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"If the body goes into escape mode, it cannot reproduce well"

Couples usually only find out about their own fertility when they try to have a child.

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"If the body goes into escape mode, it cannot reproduce well"

Couples usually only find out about their own fertility when they try to have a child. The good news: Those who pay attention to a healthy lifestyle can avoid damage to their ability to reproduce - and thus increase the chance that the offspring will succeed.

But what exactly can couples pay attention to? And what to do if the pregnancy is still a long time coming? "What clearly damages fertility is smoking," warns gynecologist Corinna Mann from the practice "Die Fertility Doctor" in Munich. "Both of you should definitely stop doing that immediately if you are planning a pregnancy."

This is also confirmed by the gynecologist Wolfgang Würfel from the Munich Fertility Center. Smoking makes conception more difficult and also endangers the preservation of the pregnancy, explains the expert. In men, smoking also causes the quality of sperm to deteriorate.

Another factor that can negatively impact fertility is weight. “Being overweight is bad for ovarian function. This applies to getting pregnant and staying pregnant as well as birth complications,” says Wolfgang Würfel.

Obesity can also become a problem for fertility in men, as it disrupts the endocrine system. "The famous beer belly is caused by estrogen-like substances, so-called phytoestrogens," says Wuerfel. They are found in hops and can have a negative impact on sperm quality.

On the other hand, extremely underweight women may have greater difficulty conceiving. Wolfgang Cube reports on female athletes who train and eat so strictly that they develop what is known as athlete's amenorrhea. "That means her menstrual period stops altogether or at least there are severe cycle disturbances."

Corinna Mann advises women who want to have children not to do any extreme or competitive sports. "That's not helpful. If the body goes into escape mode, then it cannot reproduce well.”

According to the doctor, a balanced diet is also important - a Mediterranean diet with lots of fiber, which is found in whole grain products, for example.

The good news: You don't have to do without coffee for the sake of fertility. In moderation, it even has a fertility-enhancing effect, according to Wolfgang Cube. And that applies to both women and men.

Dietary supplements can also help the body to better prepare for pregnancy. "What is very important for all women who want to have children is folic acid, which helps both child development and pregnancy," says Corinna Mann.

Likewise, iodine, vitamins B6, B12 and D as well as zinc and coenzyme Q10 can increase the likelihood of pregnancy. You should have your blood values ​​checked by a doctor beforehand – also to avoid overdosing.

And what about stress? Less of it can help: "If someone is insanely stressed and tense, travels a lot and does a lot of sport, the menstrual cycle can change as a result and that will definitely influence the desire to have children," says specialist Corinna Mann. According to her, the topic should not be overrated.

Very important to know: The stress that couples feel when the pregnancy doesn't work out doesn't actually play a role in fertility, says Corinna Mann. "Many couples are advised by friends: 'Just relax for a moment and it will work out'. But that's usually not enough."

If pregnancy does not occur as quickly as desired, this can also be due to hormones. “For example, there is a luteal insufficiency that can make pregnancy difficult. This is a hormone deficiency that can be compensated for with natural progesterone,” says Mann.

In addition, the thyroid value TSH is important when it comes to fertility. If he steps out of line, you can use pills to adjust him properly, so that pregnancy becomes more likely.

The so-called AMH value can also provide information; namely about how many egg reserves a woman still has. “Because one in a hundred women under 40 goes through the menopause and then, in their late 30s, realizes with disappointment that their desire to have children can no longer be fulfilled,” says Corinna Mann.

According to Wolfgang Würfel, the fertility of women decreases slightly from the age of 30, significantly from the age of 35 and again very sharply from the age of 40. "According to our current state of knowledge, egg cells are not newly formed, but they age with the woman's age."

At the same time, their quality decreases. The probability that the egg cells are genetically abnormal increases. Some women mistakenly assume that their youthful appearance also has an impact on their fertility, says Wuerfel.

Experts recommend women under the age of 35 to get tested if they are still pregnant after a year. Women over 35 should only wait six months. Corinna Mann appeals to couples to clarify early on what could be the reason. So that no valuable time is wasted.

But you should also know: “An unfulfilled desire to have children is incredibly common. It affects about every sixth couple in Germany,” says Corinna Mann. "I would be happy if people dealt with it more openly." Because those affected often have the feeling that they are alone - while everyone else seems to have children without any problems. "But that's not true."

"Aha! Ten minutes of everyday knowledge" is WELT's knowledge podcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday we answer everyday questions from the field of science. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.

This article was first published in January 2023.

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