Impact of lifestyle choices on fertility – advice from a GP

Teenagers may be getting the message about avoiding unwanted pregnancies, but the need for precautions to protect future fertility is not widely known

For most couples infertility isn’t caused by lifestyle and in these cases it is unavoidable. However, increasing public awareness of the importance of protecting and boosting fertility early on can only be beneficial, argues Cambridge GP, Sarah Smith.

She says: “Lifestyle choices can have a huge impact on fertility and by the time people are ready to start a family, years of unhealthy lifestyle choices may have already taken its toll.

Simple precautions like keeping a healthy weight, safe sex and using condoms to prevent sexual transmitted diseases can help us preserve our fertility for when we do want to start a family.

Educating young people before they become sexually active can help protect their fertility, and could also fight the stigma surrounding infertility; helping to normalise conversations about fertility struggles later in life.”

Impact of lifestyle choices on fertility - advice from a GP

You can hear Sarah Smith’s discussion with the Naked Scientists on their website here.

Early education

Sarah notes that “fertility isn’t something many teenagers are concerned about, and many young adults may not be aware of how their behaviour can affect their ability to have children later in life. Behaviours that many young people experiment with as they go through their teens and early twenties can cause long-term damage to fertility.

Smoking and drinking to excess, taking illegal drugs, and even some prescription medicines can impact fertility and a poor diet leading to excessive weight gain or weight loss, anorexia or other eating disorders can all have an adverse effect.

Sexually transmitted infections are often viewed as a temporary and embarrassing problem that can be sorted out with a trip to the doctors, but some STIs can have permanent repercussions. If you pick up chlamydia or gonorrhoea, these can scar and block your tubes and cause fertility problems.”

1 in 6 couples experience infertility

Infertility isn’t often openly discussed, but, as Sarah highlights, “1 in 6 couples will have fertility problems” and “10-12% of us will have some sort of infertility in Western Europe.  Most teenagers are taught about the importance of safe sex to prevent unwanted pregnancies and about STIs but not about the implications for their future fertility.”

Planning for the future

Sarah is keen to help remove the stigma surrounding infertility, and open up more conversations about fertility issues to allow young people to hear stories from others who have struggled with both preventable and non-preventable infertility. Breaking down the barriers for those who may encounter infertility later in life, and also encouraging young people to take an interest in and protect their fertility – giving themselves the best possible chance of the family they may want someday.

Free fertility consultation

If you are worried about the implications of your risk-taking younger self then you might find a free fertility consultation reassuring and informative.  Before the consultation you will need to complete a questionnaire, which asks about your health, family medical history, lifestyle etc. This helps to make the 30-minute consultation with the Fertility Nurse Specialist more productive.

The tailored advice will include ways to boost your natural fertility, recommendations for tests and explanation of what the results will tell you and discussion of the treatment options that might be relevant to you.

From this consultation, you will be in a stronger position to decide on your next steps. This might be to improve your fertility fitness and try naturally for longer. Or it might be to have tests to check sperm count, fallopian tubes or ovulation (egg production) – common reasons for infertility. Or perhaps it may be to gain a second opinion on a medical issue, for example if there is a family history of a genetic disorder.

The advice will be appropriate to you and your circumstances. You don’t have to be trying to get pregnant or need fertility treatment to have a free consultation and whatever the cause of your infertility you will get expert, objective advice.

More information

Sarah Smith spoke to The Naked Scientists as part of their show ‘The First Test Tube Baby at 40’.

If you are interested in learning more about your own fertility you could consider one of our Fertility Health + Wellbeing tests which are currently half price at all Bourn Hall clinics.

See more information about our fertility support groups.

Fertility support groups are just one of the counselling and support services provided by Bourn Hall.

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