Preparing for a winter IVF cycle by Mel Brown

So the clocks have gone back in some parts of the world and the dark mornings make it even harder to get out of bed and as for my make-up

I am at the stage where I can’t see properly without my glasses anyway and then the lack of daylight compounds the problem, I look like a crazy woman by the time I can check it in daylight!

So, a plan for this day and the Winter has to hatched, especially for my clients planning an IVF cycle. There is some evidence that doing IVF in the Spring or Summer may produce better results and, in my opinion, this can only be down to two things; darkness and lack of vitamin D.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects most of us by February

From low mood to the blackest of depressions, the lack of exposure to the blue light of day through our eyes to our brains affects mood (bad), sleep (can’t wake up), appetite (need carbs) and libido (low). Light and dark has a powerful effect on our circadian rhythms, our 24- hour body clock where hormones and brain chemicals ebb and flow in a specific cycle and our reproductive hormones are affected too. It’s no surprise that men experience a rise in libido in the mornings because at this time testosterone peaks. But it is the change of light that helps this along. Cortisol also rises then, and then in the evening falls and sleep is then triggered by darkness switching on the part of the brain that secretes melatonin. It is all very well organised!

And of course, vitamin D is low in the Winter, reaching its lowest level by March in the Northern Hemisphere. And if wasn’t optimal in the first place it will be very low by the time Winter really gets going. Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin, influencing our immune health, our hormones, our muscular-skeletal system and our moods. It may have a role in modifying elevated cytokines and regulating the cycles of women with PCOS. So, a really very important vitamin to consider.

And lastly our immune systems come in for a bit of a hammering as Winter gets going

This is especially serious for those on immune suppressant drugs like steroids (prednisolone and dexamethasone) Humira and Hydroxychloroquine, which supress the natural immune response. Having a bad cold or flu, or worse, needing antibiotics is not recommended during an IVF cycle! Moreover, for a man, having a temperature/fever is not good for sperm. So, keeping on top of helping your immune system work is vital in Winter.

So, the things I recommend involve the usual sensible advice. Eating lots of vegetables and fruit, getting plenty of sleep, moderate exercise and staying as calm and relaxed as possible. And my Winter extras are:

A Wake-Up SAD lamp. I love this!

You set it to come on at the time you want to wake up and it will switch itself on 20 minutes beforehand, gradually filling the room with the blue spectrum light of the day. This switches off all your night-time hormones and brain chemicals and switches on the daytime ones. It is amazing what a difference it makes to starting the day in the dark. You can also buy small desktop ones that you can put on for 20 minutes in the morning while you work if you prefer. I have one by Lumie which cost about £125, but worth every penny I think.

Take a vitamin D supplement

I usually recommend about 1000iu/25mcg but it is good to test it so you can bespoke it as many people need a much higher dose to get up to the optimum level. The Vitamin company called Better You do a good value home pinprick blood test which I think is well worth doing.

And finally, I always recommend using one of those nasal sprays like Vic’s First Defence or Boots Defence Plus. You spray it up your nose before you go into a busy place filled with germs! Like the tube or your office, and then again before going home. It just locks into the nasal and throat mucus membranes physically preventing common bacteria and viruses from entering. It’s quite safe, even in pregnancy.

Arming both of you against Winter is really important when you are preparing for IVF.

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