An intricate interplay between lifestyle choices and reproductive well-being is undeniable. Yet, as we navigate the complexities of modern existence, reproductive health often takes a backseat. A growing number of reports on infertility impacting both men and women is proof that reproductive health is emerging as a global problem.
Adopting mindful practices that foster and nurture our reproductive health, then, is essential. Lounge spoke to Luke Coutinho, holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach and founder of You Care - All About YOU, to understand the three main focus areas that can impact our reproductive health–Stress, Nutrition and Exercise – along with dos and don’ts that can help us safeguard and enhance our sexual well-being.
Stress can impact reproductive health significantly, and its effects are both physiological and psychological. Coutinho explains how:
- Hormonal imbalance: Stress can disrupt the delicate balance of reproductive hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and cortisol. Cortisol, when elevated over an extended period, can interfere with the production of sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone, leading to irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation (lack of ovulation), and even infertility.
- Menstrual irregularities: Chronic stress may cause irregular or absent menstrual cycles, a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea. This happens because the brain's hypothalamus, which regulates reproductive hormones, may temporarily "shut down" due to chronic stress, leading to disruptions in the menstrual cycle.
- Reduced sperm quality: In men, stress can affect sperm quality, causing reduced sperm count, motility, and even structural abnormalities. Elevated stress levels may also lead to erectile dysfunction and decreased sexual desire.
- Psychological impact: The emotional toll of stress can lead to relationship strain and decreased sexual intimacy, further compounding reproductive difficulties. The fear and anxiety associated with infertility can create a vicious cycle, as these emotions can generate even more stress.
Also read: A guide to making fertility-friendly lifestyle choices
Ways to manage stress
1. Control what you can: Focus on the aspects of your reproductive health that you have control over. This might include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, taking prescribed medications, or following your healthcare provider's advice. Understanding and managing factors within your control can help alleviate stress.
2. Let go of what you can't control: Recognize that some aspects of reproductive health are beyond your control. It is important to accept this reality and not dwell on things you cannot change. This can reduce the emotional burden and stress.
3. Engage in deep breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help signal to your body that it is safe and reduce the physiological stress response. Try practicing deep, slow breaths to calm your nervous system and alleviate stress.
Our diet and the reproductive system are interwoven. Nutrients from foods we eat, such as glucose, have a profound impact on reproductive hormones.
Ways to optimise nutrition
- Weight control: Keep your weight in check. Increasing weight can cause ovular dysfunction in women, while for men, it leads to increased heat around the testicles and body tissue that negatively impacts sperm motility and formation.
- Take supplements: Women should take supplements such as prenatal omega-3 fatty acid vitamins and folic acid. In contrast, men should take multivitamins and Coenzyme Q10, a nutrient that is naturally present in the body and in many foods. It reverses sperm damage
Also read: Oral health and men’s hormonal changes: What you need to know
Exercise is not just a fitness regimen but a powerful catalyst for nurturing and fortifying the delicate intricacies of our reproductive health. It plays a crucial role in keeping the hormones in balance, boosting positive energy, and keeping allied diseases in check. However, there is no one-size-fits-all exercise regime.
Ways to optimise the benefits of exercise
- Workouts should be tailored to individual needs: Coutinho explains, “People have unique needs, preferences, and abilities, so the approach to exercise should be individualized. The key is to keep your workouts holistic, covering all aspects of fitness like strength, stability, balance, mobility, and endurance.” Most men and women, Coutinho observes, overdo cardio, and while it is important, it is equally important to incorporate strength training into your routine. “Building muscle and strength can enhance your overall fitness, supporting your reproductive health indirectly by maintaining healthy body composition and hormonal balance,” he says.
- Balance and continuity are key: Coutinho says that achieving reproductive health is not about intense, strenuous workouts. Instead, it is about maintaining consistency and balance.
- Yoga improves fertility: Yoga is a particularly valuable exercise for enhancing fertility. The amalgamation of controlled movements, breath awareness, and mindfulness in yoga contributes to a unique synergy that positively impacts reproductive well-being. “Certain yoga asanas are believed to provide a gentle massage to the reproductive organs, potentially improving blood circulation to the pelvic area. Additionally, yoga promotes relaxation and reduces stress, both of which are vital for reproductive health,” adds Coutinho.
Some don'ts to adhere to
Coutinho lists down some definite ‘should nots’ for better reproductive health.
- Don't drink excessively: Research shows that drinking affects the hormones the pituitary gland secretes. It also affects the hormones controlling ovarian performance, which might lead to endometrial abnormalities. Coutinho notes, “In men, alcohol can lower testosterone levels and affect sperm production and quality, which can, in turn, impact fertility. Additionally, in women, heavy alcohol consumption during pregnancy can result in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), causing developmental and cognitive issues in the unborn child.”
- Avoid smoking: Smoking can affect reproductive performance in both women and men. It can lead to poor sperm mobility, lower sperm production, and abnormal sperm morphology. Studies have also shown that excessive smoking can increase the chances of erectile dysfunction. For women, smoking can make it tougher to conceive. If you continue to smoke during pregnancy, it can lead to an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, low birth weight, congenital disabilities like cleft palate, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- Don't consume excess caffeine: Caffeine should be consumed in moderation. Too much caffeine can work like a neuron excitator, churning more adrenaline and cortisol in the body. “It can affect the adrenal glands, leading to increased cortisol production and potentially altering the hormonal environment. This impacts menstrual regularity and ovulation, potentially affecting fertility in some individuals,” explains Coutinho.
Shweta Dravid is a self confessed explorer who writes on travel, health, wellness, mindfulness and life truths.
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