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Female Infertility

Also indexed as:Infertility, Women's, Fertility, Women's
Making the decision to have children is sometimes easier than getting pregnant. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
Female Infertility: Main Image

About This Condition

Infertility is defined by doctors as the failure to become pregnant after a year of unprotected intercourse.

It can be caused by sex-hormone abnormalities, low thyroid function, endometriosis, scarring of the tubes connecting the ovaries with the uterus, or a host of other factors. Some of the causes of infertility readily respond to natural medicine, while others do not. The specific cause of infertility should always be diagnosed by a physician before considering possible solutions.

Symptoms

For most infertile women, no symptoms accompany the infertility. Some women with symptoms of obesity, acne, and excessive facial hair; heavy, irregular, or absent menstrual periods; or fluid leaking from the breasts could have hormone imbalances that might interfere with fertility.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

The more women smoke, the less likely they are to conceive.1 In fact, women whose mothers smoked during their pregnancy are less likely to conceive compared with those whose mothers were nonsmokers.2Quitting smoking may enhance fertility.

Even moderate drinking of alcoholic beverages by women is linked to an increased risk of infertility in some,3 although not all, research.4 In a preliminary study, there was a greater than 50% reduction in the probability of conception in a menstrual cycle during which participants consumed alcohol. Caffeine appeared to enhance alcohol's negative effect in this study. Women who abstained from alcohol and consumed less than one cup of coffee per day were more than twice as likely to conceive (26.9 pregnancies per 100 menstrual cycles) compared with those who consumed any amount of alcohol and more than one cup of coffee per day (10.5 pregnancies per 100 menstrual cycles).5 Based on this preliminary evidence, women who wish to improve their chances of conception should avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Being excessively overweight or underweight may also contribute to infertility in females.6 Infertile women who are overweight or underweight should consult a physician.

Some conventional medications can interfere with fertility. When in doubt, women taking prescription drugs should consult their physician or pharmacist.

Holistic Options

Acupuncture may be helpful in the treatment of some cases of female infertility due to problems with ovarian function. In a preliminary trial, women who did not ovulate were treated with acupuncture 30 times over three months. Effectiveness was determined by a combination of measures indicating ovulation was returning to normal. Acupuncture treatment resulted in a marked improvement in 35% and slight improvement in 48% of trial participants.7 The beneficial results achieved with acupuncture may be due to alterations in the hormonal messages from the brain to the ovary.8

Auricular (ear) acupuncture has been studied in a preliminary trial and compared with standard hormone therapy for treatment of infertility. In both the acupuncture and hormone therapy groups, 15 out of 45 patients became pregnant. Although the pregnancy rates were similar with either treatment, side effects occurred only in women taking hormones.9 Still, double-blind trials are needed to conclusively determine whether acupuncture is a useful treatment for female infertility.

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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.