Fertile Heart editor Julia Indichova interviews Shari Lieberman, Ph.D., C.N.S. Nutrition Scientist and Exercise Physiologist.
S.L.: The first “infertility” patient I worked with was many years ago. She had been going through various treatments for about a year, and she decided to take a six month break. There was no clear reason why she wasn’t conceiving. Her plan was to work with me for six months, get stronger and then go back to her reproductive endocrinologist and continue working with him. During the initial evaluation she told me she was on Synthroid, she had been hypothyroid for a very short time. Synthroid can sometimes throw off a person’s hormonal balance. I worked with her physician and gradually she replaced her Synthroid with liquid Kelp and a number of other nutrients. Her physician was monitoring her to make sure everything was within normal range. We worked with her food, we used a variety of herbs and she started exercising more consistently. A few months later, she calls me up and she is hysterical on the phone. She was pregnant. So, in the first case of infertility that I actually worked with, the goal wasn’t to achieve pregnancy. I was just trying to put into balance what was out of balance and really nothing more than that. I was really surprised that with diet, dietary supplements and herbs, we were actually able to help her conceive.
J.I.: How do you approach “putting the body back into balance” when someone comes to see you with a fertility problem?
S.L.: If they had worked with a physician prior to coming to see me, I look at all their blood work and all their reports. I look at their diet and most of the time that’s an area where many people can benefit from adjustments. The basic, intelligent diet I recommend is free of processed foods, white flour, and sugar. It includes whole grain rice, cereals, breads, pasta, etc.: organic fruits and vegies, whenever possible. Then of course each person has specific dietary needs, in terms of food sensitivity and nutritional requirements.
If their estrogen and progesterone levels are off, I will use herbs that can modulate hormones. The herbs will vary from person to person. If they have a history of cysts or fibroids I might use one regimen. Herbs such as black cohosh and vitex, for example, have been traditionally used to restore hormonal balance. I will always look at thyroid function, with my fertility clients, because there is a very clear correlation between fertility and the thyroid.. Now, standard thyroid tests are rather gross. Their reference ranges are huge. I’ve talked to physicians, who tell me that often a patient will come in with symptoms of hypothyrodism, but the blood test will come back normal. If it turns out that the person is hypothyroid, I give them nutritional thyroid support, like liquid iodine supplements, selenium, zinc. One needs these nutrients to convert thyroid hormones to their active form. We are finding thyroid disorders being epidemic in woman today.
J.I.: What do you think is the reason for this?
S.L.: I definitely think that environmental factors play a key role in this. If you read any scientific journals, you know that in the animal kingdom, a lot of species have reproductive problems. . Scientists have correlated this to xenohormones from insecticides and herbicides, industrial chemicals, such as PCB’s, Dioxin, lead, etc. We have a serious problem with chemicals in the environment. When I just think of what is in my garbage right now…Where is it all going and what is it doing to all of us? The xenoestrogens present in man-made chemicals mimic the effect of estrogen, trick the body, and hook on to estrogen receptor sites. They will interfere with thyroid function, and interfere with the production of Luteinizing hormone and Progeterone, hormones needed for ovulation and pregnancy. Not only do they interfere with our reproductive function but they contribute to the rapid increase of breast cancer. . .
There are a number of things we can do to protect our reproductive function. I always recommend a high-potency multi-vitamin/mineral formula. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C, and E. Generally I recommend a daily dosage of 2000mg of C and 800mg of E , People might want to consider taking an herb like Milk Thistle to support liver function. Our livers are suppose to clear the toxins from our bodies, but with the current build up of environmental toxins this is a rather difficult task. It might be useful for people to take a daily supplement of one of the green drinks that are on the market today.
J.I.: In the last few months I have been traveling around the country speaking about holistic approaches to fertility and I was invited to speak to a group in Washington, called the POF group. POF stands for Premature Ovarian Failure. These are women in their late twenties, early thirties who are going through menopause. Have you come across this problem in your practice.?
S.L.: Have I? I’ve been in practice for fifteen years. In the last year I have seen more women going though premature menopause than in fifteen years of practice. . And what do you think is happening to animals that can’t reproduce? What’s happening is that male animals are becoming more female and female animals are becoming more male. Now that’s a very good description of POF. Their ratio of testosterone to estrogen changes. I believe that we’re going to see this at much higher proportions. Something is very wrong. Is something wrong with the women? Do they need to be treated with hormones? Or is something wrong with our environment? And should these groups become more active about demanding research and action in the area of environmental issues.
J. I.: Action. I think you said the magic word. As devastating as “infertility” can be for all of us, it can also be a tremendous opportunity. For many of us it’s the first time we are able to really mobilize ourselves into action. And once we realize that what we do can make a difference on a personal level, we are empowered to fight for changes in our communities and society at large.