Lifestyle factors are our habits and ways of living and can influence our overall health, well-being, and fertility. Developing healthy habits makes a big difference to your overall health and fertility health. Medical conditions that may affect your ability to get pregnant might be beyond your control, but you can take control of some lifestyle factors known to affect fertility such as smoking, alcohol, and caffeine.
Lifestyle and Your Microbiome
The microbiome plays the role of an important mediator of several negative effects of smoking, alcohol, and caffeine intake. Alcohol and smoking deeply modify the microbiome of both the upper and the lower gastrointestinal tract.1 Smoking can cause microbial shifts that change inflammatory signalling and colonic mucin production, all of which can be mechanisms that lead to the development of disease.3
Alcohol consumption may exert effects on the gastric microenvironment and this may, in turn, lead to potential alterations of the gastric microbiota composition. Energy drinks have also been shown to reduce the activity, diversity, and gene expression of bacteria in the gut. These effects can upset the delicate balance of healthy and harmful bacteria in the GI tract.1
Lifestyle and Your Fertility Health
Smoking has several effects on our overall health, and as has been known for a long time, none of those effects is positive. Smoking negatively impacts your fertility health as well. Research reveals that smoking can complicate fertility for both males and females.
In women who smoke, research shows that there may be a decrease in ovarian function and a reduced ovarian reserve. Ovarian reserves are the capacity of the ovary to provide egg cells that are capable of fertilization resulting in a healthy and successful pregnancy. Without a healthy, functioning ovarian reserve, the opportunity for pregnancy is limited.2
As for men, however, research shows that men who smoke tend to have a decreased total sperm count, density, motility, normal morphology (shape and size), semen volume, and fertilizing capacity. This drastically can impact the chance of fertility.2
If you are trying to conceive and are smoking, it is best to reduce your usage if not kick the habit altogether. Here are a few tips on how to stop smoking.
- Keep yourself busy. Whether that means going on a walk, watching a movie, or talking on the phone with a friend, distracting yourself from your nicotine cravings.
- Chew on something. Try eating a healthy snack like carrots or celery to keep your mouth occupied or have a piece of gum.
- Remind yourself of the benefits. Keeping in mind why you are doing this and the positive outcomes that will come out of it will keep you motivated.
- Find a smoking cessation support group. Many workplaces and health organisations offer free support to people trying to quit smoking.
There has been a lot of research and evidence regarding alcohol and our health. When it comes to our fertility health, we know that alcohol has a harmful impact on both men and women that could impact the ability to conceive.
Alcohol contains empty calories – calories with no nutritional benefits – and can contribute to weight gain or unhealthy eating habits. In addition, alcohol may also interfere with the way nutrients are absorbed into the stomach and used by the body. Zinc and vitamin B are important for fertility and alcohol can reduce the absorption of these key vitamins and minerals.2
Good quality egg and sperm production depend on stable blood sugar. Alcohol destabilizes blood sugar and affects the body’s normal balance.2
Alcohol can impair male fertility in different ways by causing impotence, reducing libido, and affecting sperm quality. Alcohol consumption has been linked with many negative side effects such as testicular atrophy, decreased libido, and decreased sperm count.2
After conception, the more you drink the higher the risk for the unborn baby. Research has shown that binge drinking which is classed as more than six units (the equivalent of two glasses of wine) on one occasion can contribute to miscarriage.
- Consider trying some of these tips to reduce your alcohol intake.
- Know the alcohol content of your favourite tipple.
- Check the alcohol content when you are purchasing and go for the lower option.
- When possible, use a smaller glass.
- Understand what a unit of alcohol is – a glass of wine: 3 units, a pint of beer: 2 units. Drink fewer than 6 units per week.
- Plan out alcohol-free days.
- Substitute alcohol with new favourites.
- Find other ways to socialize and relax that aren’t associated with alcohol.
Caffeine is not just in coffee but tea, energy and soft drinks, and even chocolate. Energy drinks have been shown to reduce the activity, diversity, and gene expression of bacteria in the gut. These effects can upset the delicate balance of healthy and harmful bacteria in the GI tract.4
When trying to conceive both men and women should monitor their daily caffeine intake. There is increasing evidence to suggest that high caffeine intake can affect sperm quality and cause DNA damage.2 In one study, women who consumed more than 100 mg of caffeine a day were more likely to experience a miscarriage. The negative effects that are emphasized in recent research are miscarriage, fetal death, and stillbirth.2
- Try these tips to reduce your caffeine intake.
- Reduce daily intake of caffeine to 100mg or less per day which is approximately one cup of coffee.
- Substitute coffee with herbal teas.
- Avoid sports and soft drinks with high caffeine content.
- Drink more water.
- Try substituting fresh air for your caffeine kick. If you need caffeine to help you get through the afternoon, a brisk walk or just some fresh air might be a better alternative.
- The use of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine run a higher risk of infertility or major complications. If your lifestyle includes the use of any of these, consider reducing your intake, or even quitting, as soon as possible to better your chance of fertility. Being aware of a healthy lifestyle and taking the necessary changes required to achieve a healthy lifestyle can greatly impact your chances of fertility.
Trying substituting healthier lifestyle habits like exercise for older less healthy ones. Read about how your Mindset, Movement and Exercise play their parts in the fertility jigsaw.
- The Interaction Between Smoking, Alcohol and the Gut Microbiome1
- Lifestyle Factors and Reproductive Health: Taking Control of Your Fertility2
- Influence of Early Life, Diet, and the Environment on the Microbiome3
- How Does Caffeine Affect Gut Health4