I saw a patient in her late 20s, who had a host of symptoms, one of which was not being able to get pregnant or stay pregnant. Her initial visit was for a urine infection and it was only after months of working together, did she start opening up to me about her depression and her inability to conceive. It was quite taboo in her culture to talk of such personal matters she told me. I used to see her weekly to discuss her mood and stress and would give her little titbits of advise in relation to diet and sleeping better. She was following the standard eat well plate set by the Australian Government, with noodles or rice featuring in every meal, chicken breast, turkey or tuna being the only proteins and a handful of veg at dinner only. She would snack on fruit and biscuits through the day. She didn’t drink alcohol or smoke and as a devout Christian, she attended church regularly. She also had many senior management roles within the church and her job was quite high powered too, with long nights and high stress. I didn’t do any tests on her, as her IVF specialist had done them all and she fell into the category of “unexplained infertility”. I’m sorry to say this, but this “unexplained” comes up a lot in medicine and I feel that the body is too clever for things to happen “for no reason”. My gut has been telling me this for 8 years since I qualified as a GP and used to see patients labelled with “tired all the time”, “psychosomatic”, “all in her head” diagnoses over the years.
I didn’t know as much about fertility then what I do now, but what I could definitively tell, and you didn’t need to be a doctor to figure this out, was that this woman was chronically stressed. Her cholesterol (which is an amazing substance by the way (more on this later) is designed to aid in healing in one of its jobs) was being diverted to deal with this chronic stress rather than make a good amount of sex hormones. Over the weeks, my patient did a lot of reading: she was quite scientific in her thinking and wanted rationale and science behind my explanations. I sent her on her way reading books such as “The Healthy Baby Code” by Chris Kresser as well as “Nourishing Traditions” by Sally Fallon. She made some small changes first, like swapping her biscuits for hummus and carrots and tried going to bed earlier. Once she started seeing the positive effects on her waistline, she was motivated to do the other changes with as much rigour. So she cut back of all refined carbs and only ate gluten free grains a few times a week. She consumed bone broths, fermented foods such as kimchi and dark green leafy veg daily without fail. After a few months of gentle prodding, she also quit her stressful job.
I didn’t see her for a while after that, until she turned up again, telling me she was bloated again and suspected a urine infection. These symptoms were in fact of her successful pregnancy. As her periods had been irregular for a while she hadn’t suspected pregnancy. She was obviously ecstatic, but aware that having had a miscarriage in the past, she wasn’t out of the woods. I supported her in her first trimester, ensuring first and foremost her stress was under control. I asked her to eat good sources of protein, fat and lots of nutrient dense vegetables. I had to leave to go back to the UK when she was about 14 weeks pregnant, but we kept in regular touch and she now has a healthy baby boy and is planning number two. The whole family eat the same nutrient dense diet and are all incredibly healthy.