In This Section
Magically complex, the reproductive system ensures the continuation of our species. Reproductive cells contain the genetic material for each of us. In a woman, the ovaries contain the ova (eggs), the numbers of which are fixed during foetal development and cannot be renewed or replaced. As one ovum is released with each menstrual cycle, the supplies decrease as a woman gets older and this can cause problems with fertility in older women who may still want to have children.
A man produces sperm on a constant basis and the sperm is more likely to be healthy in a well-nourished male into his old age. Sexual reproduction ensures that the genetic material is shared equally between the ova and sperm and ensures variety in the resultant offspring.
The man’s body & hormones
In men the testes require a temperature 3°C lower than body temperature for the sperm to remain viable, which is why sperm are stored outside the body in the testes. Sperm are continually produced and the entire process takes about 74 days. This means that 3 months of a healthy diet and lifestyle is required to prepare healthy sperm for planned parenthood. Once produced, sperm can remain stored in the testes and are fertile for several months. Sperm mature at the rate of 300 million a day. They have a life expectancy of 48 hours once inside the female reproductive tract. Hormones regulate the system and they are the same hormones as in women, but in differing amounts and proportions.
Hormones are responsible for:
- Development of the male in embryo and descent of the testes
- Development of external genitalia and certain parts of the brain
- Sexual characteristics; the changes of puberty
- Sexual function: male sexual behaviour, sperm production and libido
- Metabolism: stimulating protein production plus heavier bone and muscle mass
The prostate gland is involved in fertility. It is the size of a chestnut and lies in the pelvic cavity in front of the rectum and behind the pubic bone. It secretes a thin milky lubricating fluid essential to maintaining live sperm.
Other glands lie beneath the prostate and secrete alkaline fluid to help the sperm cope with the acid environment of the vagina. This fluid also reduces the number of sperm damaged during ejaculation and provides lubrication to the end of the penis during intercourse. The average ejaculate is 2.5-5 ml with 50-150 million sperm per ml. Below 20 million/ml the male is likely to be infertile. Only a fraction of sperm survives to reach the ovum, although a large number of them still have to reach it in order to produce enough of an enzyme that is needed to digest the protective material covering the ovum. Once the ovum is penetrated, all remaining sperm die.
Infertility in men is complex and may have a genetic or nutritional basis as well as a functional one.
The woman’s body & hormones
Structurally and hormonally a woman is more complicated than a man when it comes to reproduction.
Each ovary lies in the upper pelvic cavity, one on each side of the uterus. A series of ligaments hold them and other reproductive organs in place. The ovaries contain ova (eggs) which, after puberty, are triggered by hormones to leave the ovaries and begin the journey that can lead to fertilisation and conception.
The fallopian tubes
About 10 cm long, these extend from the body of the uterus, one on each side. The open end of the tube is situated very close to the ovary, and fimbriae (a fringe of tissue on the end of the tube) help guide the released ovum into the tube. The fallopian tube is usually where the egg is fertilised by active sperm. Occasionally there is a fault in this process and a fallopian tube pregnancy occurs that must be dealt with by emergency surgery. Non-fertilised ova are simply passed from the body during the menstrual bleed.
After fertilisation, rapid cell division takes place and by the end of day 3 there are 16 cells. At about 5 days the cluster of cells moves from the fallopian tube to the main body of the uterus and hopefully embeds in a position that will ensure a safe vaginal delivery. Usually the mother's body will not reject the foreign tissue containing the male genetic material; it is thought that the mother produces antibodies which mask the foreign antigens and prevent an attack upon it by her immune system. Early miscarriage may be due to an inappropriate immune reaction against this foreign tissue.
By the end of 2 months the rudiments of all the organs are developed and by the end of the third month the placenta is functioning. This allows oxygen and nutrients to diffuse across from maternal to foetal blood, while allowing waste removal from foetus to maternal blood. This 3 month switch-over can also trigger miscarriage if placental function does not completely kick in. Almost all drugs pass across the placenta. Viruses such as HIV, rubella, chicken pox, measles, encephalitis and poliomyelitis can also cross the placenta. The placenta stores nutrients and also produces the hormones necessary for the maintenance of the pregnancy.
This is situated between the rectum and bladder and is attached to each side of the pelvic cavity by broad and strong ligaments to form the pelvic floor. Maintaining a strong pelvic floor is vital. Labour and repeated pregnancies weaken this, as does obesity and low hormone levels after the menopause. This can cause bladder problems or prolapsed uterus. The uterus has a strong muscle layer that develops during late pregnancy to push the newborn into the world (becoming the strongest muscle in the body at that time).
The lining of the uterus is rich in blood vessels and mucus glands. The cervix is at the junction of the uterus and the vagina and produces most of the fluid of the female reproductive system – 20-60 ml each day during the reproductive years. Around the time of ovulation the cervical mucus becomes less viscous and more receptive to the entry of sperm from the vagina. It supplements the energy needs of the sperm, acts as a sperm reservoir and protects sperm in a hostile acid environment. It also serves a role in assisting sperm undergo changes when inside the female before they can fertilise an ovum.
This is about 10 cm long when un-stimulated and is composed of mucous membrane and folded connective tissue which allows for lengthening and distension. The muscle layer is capable of great stretch during childbirth. The vagina stores sugars that produce organic acids. This creates a pH of 4.9-3.5 and maintains vaginal health.
Women have a very complex hormone cycle. Consequently, a great deal of their daily energy is drawn towards production and upkeep of the correct hormone levels, from monthly menstruation through to childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause. The end result of this is that women are statistically three times more vulnerable than men at the hormonal level. They constantly need to tend their body in a way that is not so vital for men.
However, both sexes store hormones and other vital essences needed not only for their sexual and reproductive lives but also for general vitality and strength, especially of their immune system. The body must be nourished and rested accordingly to ensure balance. Without hormones, the whole intricate network of our beings would cease to exist, not just sexually and reproductively but in a more widely functioning sense. As hormones flow in cycles through the bloodstream they continuously send vital instructions to all parts of the body. In fact the origin of the word hormone comes from the Greek "horman" meaning to stir up, stimulate or excite, describing this active and constant transmission. There are many hormones to consider: we all know about testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone – hormones that have a particular influence over our reproductive system – but there are over 50 different hormones located by science so far, influencing many aspects of our metabolism.
- Foods that can have a negative influence include those that can contain antibiotics and steroids – generally high-fat animal products such as dairy products, eggs and meat. Because these place an additional burden on delicate hormonal systems, it is best to minimise or avoid these as far as possible. Where this seems too difficult, make the transition to organic products.
- It also helps to avoid fast foods wrapped in plastics. As well as the poor nutrition that these foods are likely to provide, plastic packaging can contain "xenoestrogens" – chemicals that mimic hormones and can upset the balance.
- Stop, or drastically reduce, your tea and coffee intake because an excess may disrupt hormone regulation.
- Support the reproductive system with Superfood Plus to ensure that you maximise your intake of all minerals, vitamins and quality plant-based essential fatty acids.
- Fennel Seeds support good oestrogen balance and can be taken daily. Spices and culinary herbs are generally high in antioxidants and support immunity.
- Wild crafted Nettle Leaf Herbal Tea will help maintain iron levels.
- We have evolved systems that respond to nature, exercise, deep breathing, physical work, community, play and joyfulness. Balance your time between activity and rest plus deep sleep and simple foods. All of this will enable you to cope with a period of stress and then return to a non-stress state and bring rhythm to your life.
- Take hot & cold showers, as they will benefit the entire endocrine system. Massage with essential oils that support balance: Ylang-Ylang and Lavender essential oils can be mixed into a base such as Sweet Almond Oil and used daily. Geranium is another essential oil that is particularly supportive in times of stress.
Our herbal formulae are strong flavoured and effective. Our herbs enjoy a long history of use. A large proportion of them are grown in English soils, harvested using bio-chemistry analysis and many of them are processed fresh, which heightens their remedial properties. The majority are grown organically and are sustainable and wild-crafted. All manufacturing is carried out using licensed good manufacturing practice.