So you’ve made the decision to undergo fertility treatment. It can be a costly decision, not just financially, but emotionally and physically as well. With treatments come medications, and as with all medications, fertility medications can cause unpleasant side effects. Moodiness, hot flashes, breast tenderness, bloating, headaches and nausea are some of the common side effects experienced, while less common side effects include ovarian cysts and Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS). So, what’s a girl to do? Does undergoing fertility treatment really mean that you have to endure the hormonal turmoil you’ve read about online?
All side effects cannot be avoided or even predicted. However, there are some simple and effective nutritional and lifestyle changes you can make prior to, during and after taking IVF medications that will support your body in dealing with excess hormones and the resultant strain they put on your various systems. These minor changes can all make you feel more comfortable throughout the process.
Before You Begin
If possible, take some time prior to starting treatment to focus on your overall health. The healthier you are when you begin, the more able your body will be to handle whatever is thrown its way, side effects and all. This may include improving your nutrition, losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising and getting any underlying health conditions under control. Not only does your health reflect your fertility potential, it also greatly affects your future pregnancy and health of your child.
Love your Liver
Your liver gets a workout during fertility treatments. It is responsible for metabolizing and detoxifying the medications and excess hormones circulating through your bloodstream. Keep your liver running smoothly with liver-loving foods. Dark leafy greens, lemons and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, etc) are good choices. Avoid toxins that alter the liver pathways, like caffeine and alcohol. This will help your liver detoxify efficiently to reduce the potential for side effects.
Take Out the Trash
An efficient digestive system is one of the keys to avoiding or reducing side effects from medications. When certain drugs and hormones (like estrogens) are metabolized by the liver, they are shipped to the large intestine to be eliminated from the body in stool. If the digestive system is working efficiency (i.e. 2-3 solid bowel movements daily), the metabolites are eliminated from the body quickly. If digestion is too slow, some of the hormones and/or medications may be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream, thereby increasing total body levels and putting more stress on the liver and its detoxification capabilities. Constipation also increases intra-abdominal pressure – not something you want when your ovaries are swollen! An efficient digestive system is highly dependent on hydration status, fibre intake (soluble and insoluble) and gut flora. Try adding 1-2 tablespoons of fresh ground flaxseeds to your daily diet to boost your fibre intake. Also take a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium to balance out the bacteria living in your digestive tract.
Stress comes in many forms, including physical, physiological, mental and emotional. Fertility medications cause a physiological stress on the body as they alter natural processes, and create physical and emotional stress in the form of symptoms. Add to that any relationship issues, financial strain and taking time off work for appointments and procedures, and you’ve certainly got a situation on your hands! Stress can make symptoms worse due to the strain on your adrenal glands (our little stress hormone powerhouses), and the more you can do to keep it to a minimum the better. Any type of stress reduction has a positive effect on adrenal gland health and fertility, including yoga or meditation, taking time for you, getting enough sleep and eating well. Certain nutrients concentrate in the adrenal glands are necessary for making stress hormones. Including good dietary sources of Vitamin C and B Vitamins will help keep stress at bay. Sources of Vitamin C include oranges, berries, broccoli and peppers. B vitamins are found in a wide variety of foods including leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, chicken and nuts and seeds.
Exercise makes everyone feel better! A 20-minute workout can elevate your mood for up to 12 hours thanks to the release of happy hormones serotonin and dopamine. Exercise also relieves stress (= happy adrenals), releases pain-relieving endorphins and may also help prevent the slight weight gain some women complain about post-IVF. Most women are able to keep up a normal exercise routine for most of their cycle, but be sure to talk to your doctor for any restrictions.
Acupuncture – Not just for transfer day!
Acupuncture is best known in the fertility world to support implantation pre-and post-embryo transfer. However, it is also recommended leading up to, and throughout the entire fertility treatment process. Acupuncture also helps to relieve some of the side effects experienced with fertility medications, such as nausea, headache, stress/anxiety and hot flashes. It can also reduce the symptoms of OHSS and ovarian cysts.
Side effects will vary depending on the types of medication recommended by your physician. Dietary changes are helpful and safe, although at times supplements are necessary to reach therapeutic dosages. Patients need to be cautious if trying to self-medicate. Many over the counter medicines and natural remedies will interact with fertility medications or be harmful for pregnancy. Trio Fertility offers onsite consultations with Naturopathic Doctors at Conceive Health Clinic aimed at providing individually tailored plans to support you throughout your fertility journey.