Intuition probably tells you that optimizing reproductive health is hugely important to get the most out of fertility treatments like egg freezing or IVF, and that's absolutely spot on.
In fact, a growing body of research we uncovered while writing our book, Everything Egg Freezing, indicates that environmental toxins that lurk in many day-to-day products (the majority of beauty products currently on the market, for one) can throw off your reproductive hormones. Plus, modern diet and lifestyles can lead to crucial micronutrient deficiencies more easily than previously thought, which could mean you lack some of the foundational building blocks for fertility.
But what might not be so intuitive is how to actually improve your reproductive health. Many fertility doctors have limited time and are focused on your core medical care, so won't always advise you, beyond the basics, on the full span of things you can do to get the most out of your treatment, if any!
That's why we were so excited to talk to Dr Raquel Hammonds, a Naturopathic Medicine Expert who works at the Center for Reproductive Health & Gynecology in Los Angeles. She works hand-in-hand with the clinic's fertility doctor to give her patients additional, holistic ways to best prepare for fertility treatments.
When you think of fertility doctors, it probably conjures up images of drugs, needles and surgeries. But, increasingly, that's only part of the picture. What you eat, drink and surround yourself with impacts all aspects of health, including fertility.
By looking into gut imbalances, micronutrient deficiencies and toxin exposure, Dr. Hammonds (who works alongside award-winning fertility specialist Dr Sam Najmabadi) tries to identify and treat the root causes of subfertility and infertility to optimize reproductive health naturally.
She gave us some incredible insights into lifestyle, naturopathic treatments and what taking a holistic approach to reproductive health involves:
How important do you think lifestyle is for fertility?
Dr. Hammonds: It is my gut belief that the key to a healthy pregnancy [in the future] is a healthy body now. The basis of Naturopathic Medicine is to create the conditions for health—this means, creating an internal environment that honors your journey from the root.
What are the most common problems you see with patients who have bad test results or are struggling to get pregnant?
Dr. Hammonds:100000% gut issues! Often times, when we run comprehensive labs, we find that women (and men) are overloaded with toxins and elevated levels of bacterial dysbiosis—including yeast and fungi. (Dysbiosis typically occurs when the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract — which includes your stomach and intestines — become unbalanced.) This dysbiosis creates a cycle of inflammation that affects egg maturation, quality and embryonic implantation.
Thankfully, I’ve seen truly outstanding results with my patients. The most extraordinary cases I’ve seen are women who’ve done 5—8 IVF cycles. I don’t put them on an insane supplement regimen, or restrictive diet, I simply remove the barriers that are impeding their chances at conception. Through careful detoxification, and gut healing protocols each of my patients has achieved phenomenal egg retrievals and healthy pregnancies.
Tell us about some of the cures up your sleeve...what types of things might you prescribe?
Dr. Hammonds: I know I’ve said this so many times, but it’s true. I don’t prescribe until I investigate. Comprehensive lab testing gives me a magnifying glass into the true essence of a person. What other doctors may deem unimportant (i.e. deficient levels of zinc/alpha-Linolenic acid etc.), could be the missing piece to the puzzle for SO many women. Once we lift the hood and look into the underlying causes of infertility, we’re able to create an intricate plan tailored specifically to the patient.
What lifestyle component do you think is most important for egg freezing patients to address?
Dr. Hammonds: Lifestyle and heavy metal exposure. Our lifestyle encompasses the various components that make us who we are. What we eat, read, think—all influence our overall health (fertility is no different). Before we proceed into any fertility treatments, I intervene at a fundamental level to see what is acting as a barrier, and together, we implement a treatment plan that activates our innate ability to heal ourselves.
How did you get into naturopathic medicine?
Dr. Hammonds: I was actually in graduate school for my Master of Public Health (MPH) and getting prepared for the MCAT when I met Dr. Rachel Marynowski. I knew I wanted to use what I’d learned in my MPH program as a doctor, but I didn’t know that there was a medicine dedicated specifically to prevention and optimizing healthcare. I visited her Alma Mater for a tour and the rest was history. Although the tides are shifting now towards preventative care, I feel so honored to have been trained in a medicine that is grounded in uncovering the root cause of disease and creating a model of healthcare that puts the power back into the hands of the patients. Doctors are only catalysts to the innate healing power you already hold inside.
How can a naturopath and conventional fertility doctors work together/complement each other?
Dr. Hammonds: In my opinion, this relationship can only exist when there is respect for each individual field. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. A MD-ND partnership allows us to hit blind-spots that an individual doctor might miss. In collaboration, we’re able to not only help more patients, but we create access to a dimension of care that has never been seen before.
How would you like to see the field of reproductive medicine evolve over the next few years for patients?
Dr. Hammonds: I would love to see more of an emphasis on nutrition, detoxification and lifestyle modification. Although traditional medicine is hesitant to look more in-depth, it’s the doctors who aren’t afraid to shift the tides that are seeing truly phenomenal patient success rates.
If there's one piece of advice you have for women worried about their biological clocks, what is it?
Dr. Hammonds: Time is of no issue, when you create the conditions for health. You can thrive at any age when your internal environment supports your journey.