By Dr. Mercola
Did you know that in northern countries, which have dark, cold winters, couples are less likely to conceive during the winter, whereas conception rates peak in the summer?
There are a number of reasons why this association exists, but new research highlights vitamin D as one of the most important variable.
Vitamin D, a steroid hormone that influences virtually every cell in your body and has been positively linked to health conditions ranging from cancer to heart disease, may significantly boost fertility in both men and women.
If You’re Struggling With Infertility, Get Your Vitamin D Levels Checked
Vitamin D is so crucial to health that I urge everyone to make sure their levels are optimized, but if you’ve been dealing with infertility, this is especially important.
A new report has shown that exposure to sunlight boosts fertility in both men and women by increasing their levels of vitamin D, a benefit that appears to work on multiple levels.
As the researchers reported in the European Journal of Endocrinology:
- Among women, vitamin D appears to impact in vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common female endocrine disorder, as well as boost levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulate menstrual cycles and improve the likelihood of successful conception
- In men, vitamin D is essential for the healthy development of the nucleus of the sperm cell, and helps maintain semen quality and sperm count. Vitamin D also increases levels of testosterone, which may boost libido
The researchers state:
“Given the high prevalence of infertility as well as vitamin D insufficiency in otherwise healthy young women and men and the possible role of vitamin D in human reproduction, research might lead to new therapeutic approaches such as vitamin D supplementation in the treatment of female and male reproductive disorders.”
Low Vitamin D Levels Previously Linked to Infertility
This is not the first time the “sunshine vitamin” has been linked to infertility. In 2008, Australian fertility specialist Dr. Anne Clark found almost one-third of the 800 infertile men included in her study had lower than normal levels of vitamin D, (bear in mind here that "normal" does not equal "optimal" -- so by optimal standards, the rate of vitamin D deficiency was likely far higher than one-third) stating that:1
"Vitamin D and folate deficiency are known to be associated with infertility in women, but the outcomes of the screening among men in our study group came as a complete surprise. Men in the study group who agreed to make lifestyle changes and take dietary supplements had surprisingly good fertility outcomes."
In fact, of the 100 men who agreed to make and maintain certain lifestyle changes (quitting smoking, minimizing intake of caffeine and alcohol, weight reduction, along with a course of vitamins and antioxidants) for three months prior to fertility treatment, 11 of them went on to achieve pregnancy naturally, without IVF treatment.
Previous studies, such as one published in The Journal of Nutrition, also found that although vitamin-D-deficient female rats were capable of reproduction, it reduced fertility by an astounding 75 percent, diminished litter sizes by 30 percent, and impaired neonatal growth.2
Interestingly, another study published in November 2009 confirmed that human sperm does in fact have a vitamin D receptor.3 Analysis indicated that vitamin D is produced locally in the sperm, which suggests that vitamin D may be involved in the signaling between cells in the reproductive system. According to the authors, the study revealed "an unexpected significance of this hormone [vitamin D] in the acquisition of fertilizing ability," and the results imply that vitamin D is involved in a variety of sperm signaling pathways.
What Else Might be Impacting Your Fertility?
An estimated 1 in 6 American couples struggle with getting pregnant each year, and there's compelling evidence that lifestyle, diet and environmental exposures are largely to blame. Not only are you exposed to hundreds (if not thousands) of toxins each and every day, but some of the most commonly prescribed drugs, poor diet, and common vitamin deficiencies have also been linked to reduced fertility, just to name a few.
As Iva Keene, author of the Natural Fertility Prescription, stated:
“Conventional IVF and other assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments don’t address root causes of infertility. These root causes include: nutritional deficiencies, toxin exposure, stress, food intolerances, allergies and immune deficiencies. These subtle but critical factors interact synergistically to impact the quality of your eggs and sperm, affecting your ability to conceive and the health of your embryo.
… during the generation and maturation of gamete cells -- sperm and ovum -- that form an embryo [a period of 120 days], everything that you and your partner ingest, inhale or are exposed to will influence the health of your eggs and sperm for better or worse, and the ultimate quality of the genetic building blocks you pass onto your child. This is why it’s crucial to follow a good preconception plan for a minimum of 4 months before conception. A baby is a 50-50 product of his or her parents -- therefore optimizing the quality of eggs and sperm is of paramount importance.”
You can find 10 tips that may help resolve infertility naturally in her past article, but here are a few initial strategies to consider:
- Genetically modified food (GM), especially corn and soy, contain significant concentrations of the herbicide glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), which has been linked to infertility in a number of studies.
- Avoid chemicals as much as possible. Bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, fluoride (in drinking water), MSG, and many, many others have shown negative impacts on your reproductive health.
- Consume a healthy diet, rich in healthy fats and antioxidants, and low in sugar and grains. Insulin resistance is an underlying factor responsible for most chronic disease, and it should come as no surprise that it plays a role in fertility as well. The treatment strategy is to reduce or eliminate grains along with sugars, especially fructose.
- Identify potential gluten intolerance. Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) has been linked to fertility problems in both sexes. In men, it's associated with abnormal sperm, such as lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated celiac disease may also have lower testosterone levels.
- Be aware of electromagnetic fields, as research suggests cell phones may impact sperm quality as well. One study found men who talked on a cell phone for more than four hours a day had the lowest average sperm counts (50 million per milliliter) and the least healthy sperm.4
Are You Ready to Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels?
This is an imperative step for anyone planning a pregnancy, not only for increasing the rate of conception but also for the benefits it offers during pregnancy. Vitamin D deficiency is currently at epidemic proportions in the United States and many other regions around the world, largely because people do not spend enough time in the sun to facilitate this important process of vitamin D production.
So the first step to ensuring you are receiving all the benefits of vitamin D is to find out what your levels are using a 25(OH)D test, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D.
There are two vitamin D tests -- 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D -- but 25(OH)D is the better marker of overall D status. It is this marker that is most strongly associated with overall health, and it is the one you should ask your physician for.. The point of vitamin D testing is, of course, to be sure you are maintaining a therapeutic level of vitamin D in your blood. A few years back, the recommended level was between 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), but more recently the optimal vitamin D level has been raised to 50-70 ng/ml.
To get your levels into the healthy range, sun exposure is the BEST way to optimize your vitamin D levels; exposing a large amount of your skin until it turns the lightest shade of pink, as near to solar noon as possible, is typically necessary to achieve adequate vitamin D production. If sun exposure is not an option, a safe tanning bed (with electronic ballasts rather than magnetic ballasts, to avoid unnecessary exposure to EMF fields) can be used.
As a last resort, a vitamin D3 supplement can be taken orally, but research suggests the average adult needs to take 8,000 IU's of vitamin D per day in order to elevate their levels above 40 ng/ml, which is the absolute minimum for disease prevention.
For more details, be sure to read How to Get Your Vitamin D Within Healthy Ranges.
Infertility can be a challenging condition with multiple contributing factors, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by optimizing your vitamin D levels. It is free if you do it via sun exposure, and inexpensive if you use a safe tanning bed or vitamin D3 supplement. It’s a simple step that can have a profound impact on your health, even if trying to conceive naturally is not your primary goal.