From Zita West’s Eat Yourself Pregnant.
Zita West is the UK’s most trusted expert on fertility. In her new book, Eat Yourself Pregnant (published this month), she explains how stress is one of the biggest negative factors she comes across when helping couples who want to conceive. She believes that stress management, combined with following certain dietary principles, can make a significant difference to women who experience problems with ovulation specifically and with fertility in general.
Your hypothalamus is your body’s master gland that turns hormone responses on and off throughout your system. It is, therefore, the gland in control of your reproduction hormones – but it is extremely sensitive to stress. Poor diet and lifestyle and a life lived in a constant state of high alert tells the hypothalamus that ovulation needs putting to one side until a state of calm resumes. It stands to reason that if your brain perceives that you are in danger – which it does when you have raised levels of adrenaline and cortisol, preparing you for fight and flight – it also perceives that now would not be a good time to bring a baby into the world. To this end, pulses of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) cease, which means that oestrogen levels don’t increase sufficiently to trigger ovulation.
Bust your stress
Medical studies on levels of stress hormone and related rates of fertility are inconclusive, but I am convinced that when trying for a baby your mindset plays a huge part in creating the nurturing environment you need to conceive. Many people I see find that a programme of stress techniques and therapies – including hypnotherapy, acupuncture, massage and meditation – can be very effective at dealing with stress. However, relieving stress does not necessarily require formal techniques. These are my top three tips for helping you to overcome stress. You don’t need to implement all three, but if you can you will go a long way to reducing the effects of stress on your chances of conception.
• Aim for between six and eight hours of sleep a night. Too little sleep makes us irritable and exacerbates stress levels. You’re far less likely to feel like getting passionate if you’re overtired and grumpy. You are also more likely to crave sugar, upsetting your blood-sugar balance – which will disrupt hormone levels and result in weight gain.
• Ease your thoughts. Some form of meditation or visualization helps to break patterns of stressful thinking. One of the simplest meditations is to focus on a word or phrase that has meaning for you, such as ‘calm’, ‘peace’ or ‘rest’. Practise your meditation or visualization for 20 to 30 minutes every day. Or, if meditation isn’t for you, try immersing yourself in a good book, writing a journal or simply focusing fully on a certain activity (from chopping vegetables or baking bread, to mending a broken appliance or knitting). The aims are to be undisturbed and completely absorbed in your task or activity.
• Take up regular aerobic exercise. This will help burn off excess adrenaline, leaving you feeling energized, but calmer.
A delicious start
Stress can also deplete your body of nutrients, so to get you on the road to a stress-free conception, try these nourishing breakfast recipes from the book for a healthy start to your day.
Breakfast Wake-Up Bars
A healthy cereal bar is perfect if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast. These bars contain plenty of protein with the addition of nuts and seeds to keep blood-sugar levels stable throughout the morning. The addition of maca powder is a great way to support the adrenal glands if you’re feeling stressed. Oats are high in slow-releasing carbohydrate and rich in soluble fibre to keep you feeling fuller for longer and avoid mid-morning energy dips. They also contain plenty of vitamin E and energizing B-vitamins, as well as beta glucans that support immune health.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
olive oil or coconut oil, for greasing
125g/4½oz/heaped ¾ cup cashew nuts
150g/5½oz/1½ cups rolled oats
60g/2¼oz/heaped 1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tbsp maca powder
1 tbsp shelled hemp seeds
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 tbsp flaxseeds
60g/2¼oz/¼ cup chopped ready-to-eat dried apricots
60g/2¼oz/⅔ cup goji berries
a pinch of sea salt
60g/2¼oz/¼ cup almond or cashew nut butter
60g/2¼oz/scant ¼ cup honey
200g/7oz/heaped 1 cup soft pitted dates, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and grease a shallow 20cm/8in square baking tin with oil.
2. Put the cashews in a food processor and process until fine. Add the oats and coconut flakes and pulse to break up slightly. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the maca powder, if using, seeds, apricots, goji berries and salt.
3. In a food processor, blend together the nut butter, honey, dates and vanilla extract to form a paste. Mix the paste into the dry ingredients. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking tin. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until slightly golden. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into 16 bars.
Rather than resorting to coffee, try this wonderful combination of maca and raw cacao powder for a healthy morning boost. Using cashew nuts creates a creamy texture and also provides plenty of tryptophan to help balance mood. Maca is an incredible fertility super food. It helps to balance the hormones by nourishing and balancing the endocrine system. This is essential in preparing for pregnancy and IVF because healthy hormonal balance greatly contributes to healthier eggs.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
75g/2½oz/scant ½ cup cashew nuts
250ml/9fl oz/1 cup coconut water
1 tsp maca powder
1 banana, chopped and frozen
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp coconut sugar or honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large handfuls of crushed ice
1. Put the cashews and coconut water in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients, except the ice, and process until smooth. Blend in the ice and serve immediately.
Out August 2014