View Full Version : Paleo-fertility Question I Haven't Been Able To Answer

Greg Davis
06-16-2008, 07:41 AM
Here's a fertility question I've had posed to me that I'm a bit stuck on:

something along lines of:
"As our fertility mechanisms must be based around being more fertile when more resources are available, it must be that as insulin sensitivity increases, one becomes less fertile. For a female this would mean less likely to get pregnant if insulin sensitivity is high. For a male, does this mean testosterone goes lower?"

Wouldn't relatively higher insulin resistance in the fall raise testosterone in males as a signal to "get it on" and have spring babies? A bit inspired by stuff in Lights Out here..

What I'm getting at here is I'm not sure how to logically defend having high insulin sensitivity year-round when thinking about hormones and our evolutionary past.

Garrett Smith
06-16-2008, 04:19 PM
The metabolic syndrome and male infertility. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18222914?ordinalpos=8&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsP anel.Pubmed_RVDocSum)

This review article evaluates the literature regarding metabolic syndrome and male reproductive health. Links between obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and insulin resistance are each examined with regard to their associated detrimental effects on male fertility.

Obesity and infertility. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17982356?ordinalpos=16&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsP anel.Pubmed_RVDocSum)

Fertility can be negatively affected by obesity. In women, early onset of obesity favours the development of menses irregularities, chronic oligo-anovulation and infertility in the adult age. Obesity in women can also increase risk of miscarriages and impair the outcomes of assisted reproductive technologies and pregnancy, when the body mass index exceeds 30 kg/m. The main factors implicated in the association may be insulin excess and insulin resistance. These adverse effects of obesity are specifically evident in polycystic ovary syndrome. In men, obesity is associated with low testosterone levels. In massively obese individuals, reduced spermatogenesis associated with severe hypotestosteronemia may favour infertility. Moreover, the frequency of erectile dysfunction increases with increasing body mass index.

Higher insulin sensitivity = better fertility = lower carb intake.

High carb intake = insulin resistance = less fertility = less testosterone.

Increased available resources (foodstuff, particulary Paleo sources without excessive modern fruit) doesn't necessarily imply lowered insulin sensitivity.

The current Black Box data (ie. see American infertility rates along with obesity rates) regarding insulin and fertility would seem to be pretty straightforward.

What exactly do you need to justify again based on this info? :-)

Greg Davis
06-17-2008, 05:04 AM
Hmm there is clearly studies to show obesity and insulin resistance inhibit fertility but that doesn't necessarily mean the opposite does not. (modern obesity is so ridiculously outside our historical norm it doesn't have much relevance). I'm not saying high insulin sensitivity has any negative effect, just trying to be able to think it through logically.

Cuz due to the seasonal origins of our hormone development, it just seems logical that insulin sensitivity would be lowest in the fall and that would be tied in somehow to signal reproduction in both genders.

another example-> imagine a tribe runs in to famine conditions (low food availability, high energy expenditure) -> insulin sensitivity would go very high -> somehow this has to down-regulate sex hormones

My girlfriend has "gone paleo" for the last few months and she's seeing some disruptions to the regularity of her cycle (ie. 2 out of 3 months its been delayed) and its been a bit of a thought exercise in this respect.

One thought, relevant to the above example, is that your body might gauge relative changes in insulin sensitivity, as opposed to absolute levels. So an initial dietary change, might say to the body "ok insulin sensitivity is higher than average for last few years, down-regulate sex hormones".. and then reset to a higher norm if consistent with the diet.

I'd like to find a good accessible book that covers hormones from an evolutionary perspective. Lights Out is great but it just wets my appetite..!

Darryl Shaw
06-17-2008, 05:24 AM
Greg, I think you're overlooking the obvious on this fertility question - menstruation stops if food is so scarce that a womans body fat drops below ~15%. No food = no babies.

Greg Davis
06-17-2008, 05:54 AM
Hmm I dunno.. she seems to me to have a healthy bf %. But she has lost a bit of weight, or at least she says her pants fit looser..

I know < ~15% bf is a rule of thumb but it must be driven hormonally.. and there should be a parallel mechanism in males I would think.

Garrett Smith
06-17-2008, 07:47 AM
Female cycles will definitely "adjust" once the diet is cleaned up. That is normal. If it keeps happening after six months, then I would look deeper.

Mark Gebhard
06-17-2008, 07:52 AM
But for males, there'd be no evolutionary advantage to slowing down reproduction during tougher times. They'd just want to reproduce as often as possible since it costs them so little.

Greg Davis
06-17-2008, 08:15 AM
Mark: that was my initial thought too; but I'm not so sure about that. The counterargument would be that, given pretty small tribal sizes, it would still be male's interests not to have female's pregnant at inopportune times. Males still have a stake in their offspring's success and in the group's efficient use of resources. But maybe the onus is completely on the females to regulate it. Dunno.

Basically I was wondering if there is a correlation between,
insulin sensitivity -> testosterone -> male sex drive
You'd think there would be.

Of course it could probably be shown in individuals with metabolic syndrome, but they are seriously messed hormonally, so its not going to tell us much.

Keeping insulin down is most likely just good all around.. but its just a bit of a thought exercise.

Darryl Shaw
06-18-2008, 06:26 AM
According to S. Boyd Eaton the sex drive of male hunter-gatherers takes a nose dive when body fat drops below ~5%. I presume it's due to reduced levels of testosterone but it makes sense not to waste energy reproducing if food supplies are so scarce any offspring would have little chance of survival. It could also be that reduced male fertility when food is scarce is a mechanism for ensuring their survival as lactating mothers and children would compete for resources.

Steve Liberati
06-19-2008, 06:29 PM
For what its worth. Kinda of embarrassing to write this post, but figured it could save a few unfortunate souls out there.

For the last 12 months my wife and I have been trying to concieve. My wife who is a teacher and extremely organized, had everything completed layed out and made sure we never skipped sex on the few days around ovaulation when it was possible to impregnant her. After 12 months of trying (and boy did we!), my wife and I decided to talk to our doctor and seek guidance. He referred us to a reproductive specialist. To make a long story short, and after a series of tests it was established that my sperm count was very low below normal levels. It was below 10 million which was very poor. Normal average sperm count is 40 million and anything below is 20 mil is low. This was in February.

So I took the Doc's advice and followed a few of his suggestions. Here's what he told me:
1). Take a high potentcy amino acid and antioxidant formula (the lady at the office tried to sell me Solgar for double the price and say it was their own brand! lol...I told her I would buy my own but thanks for the offer).
2.) Boxers, instead of briefs.
3.) No hot tubs EVER, which I don't take do anyway.

So this morning I went back for another follow-up semen anaylsis and just found out a few hours ago that my sperm count has went up significantly and above 40 million (from below 10 million 6 months ago!). I didn't believe it at first until another technician got on the phone to confirm the numbers.

Other than the multi and switching to boxers the only other thing I have changed in this time is my training regimen. Up until that point I was doing 3 days on and 1 day off. Changed it to 2 on/1 off. And also over the last 6 weeks have been doing a lot of strength training (Texas Method) on 1 of the 2 days with a focus on squats, deads, presses, cleans and snatches.

I still can't believe that my numbers went up that much over that short period of a time. Maybe there is something else going on here that I am failing to take into consideration, but if I had to say I really think the factors above played a huge part.

If I recall correctly, paleo man did run around and exercise without tight fitting underwear on, did he not?

So what is it for you: boxers or briefs?

sarena kopciel
06-19-2008, 07:18 PM
Awesome news Steve!! Best of luck to you and the missu:) s....

Steve Liberati
06-19-2008, 08:15 PM
Thanks Sarena. Speaking of babies, you have a beautiful one there in your avatar!

sarena kopciel
06-20-2008, 03:31 AM
Thanks Steve, she was 29 days there and they flew back to Jerusalem with her 2 days ago. I am sad.....but it's time for them to start their lives as a family independently now. The whole experience with the homebirth was awesome!!

Oh and btw, I also experienced infertility when I was first trying. It took me 4 years of trying til I had my first (which included a miscarriage during that time too). Its frustrating when you want something so badly and it doesnt happen easily. I do acupuncture to be helpful for me though!

Greg Davis
06-20-2008, 05:27 AM
Steve, thanks for sharing. Excuse my ignorance, but does low sperm count directly correlate with low testosterone or are they independent?

Garrett Smith
06-20-2008, 07:57 AM
Thanks for sharing. I believe that is another example of too much metcon being counterproductive and detrimental to one of the most obvious markers of health in men--fertility.

I would guess that the amino supplement was of little help, as I'm sure you eat enough protein in general. Changing from briefs to boxers could have been helpful, maybe not.

Long metcons also really raise body temperature, particularly in a crucial area when done wearing briefs, which can be destructive to sperm (like hot tubs). The shift from more metcon to more strength training likely helped in many ways.

As Sarena has said, acupuncture can be very helpful for infertility and a heck of a lot cheaper than conventional fertility treatments. I had some friends who dropped $50K on fertility treatments, when the simple problem was that the woman was in massive adrenal fatigue (but what do I know?). At one point, she had been drinking a pot of coffee a day (or more) and even keeping a cold cup of coffee by her bedside to drink in the middle of the night--she could drink it and fall right asleep! She never fixed that issue, hence the doctors couldn't figure out why her body would "attack" the fertilized eggs they tried to implant--the simple fact was her body knew that carrying a baby was a risky proposition at best. I believe the baby was born preterm at 2 or 3 pounds.

What worked for Cori and I was trying as much as we could days 10-16 of her cycle. I also changed from briefs to boxers during that period. First month of that, boom, good to go. I haven't done a whole lot of metcon in my training for a while. So, two black boxes potentially showing the effects of metcon on fertility.

Chronic high-intensity GPP may be lowering testosterone and burning out the adrenals, hence the high cholesterol (the body's best effort to raise hormone levels) that is being seen in many folks who are following programs like these.

John Alston
06-20-2008, 08:08 AM
For us males not into making babies right now, Greg's question is more relevant. Isn't it just heat that hurts the spermatogenesis at the heart of the boxers/briefs issue?

I remember when the word on boxers vs briefs seemed to pass around high school. Dudes talking about boxers, high sperm counts, etc. The studies never mentioned anything about T.
I wondered why they were so interesed in upping the sperm count. Last thing I wanted in high school was to put a bun in my girl's oven.

Garrett Smith
06-20-2008, 09:05 AM
I do believe the sperm connection to boxers/briefs is simply one of temperature, like hot-tubs.

Craig Loizides
06-20-2008, 06:28 PM
I thought this was an interesting article testosterone, running, and gender of offspring.


Darryl Shaw
06-21-2008, 05:29 AM
I thought this was an interesting article testosterone, running, and gender of offspring.


If distance running lowers testosterone levels perhaps it could be used as a means of reducing the risk of prostate cancer in those with a family history of the conditition.

Robb Wolf
06-25-2008, 03:31 PM
That is pretty much the lights out thought: Insulin resistance will increase in summer/fall, this will decrease sex hormone binding globulin, making more androgen's available...increasing fertility. I think it's easy to overdo this otherwise transitional state!

Here's a fertility question I've had posed to me that I'm a bit stuck on:

something along lines of:
"As our fertility mechanisms must be based around being more fertile when more resources are available, it must be that as insulin sensitivity increases, one becomes less fertile. For a female this would mean less likely to get pregnant if insulin sensitivity is high. For a male, does this mean testosterone goes lower?"

Wouldn't relatively higher insulin resistance in the fall raise testosterone in males as a signal to "get it on" and have spring babies? A bit inspired by stuff in Lights Out here..

What I'm getting at here is I'm not sure how to logically defend having high insulin sensitivity year-round when thinking about hormones and our evolutionary past.

Yael Grauer
06-25-2008, 08:48 PM
As far as fertility for women, it's really more complicated than figuring out days of cycles because women have different cycle lengths, luteal phases, etc. and sometimes delayed ovulation due to stress/travel/etc. There's a great book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility which has more than you would ever want to know. They also sell software which is supposed to predict fertile days if you dutifully track morning temperature, cervical fluid, etc. But it's complicated and you have to wake up at the same time every day.

There's also this really expensive gadget called Ladycomp which they claim works 99.3% of the time, but the data is based on an observational study which isn't as reliable. But anyway it keeps a history of your temperatures (and also a standard compilation of like 700,000 other womens' cycles) to predict ovulation. And there's a BabyComp version for people who are actually trying to get pregnant. It's not cheap though.

Cal Jones
06-26-2008, 02:02 AM
Just my own experiences, since I was talking to Sarena about this.
I started Crossfit around March or April of last year. I tried to follow the plan as much as my schedule allowed, but scaled the workouts to my own abilities.

I started feeling ill around June. I began to develop orthostatic hypotension (you stand out and your vision goes for a moment, basically), a feeling of being "out of it" (it was really hard to describe - kind of like being slightly drunk, except without the accompanying euphoria) and occassional palpitations. My periods, which were regular despite not being on the pill, because irregular. I was worried (I had an intensive rollercoaster holiday booked in July that I was really looking forward to) which probably made things worse due to the stress. I had several blood tests but nothing showed up. A urine test showed I had mild cystitis so I went on to antibiotics. I went on holiday and started feeling better quite quickly, despite the long days.

Came back and eased back into training. I wasn't training with quite the same intensity as before but I still did some metcons.

I started coming down with virus after virus - colds, flu, one of those 48 hour vomiting/shivering things, a nasty bout of bronchitis over Christmas, then another cold in February.

Periods were even more irregular - either late, or early, or I'd get a double one (a 5 day period followed by 2-3 days of respite, then another full blown periods). I started putting on weight despite watching my diet. I went back to the doctor and asked for more blood tests, particularly for thyroid and my female hormones. I was 40 (41 now) so concerned I might be in perimenopause.

Hormones came back normal - in fact the only thing that was off was that I had a slightly low white cell count (not surprising given how many viruses I'd had during that six months). I was not perimenopausal or anything else.

I went back to training the way I used to - infrequently, mainly strength training, with plenty of rest between sets. Not only have I not been sick since February but my periods are back to normal again. I have only just read about adrenal fatigue, and it sounds very much as if that was what was happening. I must conclude that metcons, or at least, regular metcons, are not for me.

Gittit Shwartz
06-26-2008, 04:07 AM
Similar experience here, Cal, except it wasn't brought about by excess metcon but by high training volume and chronically low calorie intake (with probably some stress thrown in). I didn't get a period at all between March 07 and October 07. I was pretty lean at the time but not lean enough to explain amenorrhea, at least in the beginning. My periods came back after I had gained back about 10 lbs and had a month of lower training volume. Orthostatic hypotension I had for years, on and off, definitely on in the above time period.

Cal Jones
06-26-2008, 04:24 AM
I wouldn't say low calories were to blame in my instance. I actually gained weight (then tried IF in a hope to lose it, only making matters far worse). Ultimately I resorted to V-Diet to get the weight off and did well on it (in terms of both losing 9lbs, and feeling fine).
Training seems to be the make or break thing for me. I've put myself through some pretty insane training routines during the past 20 years and inevitably, I either get injured, get sick or burn out and lose motivation. Sometimes all three. I guess my body's just not wired for quick recovery, so I have to respect that.

Tirzah Harper
06-26-2008, 05:49 AM
Yael - that fertility book IS pretty good.
When I was charting my temp several years ago, I had a small quiet alarm that I kept under my pillow along with the thermometer. I set the alarm for some weird wee-hour time (maybe 4:30 or 5:00, early enough that I could still go back to sleep) and I'd wake up, pop in the thermometer, write down the time, and fall back asleep.
Otherwise my schedule isn't regular enough (waking at the same time every day) to track my temp properly. I had the same issues when I was taking the Pill for a few months - thirty minutes one way or the other made a HUGE difference.

Steven Low
06-26-2008, 01:20 PM

What kind of metcons were you doing and on what schedule? Just curious. :)

Yael Grauer
06-26-2008, 01:39 PM
I think it's more a lack of fat thing than a low calorie/excessive training thing.