This is my interview with Dr. Iva Keene. She’s a Fertility Specialist and Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Find her on Facebook as “Natural Fertility,” and see her website natural-fertility-prescription.com. Please point your friends suffering with infertility to my last blog post (as well as this one). Last time I posted the flier on the upcoming Fertility Retreat at Sanoviv in Mexico, where I will be for a few days, and Dr. Keene will be instructing.
GSG: What do you think of the current medical model for fertility? Twenty years ago, it was testing, drug approaches to hyper-ovulation or Lupron for manipulating hormones, IVF, lots of surgeries. It was a nightmare for me personally. Has it gotten better?
DR. KEENE: While I think the testing, procedures and drugs have improved somewhat, the general approach to treating infertility hasn’t changed significantly. It’s still focused on the reproductive system alone. The treatment aim is to jump over the problem, force a conception and then hope the pregnancy will be successful.
While in some cases, like severely blocked fallopian tubes, retrograde ejaculation, or missing Vas Deferens, the medical model is the only option available, my experience has been that most cases of infertility respond better to a holistic approach.
PCOS, endometriosis, unexplained infertility, recurrent miscarriages, irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and sperm abnormalities are all symptoms of some other imbalance in the body, which usually affects multiple systems such as the endocrine system, the immune system, liver and the digestive system.
Our reproductive system is not crucial for our body’s survival. As such, in terms of the body’s priorities it is last on the list when it comes to nutrient and energy distribution. The heart, lungs, brain, kidneys etc are more important for your survival because if one of those organs had a problem, your life would be at stake.
Infertility should always first be treated holistically and IVF, ICSI etc. be reserved as the last options once the natural approaches have been exhausted and everything has been done to bring the body into equilibrium. Not only does this holistic approach reduce the need for those technologies, but it also increases their chances of success if they have to be used.
For this reason, I don’t see our approach as an alternative to IVF, ICSI etc., but rather as complementary to them.
GSG: Do “standard of care” infertility treatments cause permanent or debilitating side effects?
DR. KEENE: They can. This will very much depend on the treatment used, the individual, their underlying health and the number of times the treatment was used in close succession. In rare cases, some women develop life threatening conditions such as Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome.
Some studies suggest that repeated use of fertility drugs predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer later in life. Unfortunately, many of my patients come to me once they’ve been through multiple IVF treatments. And because most clinics urge patients not to waste any time, the treatments are used repeatedly, sometimes for a year or longer.
Some of the more immediate side effects I’ve observed in some of my clients are hormone irregularities, irregular cycles, shorter cycles, cysts, thyroid problems, weight gain and mood disorders.
GSG: What kind of natural treatments for infertility are effective?
DR KEENE: The approach I use has been shown to have an over 80% success rate when used for a minimum of 4 months and maximum of 2 years. The effective treatments focus on identifying systemic imbalances and correcting those with dietary and lifestyle changes as well as supplementing with nutrients that have been shown to be effective.
This treatment approach also relies on tests for toxicities and immune imbalances, as the two are linked, and when the immune system is out of balance, pregnancy is much harder to achieve. Acupuncture is also a great adjunct therapy to this approach, as are mind-body programs like those produced by Circle and Bloom.
GSG: What book or resources should a couple read who are struggling with infertility?
DR. KEENE: We recommend Circle and Bloom mind/body programs in conjunction with our Natural Fertility Prescription program which is a step-by-step system explaining in great detail what practical steps a couple should take over a period of 120 days to maximize their chances of getting pregnant naturally. In addition to our core Natural Fertility Prescription (NFP) program, we also offer protocols specifically designed to address egg and sperm health issue as well as a program for IVF preparation to help couples who have decided on that path.
GSG: Does diet influence fertility? What about consumption of animal flesh and milk that has hormones in it, if it’s not organic? What kind of diet do you recommend for couples wishing to conceive, and deliver a healthy baby?
DR. KEENE: Diet is very important for fertility! Both organic and non-organic animal food products will have the hormones from the animal in them. One of the largest studies conducted on women, the Nurse’s Health Study by Harvard, with 17,544 participants over eight years, found that women who ate more plant proteins rather than animal proteins had better fertility overall and fewer problems with ovulation and infertility due to anovulation.
Milk, strictly speaking, is the breast milk of another species. And while you’ll find lots of information on the nutritional benefits of raw unpasteurized milk, the three main issues with milk for fertility are as follows:
- Milk is mucous producing and can predispose to blocked fallopian tubes.
- Milk is loaded with estrogen as cows are milked during their second trimester of pregnancy. In someone who already has estrogen dominance, like women with fibroids, polyps, endometriosis and PCOS, milk is only making the problem worse. Similarly, milk and all dairy products contain insulin growth factor, which is great for the young of the species as it helps them grow big and strong. In adult humans, it only makes us fat, predisposes us to acne, and in women with PCOS, where insulin resistance is already present, dairy only makes the condition worse.
- A very large portion of the population is lactose intolerant. We stop producing the enzyme lactase at the age of two, needed for breakdown of the main sugar molecule in dairy, lactose. If you are intolerant to dairy but keep eating it anyway on a regular basis, you are not only damaging your digestive system and preventing nutrients from being absorbed, but you are also setting up your immune system to become overly aggressive and predispose to miscarriage and ‘unexplained infertility’.
So while raw dairy products may be a source of nutrition for some people, like those who want to build muscle and who are not intolerant to lactose, it’s not a good idea for those wanting to get pregnant, and those who already have weight issues or hormonal imbalances.
This applies to both men and women, since in men, excess estrogen causes testosterone to be converted to estrogen, which negatively impacts sperm quality and quantity.
Our fertility diet essentially focuses on fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans, green smoothies, fresh fruit, wild fish and some lean protein from grass-fed animal sources for those who don’t wish to give up meat. And we emphasize the food being as fresh as possible and organic where possible. Eggs and meat should be grass-fed, organic and free range. Hormones, oocytes and sperm need good quality fats and protein. And this is the main focus of this diet, as well as providing high levels of vitamins, minerals, other nutrients, and fiber from plant sources. Fiber helps mop up excess estrogen and environmental toxins from the diet before those toxins get a chance to absorb into our bloodstream.
GSG: You’ve said that the greatest gift you can give your baby is robust health, and this starts with the quality of the sperm and eggs at conception. How does one achieve healthy sperm and eggs?
DR. KEENE: Women are born with all their eggs. In fact, the eggs are older than the woman! However these egg cells are not mature. They are in their primordial form. From the onset of puberty, every 120 days, 5-6 of those primordial egg cells will be selected for maturation. At the end of this cycle, 1-2 of the best formed eggs will be selected for ovulation.
And while it’s true that you are born with a finite number of eggs, it’s not true that the quality of the eggs you ovulate each month can’t be made better or worse depending on your dietary and lifestyle choices. The Natural Fertility Prescription (NFP) program and the Egg Health program focus on providing your eggs with all the nutrients which have been shown to improve egg quality as well as removing/minimizing exposure to all the toxins shown to negatively impact your egg quality and hormone balance.
Similarly with sperm, men produce new batches of sperm approximately every 90 days. So it’s possible to improve the quality and quantity of the sperm in as little as 3 months, providing there are no congenital anatomical malformations or genetic abnormalities present, which are rare and do not apply to majority of men. We also created a Sperm Health program, which can be used in conjunction with the NFP program for improving sperm health.
Even if a couple have no fertility issues, we advise everyone planning children to prepare for pregnancy at least 120 days before conception. This ensures that you are conceiving with the best quality eggs and sperm, which means you are passing on the best of your genetic material to your child.
GSG: What’s the best and worst part of your job as a naturopathic physician working with infertility?
DR. KEENE: What I love the most about my work is empowering people and educating them about how their bodies work, how everything is interrelated, and showing them how a seemingly harmless dietary or lifestyle habit or nutrient deficiency can have wide-reaching effects over time.
I have great respect for, and am in awe of, the inherent intelligence and perfection of our human body. Trillions of cells working 24/7 enable us to have the life experience we enjoy. Our body is the most intelligent pharmacy in the world, and it is programmed to strive for balance and health. Which it will achieve, given all the right elements and an environment to thrive.
Once the mechanics of this wonder machine are understood, most of my clients are full of vigor again and ready to try for a baby again. Their faith in their bodies is restored and they feel much more empowered about their fertility. And this is key. After many failed fertility treatments, people often start to doubt themselves and their bodies because they are told by the medical profession that their eggs are old, their sperm is no good, they are too old, or their bodies are in some way ‘broken’.
And while it may be true that the body is currently in a state of imbalance, that does not mean one should give up on it, give up hope. It does not mean that the issues cannot be resolved and fertility restored without medical intervention. Instead, the traditional drug and procedural methods used so far should be questioned and doubted, because these methods are not providing the body with what it needs to fix itself! It’s not drugs or doctors who ‘cure’ the body—it’s the body itself that repairs itself when given the right materials to do so.
What I find most frustrating is the misinformation which is often propagated by the mainstream infertility treatment approach. Namely, that time is running out already at age 37, that the egg and sperm quality can’t be improved, and that if your AMH is low you should opt for donor eggs immediately.
These misconceptions and ‘fear tactics’ cause so much stress and despair, which is unnecessary, not to mention counter-productive to any fertility treatment. And while it’s true that fertility will decline with age and the risks of miscarriages due to chromosomal abnormalities are higher, if dietary and lifestyle factors are ignored and nutritional deficiencies remain unaddressed, the fact is that most of these factors can be addressed.
GSG: Dr. Keene, I hope those who read this will have renewed hope. Like you, I believe in the miracle of the human body, and I marvel at its innate ability to correct imbalances. We need to get heavy metals, chemicals, and toxic foods out of its way. Thank God there are practitioners like you helping people get on the right track. Thank you very much for serving my readers with this information and encouragement!
DR. KEENE: Thank you so much, Robyn, for the opportunity to share this information with your readers. I hope more couples will look to natural infertility treatments first after reading this interview. It would be a great pleasure to meet some in person at our upcoming fertility retreat at Sanoviv in Rosarito, Mexico.