Infertility is a widespread and devastating condition that affects approximately 19% of women in the United States. In general, infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a baby after one year of unprotected sex.

The process of conception is intricate and involves multiple steps. First, an egg must be released from one of the ovaries. Next, a sperm must travel through the cervix and uterus to the fallopian tube, where it can fertilize the egg. The fertilized egg, now called an embryo, must then journey through the fallopian tube and implant itself in the uterus wall.

Infertility can result from issues at any stage of this process, and sometimes there may be problems in multiple areas, making it challenging to identify the root cause.

While infertility is often associated with women, male factor infertility should not be overlooked. Male infertility accounts for 20-30% of infertility cases, and it contributes to infertility in about 50% of cases overall.

A functional medicine approach to infertility enables practitioners to delve deeper and uncover the underlying causes. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of both the female and male reproductive systems and overall health, effective measures can be taken to promote healing and boost fertility.

Signs & Symptoms of Infertility

The primary sign and symptom of infertility in both men and women is the inability to conceive a child.

For women, there may be additional signs of hormonal imbalances or menstrual irregularities, which can contribute to infertility. For instance, unusually long or short menstrual cycles or unpredictable cycles may indicate irregular ovulation.

In men, hormone imbalances can also manifest as issues with sexual function or decreased sexual desire, abnormal breast growth, reduced facial or body hair, pain or swelling in the testicles, or varicocele.

Possible Causes of Infertility

Infertility in women can be caused by dysfunction in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or uterus, while male infertility is often related to sperm issues.

Some common causes of female infertility include failure to ovulate (e.g., PCOS, DOR, POI), hormonal dysregulation, hypothalamic dysfunction, fallopian tube blockage, and uterine fibroids.

Male infertility may be attributed to genetic or chromosomal disorders, hormonal imbalances, environmental/chemical exposures, and lifestyle factors.

Functional Medicine Labs for Infertility

Functional medicine offers valuable diagnostic tools for exploring the root causes of infertility.

Some key tests include:

  • DUTCH Cycle Mapping Test: This dry urine test provides essential insights into female hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle, enabling a comprehensive view of hormone imbalances.

  • Comprehensive Stool Test (GI-MAP): Assessing gut health is crucial because it can reveal inflammation and oxidative stress, which may impact hormone balance and overall health.

  • Comprehensive Thyroid Testing: Evaluating thyroid health is vital as it affects reproductive hormones and their communication.

Functional Medicine Treatment for Infertility

Functional medicine provides various treatment options for infertility, addressing both female and male fertility.

For women, improving egg quality and ovarian health is crucial. The Mediterranean Diet, rich in antioxidants, has been shown to enhance egg quality. Key nutrients such as zinc, folate, B6, B12, iron, and vitamin D are essential for ovarian health.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments (CAM) like pelvic physical therapy, Chinese Herbal Medicine, and acupuncture have shown promise in supporting fertility in both men and women.

For men, a healthy diet with essential nutrients like zinc, vitamin D, and folate is recommended to improve sperm health. Antioxidants such as CoQ10 and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) have been found to enhance sperm count, while carnitine improves sperm motility and morphology.

In summary, infertility is a complex condition affecting many aspects of reproductive health. A functional medicine approach allows for a thorough exploration of root causes and provides tailored treatment options to improve fertility outcomes for both women and men.