic acid. Activated and highly bioavailable forms of folate include folinic acid and 5-MTHF. At the very least if your pre-conception supplement contains folic acid, consider discussing your options with a trained practitioner who can point you in the right direction of a pre-conception supplement that contains the activated forms and/or who can test you for the genetic MTHFR variants.
The choices that are made in the lead up to conception are the ones that can ultimately determine the health and quality of the sperm and egg needed for conception and the continuous health of the body that will be the sole source of nourishment to grow a tiny human. These choices are the ones you can control, this is where you can optimise the outcome.
*Information not intended for diagnosis, always see a health professional for a consultation before starting any supplementation.