According to a recent survey of 500 individuals struggling with infertility, 92% shared that infertility has negatively impacted their quality of life and over half shared that there aren’t enough support groups or relevant resources available (Lab42 Research). In an effort to support and uplift those on their fertility journey, Eu Natural has partnered with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, to launch their innovative campaign, Bouquets of Hope, that combines the healing power of nature with the compassionate mission of Resolve.
As June is Infertility Awareness Month, Eu Natural (pronounced “you”) wanted to join the fight to destigmatize infertility, foster awareness and change the conversation so that no one feels they have to go through infertility alone.
Bouquets of Hope comes to life through orange bouquets—representing the brand’s plant-based fertility with the color of Infertility Awareness Month. During the month of June, for every picture of orange flowers posted on Instagram tagging @eunatural and using #BouquetsofHope, Eu Natural will donate to Resolve, in order to support their mission of providing information and resources to those struggling with infertility, ensuring that all people challenged in their family-building journey reach a resolution.
The brand is also partnered with renowned Fertility Nutritionist, McKenzie Caldwell. As an expert in the field, McKenzie possesses a wealth of knowledge on the crucial role nutrition plays in fertility. Wanting to join and amplify this important campaign, we had the chance to speak with McKenzie about her background, why it is important to destigmatize infertility, and dismantle some of the myths around nutrition and fertility.
Can you tell us how you got into the field of fertility awareness and fertility nutrition?
While studying nutritional sciences at Cornell University, I became increasingly interested in maternal nutrition. While I have yet to have children of my own, I find the science of fertility and pregnancy fascinating. I remember being on the edge of my seat learning about iron transport across the placenta – yes, I am that big of a nerd. Fast forward a few years to graduate school, at UNC Chapel Hill, and my fascination with maternal nutrition only got stronger.
Learning more about the social determinants of health and the state of maternal health care in the United States really ignited my passion. Now in practice as a dietitian, I find myself doing a lot of body literacy and sex education – our schools really don’t do an amazing job of helping us understand our reproductive systems. Fertility awareness is part of understanding your holistic health, and is also a vital part of family planning.
If you are able to, can you share some of your own personal story and how it has informed the work you do today?
As a kid, I was always curious about the world around me. I wanted to know how things worked, how people operated, how bodies functioned… At one point, I remember being given a microscope for my birthday and was SO excited about it. I also really loved food! I come from a line of fabulous home bakers, and was always excited about getting in the kitchen and experimenting.
Around middle school, like so many other young girls, I developed body image issues and fell into disordered eating. Though my interest in food started as a joyful one, it quickly became an unhealthy obsession that I struggled with a lot up until my early twenties. This is actually a really common origin story for many dietitians – one study showed that up to 89% of dietetics students meet criteria for orthorexia, or an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.
Despite all of this, I would like to think that my joyful inner nerd and foodie still would have found her way to pursuing a career in nutrition! I truly have loved every step of my journey. In graduate school, I really committed to recovery from disordered eating. Now as a dietitian, I want to help others take their power back from diet culture, and find ways to nourish their bodies for fertility and pregnancy without restriction.
What are some of the main ways our diet can impact a person’s fertility?
The leading cause of female infertility is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS. PCOS is a hormonal and metabolic condition that can make it difficult to ovulate regularly. Insulin resistance is one of the metabolic factors involved in PCOS, so regulating your blood sugar through balanced meals, medication, targeted supplements, exercise, and stress management can do a LOT to improve how regularly you ovulate with PCOS.
Disordered eating can also greatly impact both male and female fertility. Our reproductive systems require a lot of energy to function, so overexercise and under-eating can put our bodies into state where they are not able to produce adequate amounts of sex hormones. For female bodies, this looks like loss of menstrual cycle. For male bodies, this might be more difficult to spot due to not having an obvious sign like a missing period, but would show up in blood work as low testosterone.
Overall, eating a well-balanced eating pattern with a wide variety of different nutrients is important for general fertility. A few nutrients that I always look at are Vitamin D which plays a big role in sperm production and embryo implantation, antioxidants which are important for egg and sperm quality, and omega-3 fats which also help ensure good sperm and egg quality. Supplementing with a high quality multivitamin like Conception for Her, Conception for Him or GLOW Prenatal from Eu Natural can help you fill in the gaps.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about fertility and nutrition you constantly have to push back on?
I feel like a broken record sometimes when I talk about how certain diets don’t improve fertility! Keto, gluten free, and dairy free are the big ones that constantly pop up, and unfortunately still get recommended by doctors despite their lack of evidence. In general, it’s better to focus on adding nutrient dense foods to your eating pattern, not cutting out “bad” foods.
Stress is a big factor in many people’s lives, but it can be detrimental to fertility. What are some ways that you support patients wanting to get pregnant but are struggling with stress in their lives?
My goal is to help clients make nutrition the least stressful aspect of their lives. What this means is that we’re busting myths and improving their relationship with food and body, and also setting really small intentional goals to help make sustainable lifestyle changes. My approach is super flexible – instead of a strict diet to follow, I help my clients understand what evidence-based nutrition science says about foods for fertility, and how to incorporate these in ways that are enjoyable.
As June in Infertility awareness month, what are some of the things you hope will become more common in the collective discourse around this topic?
My hope is that infertility gets talked about more, period. 1 in 6 people worldwide struggle with infertility, so chances are that you or someone you know is going through it right now. It is not something to be ashamed of, and not something that is your fault. At the same time, there is SO much we can do with nutrition and lifestyle that can improve fertility for both male and female reproductive systems. Statistics show that male infertility is just as common as female infertility, so my hope is also that men become more empowered to talk about and take charge of their fertility instead of leaving the burden on women.
Given the importance of empowering people when it comes to reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy (especially right now in the US!), can you talk more about how infertility is part of this spectrum?
Reproductive justice is a guiding principle in my practice. I want to empower every individual to understand their body fully and have all of the information they need to plan for the family they want, in the timeline that is right for them. I think birth control gets demonized a lot in the natural health world, and while it does sometimes get used as a band aid instead of looking to root causes of hormonal concerns, it is still a really important tool for family planning and many medical conditions.
On the other end of the spectrum, the desire to build a biological family deserves support, and I don’t feel that young people are nearly as informed as they should be about the way their health impacts their future fertility. In an ideal world, all high schoolers would learn a whole lot more about both male and female reproductive systems with comprehensive sex education.
We love the Bouquets of Hope campaign from Resolve and Eu Natural. Can you tell us more about this and why you wanted to get involved?
I wanted to get involved in the Bouquets of Hope Campaign with RESOLVE and Eu Natural because I’m passionate about empowerment through health education. The more we know about our bodies, the less shame we feel, and the happier and healthier we can be. We have a lot of de-stigmatizing to do when it comes to infertility, and spreading awareness is a fantastic place to start. I also love that Eu Natural values community. Their free Facebook Group for folks trying to conceive is a really great place to get support through connection with peers.
If you have one main message for someone reading this, who might be struggling with fertility issues right now, what would you say to give them hope or comfort?
You are so not alone, and this is not your fault. You do not need to change your body or sacrifice your mental health to get pregnant. You are strong and capable, AND you deserve empathetic support in this journey.