The number of IVF cycles performed each year has increased steadily since 1991 and in 2011 approximately 47,000 women received over 60,000 IVF or ICSI treatments, 4.3% more than 2010. Between 2009 and 2010 the overall live birth rate per cycle started has remained steady; 24.1% in 2009 and 24.5% for 2010. Two thirds of the women receiving fertility treatment in 2011 were aged 37. The average age of women undergoing IVF treatment was 35. The recent figures are still to be published but my guess is we will see another increase as more and more couples are turning to IVF to help them start a family.
Every year I see hundreds of couples going through IVF. They are looking for acupuncture to support them as well as recipes and nutritional advice. Social media is making us more finely tuned and I have been becoming increasingly worried about the recipe books and restrictive diets women are turning to when trying for baby.
Many of the books on the market are actually diet books where the aim is to be lean and slim. Of course losing weight prior to having a baby may well be a consideration for some women, but many women do not need to lose weight and I believe the focus of many books on market are really focused on attaining a red carpet body. Unless you are in the obese spectrum then pregnancy is more likely on a slight weight increase as the reproductive system is a peripheral need for our individual survival and if the brain thinks the body is under stress or there are not enough calories available it won't consider it an optimal time to conceive.
There are also many diets being touted that are straight out of California. I think we need to remember that we live in a cold damp climate and that eating warm, cooked foods are actually far more suitable to our climate. Eating raw food in January is counter-intuitive, raw food is actually very hard to digest. I teach my patients never to eat any raw food in the evenings.
But it isn't just about the woman, men need to be involved too; all too often the woman is running around doing everything she can to be healthy only to find that there is male factor infertility. Men need to take care of themselves just as much as women do and it is never too early to start engaging in our health and fertility. I also believe women get a hard time from the press and whenever the subject of infertility is approached it always seems to be aimed at women who supposedly left it too late. But in my experience there are lots of reasons why a woman hasn't yet conceived in her late 30's and some of that is to do with male factor. Perhaps the partner or husband is reluctant to commit or get tested or maybe a previous relationship broke down. There are also many women who do try to have a baby in their 20's and for medical reasons they are not able to conceive; these women rarely get mentioned. We need to be more open about our fertility and stop finding clichéd or simplistic solutions for a complex issue.
Stress and obsession are 2 big issues. There is growing evidence that stress is a fertility killer, it certainly doesn't do anything for your sex life. I have always recognised that there is a strong link between stress and our gut. In Chinese medicine this is a central theme and science is also discovering the significance of this link. So many people come to me asking me for a diet; of course diet is the building blocks for good health, but we must not forget the mind. The mind and brain are the master and the stomach is the servant. The mind gives the instruction to the gut and although what we eat is important, I believe the reasons behind why and how we eat are just as important. Of course in order for this relationship to work there must be communication between stomach and gut. You can have the best diet in the world but if you are stressed to the max then you will never be properly nourished.
Along with age, obesity, lack of sex and smoking, stress might turn out to be one of the biggest factors in inability to conceive. So my aim is always to help my patients achieve a calm mind and equilibrium in the often difficult process of IVF and infertility.