The problem with fertility (or infertility) is that it’s invisible. You can’t look in the mirror and see evidence of your fertility in your glowing skin. Likewise, a fertility issue can’t be identified in the texture of your hair or the strength of your nails. And since it’s often asymptomatic, most of us are in the dark about what’s going on with our reproductive systems, until we want to start using them.
Most of us spend a good few years actively trying not to get pregnant, so when the time comes, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to flipping the switch.
A medical herbalist might not be first on your list of experts to consult when you want to conceive, but Kylie Armstrong, a fertility specialist of over 20 years, is hoping to change that. She’s designed a unique 4 week online preconception program, The Fertility Formula. The program takes a totally holistic approach to fertility, from diet to mindfulness and even removing toxins from your beauty regime.
But don’t presume it’s all kale and meditation – while Kylie’s approach is based in natural treatments, it’s also the perfect complement to IVF and other clinical fertility treatments. “Regardless of how the egg and sperm meet”, she says, “they still need to be at their optimum health, and the woman’s body still needs to be fit to carry a baby and have a healthy postpartum experience. The Fertility Formula protocols will work beautifully to improve IVF outcomes.”
We spoke to Kylie about how she can increase a couple’s chance of having a healthy baby by 78.8% – and why turmeric lattes are a no-no when it comes to making babies (and we thought we were being healthy ditching the caffeine!)
Tell us a little about your background - what drew you to working in the fertility sphere?
I graduated as a Medical Herbalist back in 1997 and then in 2000 went to University to complete my Bachelor of Health Science, specialising in Nutritional Biochemistry. I was particularly drawn to working with fertility for two reasons.
Firstly, I was continually saddened by peoples heartbreaking fertility journeys knowing that they had come to me as a last resort. It is my mission to broaden awareness that preconception care should be your FIRST step when considering becoming parents, to ensure that you are providing the best start in life for your future baby.
Secondly, having personally experienced miscarriages due to autoimmune conditions, I have made it my mission to do my utmost to help women to reduce their risk of having to experience this pain. Through thorough preconception testing, a preconception plan and nutritional support, studies show that this is possible, and that education is key.
In your practice you must see a lot of women struggling to conceive. How do you know where to start with them?
Prior to meeting with my clients, I have studied their questionnaire in which they have shared their fertility journey so far. In this questionnaire they are able to upload any medical reports they have and share their previous experiences. The information that they provide me with sends me into detective mode, so I am personally invested in these couples, and dedicated to helping them to become parents before I have even met them. Then, prior to our first consultation I always have 1 -2 pages of written notes on areas that we need to address. It may be as simple as advising they are taking the wrong type of multivitamin, which is likely to be reducing their fertility, or as complex as suggesting they need further investigations whether they be blood tests, ultrasounds or surgery.
Your new program The Fertility Formula is a 4 week preconception program. What inspired you to design it?
One of my favourite things to do in life is to share my knowledge by giving community talks on health and fertility. I encourage my audience to be interactive and through this I was able to see the need for a simple online program that people could get started on straight away. It was obvious to me that the people who attended my fertility talks were keen to start to improve their fertility immediately, so I wanted to be able to offer this with the Fertility Formula.
How does the program work? Do clients have any interaction with you?
The beauty of the program is that as soon as it is downloaded you’re set to go. The program is broken down into 4 weeks, but I have had lots of people tell me that they read it from front to back immediately after downloading it!
Because the program has a lot of suggested changes for both diet and lifestyle, it’s not possible to master all of these changes immediately, therefore, I broke it up into four weeks so that any changes you need to make are both enjoyable and achievable.
Then, if prospective parents are needing additional one-on-one support, I am available for in-clinic or Skype consultations and there they can receive personalised support.
What are some of the most common issues you see with women coming to you with fertility problems?
The most common issues I would see include: polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, irregular or absent periods, recurrent miscarriage and most commonly ‘unexplained infertility’.
Why is a healthy diet so important for preconception?
Eggs and sperm are a product of all that they have been exposed to. Therefore, if you are fuelling your body with poor quality foods, or have been exposed to toxins, you will have poor quality eggs or sperm. This can result in both infertility and miscarriage. Both the egg and sperm require certain nutrients – if these are not available then embryonic development is challenged.
You mention three key approaches to gut health in the program: WEED, FEED, and SEED. Can you talk us through these and what they mean?
Think of the body as a garden with the potential for creation. Just like you would prepare your garden before expecting a seed to sprout, we need to do the same for our bodies. Firstly, we ‘weed’, AKA remove things form our bodies that may impair our gut health and subsequently our fertility. An example of this is to minimise toxins in our environment and improve our bodies’ natural detoxification abilities. Then we ’feed’: we nourish and heal the gut so that it has the ability to absorb the nutrients needed to promote fertility. Lastly, we ‘seed’, that is, we lay the nutrients and bacteria that will support a healthy conception and pregnancy.
Is The Fertility Formula doable for someone who's never followed a 'diet' or meal plan before?
Absolutely! I am no MasterChef, but I do know how to put together nutritious, easy to prepare, fertility friendly meals, so that’s what you get with the program.
Then, throughout the program you are guided on how to make simple changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your fertility. For example, I’ll suggest swapping your wheat-based cracker to a rice based one and I’ll explain why you should do that. It’s good to understand why you are making the necessary changes and it makes it easier to follow.
In the program you cover so much more than just healthy eating. You also have experts contributing information on exercise, mindfulness, and even how to overhaul your beauty and home products to eliminate toxins. How do these areas influence fertility?
Scientific literature provides us with much evidence of the impact that toxins and stress have on fertility.
The power of our stressful lifestyles and busy thoughts on both our biochemistry and gut health severely impacts our ability to conceive. Our bodies still have a primal response to stress. If you are stressed, your adrenals will increase production of stress hormones, which sends a message to the pituitary that it is not safe for you to conceive this month. Along with stress we have may chemicals in our environment that can decrease the health of the sperm and the egg. The worst fertility disrupters are organochlorine compounds (chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and dioxins), bisphenol A (BPA), and organophosphate pesticides and herbicides.
What are the results like? Do you see a big difference in conception rates after following a program like this?
The results are amazing. Studies by both Harvard University and the Foresight Association show that following the suggested protocols outlined in The Fertility Formula will increase a couple’s chance of having a healthy baby by 78.8%. I personally see these same results replicated in my clinic by the couples I have following The Fertility Formula, which is why I decided to take the program online, so I can assist couples right across the country struggling with fertility.
Is this program suitable for women using IVF and other fertility treatments?
This program will absolutely support women who are undergoing or intend to use fertility treatments. I have the utmost respect for IVF and ART and I work alongside many of my patients’ fertility specialists.
Regardless of how the egg and sperm meet, they still need to be at their optimum health, and the woman’s body still needs to be fit to carry a baby and have a healthy postpartum experience. The Fertility Formula protocols will work beautifully to improve IVF outcomes.
If you could give just one piece of advice to a woman experiencing infertility, what would it be?
Download the Preconception Care Checklist from my website and see that you have covered all thirteen suggestions. There is very often something simple that has been missed, that is impacting on your fertility.
What would you encourage her to try?
Perhaps ovulation is not happening every month or not at all? Have a progesterone blood test done 7 days prior to the day that you would expect your period would be due to ensure that you are ovulating. This test can be requested by your GP, Naturopath or Herbalist.
Also stop your Turmeric lattes! Whilst Turmeric is fabulous for many things and may be useful in small amounts in cooking in your preconception period, it has been known to reduce fertility for both men and women.
Kylie is the founder of Tonic Natural Health Centre, her clinic in Newcastle, NSW. The Fertility Formula program is available for the introductory price of just $35. You can purchase the program or arrange in-person or Skype consultations with Kylie Armstrong at www.tonicnaturalhealth.com.au