Dirty Genes & Fertility: Can “Cleaning” Your Genes Help You Conceive?
Fertility rates in the U.S. are on a steep decline. While there are many factors at play, the fact that more women are becoming mothers at an older age may play a role. The average age of first-time motherhood across the world is now 31. (1)
Modern medicine and increased health awareness allow women to have children well into their 40s. But fertility treatments are expensive, and they exclude many who can’t build their families that way. Genetic health is often discussed when diagnosing infertility or unexplained pregnancy loss. Yet few fertility professionals delve into epigenetic issues that may actually be correctable.
Our bodies are constantly remaking themselves thanks to cellular and DNA replication.
With the right tools like supportive nutrients and a balanced lifestyle, you can correct problematic epigenetic mutations.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss genetic mutations that affect fertility, including those that can and cannot be changed. We’ll also discuss what a real fertility diet looks like. Then, we’ll explain how to support healthy genetic expression before conception, during pregnancy, and beyond.
How Do Genetics Influence Fertility?
Genetics can influence fertility in many ways. In some cases, a chromosome abnormality or disorder can lead to a primary infertility diagnosis. This may make conception impossible without advanced reproductive treatment (ART). However, this is not common.
Genetic factors can cause infertility in both men and women. Chromosomes can be missing or mutated in the genetic sequence. Aneuploidy is a chromosome problem where there are too many or too few chromosomes to pass on to an embryo. Translocation occurs when some chromosomes are attached at the wrong location, making it impossible to pass on healthy chromosomes to offspring. Inversions occur when a chromosome rotates and connects in an inverted manner, changing the genetic code.
You can also have genetic causes of infertility that don’t involve chromosome problems. Genetically linked disorders or medical conditions may also lead to conception challenges. In women, these can include: (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
- Cystic fibrosis (or being a cystic fibrosis carrier which can affect ovulation)
- Kallmann syndrome
- Primary ciliary dyskinesia
- Fragile X syndrome
In men, these can include: (7, 8, 9)
- Cystic fibrosis (or being a cystic fibrosis carrier which can affect sperm and lead to low sperm counts)
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Y chromosome>deletion
Even without a personal history of these conditions, women or men who have a family history of these disorders could be at an increased risk for genetic disorders.
Unless someone has an overt chromosome abnormality, genetics is rarely the only cause of infertility. However, even if you don’t have any of these genetic conditions, your genes could still affect your fertility. This is because you can have mutations (or variants) in many other genes that impact multiple aspects of your fertility. These genetic abnormalities can influence:
- how well your body makes eggs (or sperm),
- how your cells replicate,
- your body’s ability to access nutrients for methylation,
- other DNA processes,
- and more.
If you’re doing in vitro fertilization (IVF), you can get your embryos tested before transfer with preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which can let you know if the chromosomes are normal.
Epigenetics and Infertility
Epigenetics is the process by which cells control gene activity without actually modifying the DNA sequence. In other words, it’s how your lifestyle impacts your genes. You can have epigenetic influences over your genes whether or not you have any “problematic” DNA or chromosomes. You can also have “dirty” genes or variants that are problematic. Meaning, your DNA is normal, but your genes are behaving poorly because they have been dirtied throughout your life. As Dr. Ben Lynch describes in his bestselling book Dirty Genes, you can clean your dirty genes through lifestyle and nutrition changes. More on that below.
Research is still figuring out all of the ways that gene expression can impact larger aspects of your health, including fertility. MTHFR gene and enzyme variants have been fairly widely studied. Certain variants in the MTHFR gene and the methylation cycle do correspond with fertility troubles in both men and women. MTHFR has also been connected to recurrent pregnancy loss. (10, 11, 12)
Which Genes Are Involved in Epigenetic Reactions?
As already mentioned, MTHFR can certainly be involved in fertility problems. But what other gene mutations might be also be involved? Since a large body of research on the subject is missing, we can consider the work of practitioners in the field.
Dr. Ben Lynch, who has extensively studied what he terms the “Super Seven” genes, indicates that in addition to MTHFR, other genes that might be involved with infertility include GST, GPX, NOS3, PEMT, PAI-1, CBS, and DAO, among others. He discusses some of these in his book Dirty Genes. Other practitioners who work with infertility and epigenetics agree with these and include COMT on their list, too. (13)
The most important point to know is that you typically can’t blame infertility on one epigenetic variant or expression.
It’s rarely a single gene causing all of your problems.
It’s usually the full-body picture of what’s happening with your DNA, cells, gene expression, current health status, and more. This may seem complicated and defeating, but it’s actually good news. You don’t have to target a specific gene for fixing. There’s also not a magical or elusive fertility protocol that needs to be followed. All you need to do is optimize your overall health since fertility and reproductive wellness are an integral part of that.
How To Clean Your Genes for Optimal Fertility
How do you eat for fertility? Can you solve infertility with diet and lifestyle? Is it possible to clean your genes? What’s the best way to support a successful IVF cycle?
These are big questions that many people want answers to. Perhaps you’ve even spent time internet searching for these things. The problem is that there’s no one protocol applicable to everyone. That’s because your genes are unique! A protocol that optimizes someone else’s health isn’t necessarily going to work for you. The same goes for your partner.
There are some universal principles that apply, however. Dr. Ben Lynch shares a basic gene-supportive protocol called the “Soak and Scrub.” He details it in his book Dirty Genes, but here’s the gist:
- Get your genes to work smarter, not harder.
- Eliminate things that make your body and your genes work harder.
- Tune into your body and emotions. Stress doesn’t cause infertility, but it can certainly make your body struggle more to get through basic daily functions.
- Feed your genes with nourishing, nutrient-dense foods. Don’t obsess over a specific diet. Do be intentional about eating foods packed with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins that support a balanced body.
- If you’ve got a variation in your MTHFR gene or other methylation issues, you must make sure you’re consuming the correct form of nutrients (like folate vs. folic acid). If you don’t know your methylation status, you can learn more by taking a genetic test like the StrateGene DNA Kit. Consider opting for methylated or active nutrients.
- Get enough sleep!
- Breathe deeply and do things that support your body in shedding stress. Actively work to modulate how much stress your body and your brain are carrying.
- Get regular physical activity because the human body was designed to move. Don’t force yourself into an exercise routine that isn’t sustainable—just find a way to move your body that works for you. Ideally, it also gives you a chance to spend some time in nature, too!
You can get the full Soak and Scrub protocol by reading Dirty Genes<. Consider getting personalized support by working with a reproductive medicine practitioner, such as a Reproductive Endocrinologist or Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) doctor. The most important thing to remember is that it doesn’t have to be a complicated, hard-to-follow, expensive routine. Helping genes work better involves a lot of common sense and returning to the basics of healthy living that sometimes get lost in the chaos of modern life.
Do You Need Genetic Testing for Fertility?
Only your healthcare provider can truly answer the question of whether you have a chromosomal abnormality that is contributing to fertility. You can get karyotyping genetic testing to understand your odds of producing healthy embryos. Most people do not have abnormal chromosomes (although this does not downplay the significance and struggle for those who do!).
You can also test your genes from the comfort of your own home with the StrateGene DNA Kit. StrateGene can help you understand some of the common variants mentioned in this post that many practitioners view as relating to fertility.
But do you need to get this testing done to have a successful pregnancy? Usually, the answer is no. Even without genetic testing, you can follow common sense healthful living tips to support your genes. Infertility treatments can be expensive enough. You don’t need to pay for extra testing on top of it. For some, information is power. For others, information overload is deflating and leads to more stress and fear.
The Bottom Line
Knowing the types of information and support that will help you on your journey to parenthood is half the battle. Genes can play a huge role in how well your embryo forms and develops, and we have little control over this process! You can optimize your diet and lifestyle, but much of early pregnancy is still a mystery even to scientists and researchers. That’s good news because even when things seem bleak or when you’re given an “unexplained infertility” diagnosis, there can still be a chance for conceiving.
Fertility seems complex and frustrating, especially when you don’t seem to have enough of it, but it’s not a magical code to crack. Much of supporting your fertility is about giving your cells and genes the tools they need to function optimally. That’s as basic as it gets and applies even to people who aren’t trying to get pregnant.
† These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
‡ This information is for educational purposes only. No product results are implied.