How to have a more natural IVF cycle

how to have a natural ivf cycle

a guest post by Dr. Fiona McCulloch BSc ND

Although I am a naturopathic doctor, around 30% of my practice involves working with patients who are going through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). You might ask how I became interested in this, as it seems like such an unusual combination.

I began to treat infertility early in my practice 12 years ago with natural medicine, and over time I saw many challenging cases of patients who had gone through traditional fertility treatments before deciding to try the natural route. In many of these patients, natural medicine would be the key to success. And in others, the combination of natural and traditional fertility treatment was the answer.

As such, I became interested in the whole process of what I like to call “integrative fertility”, meaning traditional fertility treatments that are supported by natural methods. I became a physician advisor to IVF.Ca, one of the world’s largest IVF related fertility communities, and I began to notice that patients, when supported well with natural medicine, began to have greater success with their IVF cycles, with more follicles of better quality and greater implantation rates. The patients’ doctors began to notice too, and slowly, over time, I’ve seen more traditional fertility clinics open their minds to natural and nutritional methods to increase IVF success, and science is following suit.

It’s an exciting timemany studies have been released on the beneficial effects of natural methods that help with IVF outcomes, and there are many more to come

Firstly, I’d like to differentiate what I’m going to talk about in this article from what is known as “natural IVF” in conventional fertility medicine.

A natural IVF traditionally involves a medication-free or low-medication IVF cycle: The woman will first go through monitoring, and then egg retrieval without heavy drug stimulation. This results in one egg that is retrieved, which is is then fertilized and allowed to develop. Then, after either 3 or 5 days, the embryo is transferred into the uterus. One benefit of natural IVF is that the lower amounts of medications reduce the impact on egg quality for older women or women with diminished ovarian reserve. The downside is that only one egg is retrieved, meaning that the cycle can result in only one embryo.

On the other hand, I get a lot of patients asking me how to make their IVF cycles more “natural”. These patients are often natural-medicine-oriented, and for various reasons are planning to do a regular stimulated IVF cycle. They want to improve their egg quality, minimize the negative side effects of IVF, and go through their cycle with optimal nutritional status.

Women who are more “natural” in their preferenceswho don’t like taking medication even for a headache, and who have always veered towards using natural medicine for their ailmentsmay feel that IVF is a quantum leap outside of their comfort zone, but there are many good reasons why a woman who would normally prefer natural medicine would need to do IVF.

In some cases, such as severely blocked fallopian tubes, IVF may be the only answer. In other cases, like very serious male factor, it also may be necessary, and there are a variety of other reasons why IVF might be needed. Infertility is a real disease: If you were at risk for a heart attack and required a medical procedure to unblock a crucial artery, would you not do it? Modern medicine does allow us to achieve many outcomes which were not possible in past years. Sometimes, IVF is the path to ending the suffering of infertility. And it’s important to remember, that even if you need IVF, you can still use natural medicine to protect your body, reduce side effects, and most importantly, improve your outcome during a medicated IVF cycle. The combination of IVF and natural medicine is indeed a powerful one.

One of the biggest points I want to make, is that the BEST way to have as natural of an IVF as possible, is to have as few IVFs as possible. Meaning, anything you can do improve your chances of success with IVF will result in less cycles, therefore minimizing the risks, stresses and side effects. So much of what I will focus on involves increasing the natural success rate of IVF, but also on making IVF a more friendly process to all of the natural mamas-to-be out there. The other thing I’d like to mention is that preparation for IVF is of the utmost importance.

Start 3 months ahead of time, if possible, preparing your body with high quality nutrition, supplements and stress reduction techniques. Your eggs go through a development process that lasts more than 6 months before ovulation time, so preparation really makes a difference.

Nine ways you can make your IVF more natural:

1. Get acupuncture treatments

It improves circulation, reduces stress and has been shown in multiple studies1 to increase the success rate of IVF.

I often do weekly acupuncture on my patients for 2 months before the cycle, if possible. During the cycle itself, I’ll typically do 4 acupuncture treatments up until and including the day of embryo transfer. Be sure to see someone highly skilled in acupuncture for fertility as the wrong protocols have actually been shown to decrease IVF success rates. http://www.thefertilesoulcefp.org is a great resource to find a skilled fertility acupuncturist in your area, as is http://www.aborm.org.

2. Take natural antioxidants to protect your follicles2.

A well-known supplement in this category is Coenzyme Q10: It has been found that women with high levels of oxidative stress have lower quality follicles3. Coenzyme Q10 is a major antioxidant that can reduce oxidative stress and improve the function of the mitochondriathe major energy producer of the follicle as it goes through its development during stimulation.

Other supplements that may improve IVF success include myo-inositol and melatonin. There are a variety of others that might be prescribed for you if you visit a naturopathic doctor who specializes in fertility.

3. Take a high quality omega 3 fatty acid

To be as natural as possible, choose one that is ethically fished, and third-party-tested for heavy metals and pesticides. Omega 3 fatty acids improve embryo morphology4 and lower inflammation.

4. Eat a clean and natural diet

A diet that’s full of whole foods, and avoid gluten, dairy and sugar. Eat organic foods whenever possible, especially those from the Dirty Dozen list .

5. Meditate or do yoga

The effects of yoga and meditation can be quite profound on stress, and being in as relaxed of a state as possible may actually improve the outcome of your cycle 5.

6. Avoid environmental estrogens in beauty products, plastics and other harmful chemicals

Check out the EDF’s Toxic Ten http://environmentaldefence.ca/reports/just-beautiful-personal-care-products-pocket-shopping-guide to learn about which beauty products have hormonal effects.

7. Try to keep your life in as normal a state as possible

Continue doing the activities you enjoy, and try not to spend excessive amounts of time Googling during the “two week wait”. Although your life is on hold in a way during your cycle, don’t let it get a hold of YOU. Socialize with supportive friends, laugh, and have fun.

8. Minimize estrogenic risks

High levels of estrogen are produced by the ovary during an IVF cycle, which can disrupt the natural hormonal balance of your body. Although the long-term risks of IVF still need more research and study results on cancer risk in IVF patients are conflicting, many patients are interested in preventing breast and ovarian cancer. Other risks of high estrogen may include increased growth of fibroids, endometriosis, or cysts. Genetic testing is now available for breast cancer genes, such as Estrogenomics by Genova Diagnostics.

Some foods may help to protect you from these risks post-IVF as well: EGCG, found in green tea, may inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells, Calcium D-Glucarate is a supplement that helps eliminate excess estrogen6, and Sulphoraphane, found in broccoli, can help inhibit the expression of estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells7.

**Be aware that taking these supplements is not recommended during the actual IVF cycle as they may interfere with hormonal stimulation. The exception to this is green tea; if you are supervised by a doctor who can ensure that you are taking sufficient amounts of the correct form of folic acid.

9. Protect yourself from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, one of the most well-known risks of IVF

Around 30 percent of patients experience at least a mild case of OHSS. If you are a younger women, or a women with PCOS, be aware that you are at higher risk for OHSS and keep an eye out for the key symptoms of bloating and abdominal pain or nausea, and contact your fertility clinic immediately. A natural method you can use to prevent the dehydration associated with OHSS is to begin drinking coconut water around the time of retrieval, and have moderate amounts of homemade vegetable or organic chicken broth made with natural sea salt.

 

With the combination of great nutrition, and the relaxation techniques mentioned above, your IVF treatment can be an exciting and empowering time for you. You’ll be confident in the knowledge that you’re taking positive, proactive steps to improve your fertility, allowing natural and pharmaceutical medicine to work in harmony for the best possible results.

 

FionaBio: Dr. Fiona McCulloch BSc ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Doctor and the owner of White Lotus Integrative Medicine  in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Fiona is an affiliate of The Fertile Soul, and is involved in writing and research in the world of natural fertility treatments. Her research-based blog includes articles she has published in leading naturopathic journals. Fiona struggled with PCOS herself, and is passionate about natural approaches to reversing reproductive disorders.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Paulus WE, Zhang M, Strehler E, El-Danasouri I, Sterzik K. Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy. Fertil Steril. 2002 Apr;77(4):721-4. 
2 Velthut A, Zilmer M, Zilmer K, Kaart T, Karro H, Salumets A. Elevated blood plasma antioxidant status is favourable for achieving IVF/ICSI pregnancy. Reprod Biomed Online. 2013 Apr;26(4):345-52
 3 Babuška V, Cedíková M, Rajdl D, Racek J, Zech NH, Trefil L, Mocková A, Ulčová-Gallová Z, Novotný Z, Králíčková M. [Comparison of selective oxidative stress parameters in the follicular fluid of infertile women and healthy fertile oocyte donors]. Ceska Gynekol. 2012 Dec;77(6):543-8.
 4 Hammiche F, Vujkovic M, Wijburg W, de Vries JH, Macklon NS, Laven JS, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Increased preconception omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid intake improves embryo morphology. Fertil Steril. 2011 Apr;95(5):1820-3.
 5 An Y, Sun Z, Li L, Zhang Y, Ji H. Relationship between psychological stress and reproductive outcome in women undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment: psychological and neurohormonal assessment. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2013 Jan;30(1):35-41.
 6 Dwivedi C, Heck WJ, Downie AA, Larroya S, Webb TE. Effect of calcium glucarate on beta-glucuronidase activity and glucarate content of certain vegetables and fruits. Biochem Med Metab Biol. 1990;43:83-92.
 7 Ramirez MC, Singletary K. Regulation of estrogen receptor alpha expression in human breast cancer cells by sulforaphane. J Nutr Biochem. 2009;20:195-20.1

 



Donielle Baker

Donielle Baker

owner and editor of Natural Fertility and Wellness at Natural Fertility and Wellness
Donielle is an author, amateur herbalist, lover of real food, and an advocate for natural health. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health, so much so that she is currently taking courses to become a master herbalist. Her personal background includes both infertility and miscarriage and she began this blog in order to share all of the information she found helpful in her journey to healing.
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
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Comments

  1. This is what I have used to get pregnant – three times – despite my PCOS and endometriosis. It’s completely natural. http://www.naprotechnology.com/infertility.htm

    NaProTechnology is 56.7-76.4% more effective than IVF’s 21.2% effectiveness at treating infertility due to endometriosis. It’s 62.5-80% more effective at treating infertility due to PCOS than IVF’s 25.6% effectiveness. And it’s 38.4% more effective for tubal occlusion than IVF’s 27.2%.

    • @Mary, I won’t argue with you there! NaPro technology is very successful! But unfortunately, some women deal with the loss of both fallopian tubes and some couples deal with medical issues that are beyond the scope of healing through natural means. :-) So for this, it means venturing into the world of conventional medicine and wading through not only figuring out what their belief system is on different treatments, but also in figuring out how to protect their bodies and make the treatments as effective as possible.

  2. Approx a year and a half ago I needed knee surgery. This would b the second surgery on my knee…two bucket handle menicus tears 12 years apart. This time I had a signal instead of general anesthesia. I asked for the least amount of antibiotics possible when I found out it was antibiotics or no surgery. Since I couldn’t walk or straighten my leg, it was antibiotics. I took 24 to 36 hours of painkillers as this was how long it took for some pretty severe side effects to kick in. I don’t do well with meds of any kind. I ate tons of soup made with.homemade broth. My husband was cooking and he figured he could make soup, thank goodness. I completely cut sugar out for a couple of weeks. Added extra probiotics and probiotic foods to my diet and prayed. I was completely and positively stressed out over this surgery. I have had 5 surgeries and all but the last one have been totally horrible. When I say I don’t do well with meds I mean I Do Not Do Well with them. This time was different and I am sure it was the.alternative, natural part that helped. That and I was completely involved in what happened to me in the hospital. I asked, begged, promised, did whatever to have things done the way I wanted due to knowing full well what could happen. I stay out of mainstream medicine as much as possible but am so very glad its there when I truly need it.

  3. This is a fabulous article. Thanks for the info. I would love to read more articles discussing this type of information.

    I do have a ? maybe someone could help with…

    I have been consuming grassfed raw milk/butter cultured and regular for about 3 years and have seen tremendous benefit in my health from doing so….

    However, I have also been trying to conceive for a few years and have read articles for raw dairy in preconception and pregnancy…as well as reasons to avoid all dairy prior to pregnancy…….

    Could someone explain if raw dairy causes the same problems as pasteurized dairy when trying to conceive?

    If one avoids dairy totally while trying to conceive…once pregnant is it ok to add the raw dairy back into the diet if one is not allergic as there are so many health benefits….

    I have become a bit confused which side is “right” or if there may be a middle ground. Thanks so much for any insights or further research resources that may discuss this. Thanks again.

    • @Taylor, Ahhh, the dairy debate. ;-)

      My thinking is that for some people it is detrimental to their fertility and for others it is not. It all depends on how our bodies tolerate it, and usually more people tolerate raw milk than pasteurized/conventional milk. I tend to think that for someone dealing with reproductive problems, it might be best to cut it out for a month or two to see if any changes are made. But for someone just trying to get healthy before a pregnancy it probably isn’t that great of a concern.

      • @Donielle,

        Thanks so much for your insights. That make sense. I have been consuming raw dairy and raw butter for a few years as part of my preconception diet….I have been consuming regular cheese about once a week up until a month ago….so I am committing to no regular dairy and trying to focus on only raw cultured dairy, but will consider going dairy free for a time to see if I do better…
        I have struggled with this as grabbing a glass of raw milk is such a great way for me to get high quality nutrients and protein fast….sometimes I am not able to cook,etc…and having that raw milk available has helped me get the protein I am trying to get on a daily basis.
        Anyways, one more ?……If I eliminate all dairy for a time….get pregnant…is it safe to add the raw dairy ,raw cheese, raw butter back into the diet? I really would love to include them in my diet, but don’t want to hurt my chances in conceiving…..or once pregnant….hurt my baby…if I haven’t been consuming it prior to pregnancy…any ideas? Or do you know of resources that discuss these things? Thanks so very much :-)

        • @Taylor, I guess it’s hard to say one way or the other. I mean, if you feel that being dairy free was helpful you might want to be a bit more cautious about adding it back in. And I know for me, I’m always hesitant to change anything during that first trimester or so! But yes, it can be healthy for both mom and baby, so as long as both tolerate it well, I don’t see any problems with adding it back in. (sometimes you can tell if a baby might not tolerate a food well because of much increased activity or hiccups after mom has eaten an offending food. or nausea in the mother – so there are little things you can look out for.

  4. What about FETs? I was very lucky to be successful with my first IVF, and will be returning for a FET in another year. I’m trying to prep my body, and I hope to avoid all medication and just have the transfer. Is there any information or help on this?

    • Basically it will be a lot of what Dr. Fiona McCulloch mentioned above, though you won’t be able to affect egg quality at this point.

      Making sure you’re eating a good fertility diet with plenty of nourishing foods and very little processed foods. http://www.naturalfertilityandwellness.com/start-here

      And of course talk to your RE now and let him/her know what you would like to do (no meds, etc) so that they can help you plan in advance!

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