We live in the time and age of a pandemic, one that has kept us on our toes since 2020. The onslaught of Covid-19 has cost us our way of living, peace of mind, financial stability—and worst of all, our loved ones. As we drifted from one lockdown to another, hiding behind masks, running around for hospital beds and vaccines, we completely lost sight of our health—especially our fertility.
As the pandemic eases in the country and the new normal gives way for the old one, it’s time to address just what the pandemic has done to our reproductive health—and what we can do to undo all the damage. To give insight into fertility during the coronavirus pandemic, we invited Dr Anindita Singh, who is a senior infertility specialist practising at Nova IVF Fertility in Kolkata. Dr Singh has vast experience in treating childless couples with PCOS, endometriosis, recurrent pregnancy loss, and male infertility. This is what she has to say…
The stress of being in a pandemic has affected fertility
“Living in midst of a pandemic and regularly encountering disturbing news has caused a great amount of stress in all. This has been more distressing for couples who have been trying to conceive,” explains Dr Singh. “Several studies have shown that any kind of stress negatively impacts fertility. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), stress can disturb the hormonal balance in our body making it difficult to become pregnant. Stress, caused by the pandemic for most, causes an automatic release of hormones into the body that elevate heart rate and increase blood pressure. This has a deleterious impact on fertility,” she adds.
Our sedentary lockdown lifestyles are wreaking havoc too
Being active has many benefits—it only helps you stay in shape, but also takes care of your overall health. Add to that the fact that moderate, regular exercise improves fertility in women, you begin to understand just what years of not moving around and cooped up at home can do. “The lockdown has led to physical inactivity and has caused obesity in both men and women. Sedentary lifestyle because of the pandemic has led to hormonal problems in women and increased anovulation,” says Dr Singh.
“Women suffering from PCOS have seen an increase in their symptoms of irregular menses and infertility. Obesity also has a detrimental effect on sperm quality in men. It diminishes the testicular function in men and decreases their chances of fathering a child,” she adds.
Blame your junk food binge for adding to your fertility woes
No matter the slew of healthy recipe videos we watched online, the truth is for most of us comfort eating has been the sentiment through the course of the pandemic—which meant relying on foods high in sugar and fat content to counter boredom. Says Dr Singh: “These known mechanisms of coping with pandemic stress led to an increase in the intake of unhealthy snacks.”
“There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that unhealthy preconception dietary patterns among both men and women of reproductive age have a detrimental effect on fertility. It has been seen that consumption of saturated fats and sugars has been associated with poorer fertility outcomes in women and decreased sperm quality in men. Consumption of such unhealthy foods also leads to obesity, which also negatively impacts fertility,” stresses the expert.
Lack of work-life balance can have repercussions on your reproductive health too
There is no denying that the biggest drawback of the pandemic when it comes to our lifestyles is that it has forced us to work from home. The result? Longer working hours, lack of work-life balance, and dwindling social life. While all this won’t mess with your fertility levels directly, it does have a profoundly negative impact on your mental health.
Says Dr Singh: “Even though initially after the lockdown, some couples did enjoy family time together, but prolonged work from home was seen to be detrimental to mental health. Humans are social creatures and working without seeing anyone can make people feel isolated. Working from home has also blurred the line between personal and professional life leading to increased stress and anxiety. This increased stress has adversely affected couples wanting to conceive.”
Then, there’s the matter of time lost and treatments left in the middle
Perhaps the biggest misgiving of living life during the pandemic is the plans it laid to waste—fertility treatments and IVF cycles being a few of them. “In March 2020, fertility treatments were abruptly suspended all over the world due to the pandemic. This included delaying the start of new treatment cycles and abandoning treatment cycles that had already begun. Even though it was probably the right decision given the circumstances, this was devastating news for thousands of couples,” quips Dr Singh.
“Infertile couples already undergo a lot of stress and anxiety, and halting treatment took a toll on their mental health too. For older women, this was bad news as their biological clock was ticking and they were losing egg viability during the lockdown days,” she adds.
What’s done is done, but this is what you can do to get your reproductive health on track
Trying to get pregnant can be an exciting yet stressful time for couples. Following these few tips, however, can help them conceive easily, says Dr Singh.
1.Maintaining a healthy weight is very important: “Being underweight or overweight can lead to ovulation dysfunction in women,” she says. Regular exercise not only helps in weight management but also helps in stress reduction and improved circulation in the body.
2.Eat a healthy diet: “A healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains and unsaturated fats have been associated with improved fertility outcomes,” explains Dr Singh. Try to eat foods rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, folate, beta carotene, and lutein.
3. Quit your bad habits: Giving up smoking and excess alcohol may also be a good idea, as both these things have been associated with poor semen quality.
4. Talk to your doctor about supplements: “Taking some multivitamin and antioxidant supplements will also help in reducing infertility,” says Dr Singh.
5. Keep your stress under control: “Even though the infertility journey can be stressful for couples, reduction of stress and anxiety will help in boosting reproductive health,” she quips.
“If despite these measures you still struggle to get pregnant, it is better to seek the help of a fertility physician without delay. Age plays a very crucial role and it is best to get help sooner than later.” Dr. Singh concludes.
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