5 Common Habits That Could Be Messing with Your Fertility

A few simple changes could keep you from inadvertently sabotaging your reproductive health.
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A few simple changes could keep you from inadvertently sabotaging your reproductive health.

The childhood song “Dem Bones” (“The neck bone connected to the head bone . . .”) may not be the most sophisticated explanation of human anatomy, but there is truth in the basic concept—all the systems of our bodies work together in one way or another. So when one system is compromised, others are likely to suffer as well.

This is particularly true of your reproductive system, which performs best when you care for yourself in a variety of ways—even down to your teeth. While most people are aware that smoking and moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can make it difficult to conceive, you may be surprised at these kick-able habits that could hinder conception and, in some cases, a healthy pregnancy.

01. Late-Night Screen Time

People have been messing with their circadian rhythms since the invention of the light bulb. Research shows that altering natural light/dark cycles (say, by using smart phones at night) could affect a woman’s reproductive cycle. When it’s dark, the brain produces melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. According to Medical Daily, Melatonin also has “strong antioxidant properties that protect the egg from free-radical damage.” An inadequate amount of melatonin during pregnancy “has been linked to behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism in young children.” If you can’t abide by a complete “lights out” policy at least an hour before bed, use a feature like iPhone’s “Night Shift” on your devices to ease into some quality shuteye.

02. Skipping Breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day in more ways than one. A study of 60 women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and a normal body mass index (BMI) found that those who consumed a bigger breakfast rather than a bigger dinner experienced a 50% rise in ovulation rate. By taking in more calories earlier in the day, their bodies had less insulin resistance and lower testosterone levels, which improved their fertility, and may also ameliorate other symptoms of PCOS, like “unwanted body hair, oily hair, hair loss and acne.” The so-called “big breakfast diet” could “prevent the development of type-2 diabetes” as well.

03. Skipping Dental Appointments

Didn’t think caring for your pearly whites could be related to your feminine health? Think again. A study at the University of Western Australia in Perth found that “women with gum disease took on average two months longer to conceive than women without gum disease (seven months instead of five),” with “non-Caucasian women [appearing] to be the group most affected.” When the immune system begins to attack periodontitis, or “inflammation around the tooth,” bacteria and plaque get into the bloodstream, and thus travel all over the body. Periodontitis is also “linked to an increased risk of a number of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, respiratory and kidney disease, and also, miscarriage and premature birth.” All the more reason to brush and floss regularly, and keep up those twice-yearly cleanings!

04. Avoiding Full-Fat Dairy Products

A large-scale Harvard study-turned-book (The Fertility Diet) found that “the more low-fat dairy products in a woman's diet, the more trouble she had getting pregnant.” In full-fat products, you get female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are attached to fat. These are literally skimmed off in low-fat varieties, leaving only androgens—male hormones that can hinder ovulation when they are left unbalanced by their female counterparts. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to eat a whole carton of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. According to Walter Willett, M.D., one of the study's authors, gaining weight from overeating “will offset any fertility benefits you might get from full-fat dairy.”

05. Forgetting to Take Your Vitamins

In the same study of over 17,000 married nurses, Dr. Willet notes that participants “who took daily multivitamins containing 400 micrograms of folic acid were 40 percent less likely to experience ovulatory infertility...than women who didn't.” Making sure your body has the nutrients it needs is always a good thing, whether or not you’re trying to conceive. Feeling better may also make you more enthusiastic about working out and making good food choices. Win-win-win.

Infertility affects one in eight women and one in ten men, but maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. The more we know, the better care we can take of ourselves and our families. So get some sleep, have your vitamins with your breakfast, and don’t forget to brush your teeth after dessert.

Photo Credit: Horace and Mae