Friday 21 October 2016

Top foods to boost your fertility

Published 26/04/2016 | 02:30

Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts
Brightly coloured fruits are high in antioxidants.
Mackerel - zinc is abundant in fish.

All couples struggling to conceive should look at their lifestyle says nutritionist Gaye Godkin, and why not start with the food you consume?

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Positive lifestyle behaviours

Fertility solutions are big business and medical intervention is very expensive. An estimated one in six Irish couples now experience fertility issues on their road to conception. The reasons are complex and can be male or female or both. One thing all couples going through this difficulty have in common, is that they need to look at their lifestyle behaviours.

Food and its impact on health outcomes has now emerged as one of the major players in achieving a pregnancy. While the female body is the vessel to carry and nourish the developing foetus, the role of the male in conception is of equal importance.

There is a steep increase in males presenting with fertility issues. The focus on sperm quality and the genetics of this raw material is comprehensive and responds best to dietary intervention and adopting positive lifestyle behaviours.

The new area of science, termed 'epigenetics', simply means that our DNA is not fixed but in a constant state of change. Certain environmental factors and nutrients means that genes are being switched on and off. This is obvious when we see damaged sperm in the male or what is called DNA fragmentation, whereby the sperm may not be formed properly.

There are no treatments available, pharmaceutical or otherwise, to treat this condition. Positive lifestyle changes need to be adopted and diet is the most effective way to influence sperm quality. Dietary changes can help prevent genetic damage. Choose foods high in antioxidants, such as brightly coloured fruit and vegetables. Beetroot, berries, orange and red vegetables are particularly good.

Skip the Alcohol

Damaging to both sperm health and female eggs, alcohol causes cellular damage to the body and it increases oxidation and the production of free radicals. The female hormone system is delicate and an excess of alcohol can upset it. Male sperm is also affected by alcohol consumption.

Alcohol is rapidly converted to glucose in the blood and excess circulating glucose damages sperm cells and causes weight gain. Alcohol also destroys a vital B vitamin called folate in the body, and this is a vitamin necessary for healthy DNA replication in sperm. Rich sources of folate include, lamb's liver, green vegetables, avocado and green lentils.

Check your Mid-abdominal fat

Being overweight decreases your chances of conception in both the male and the female. Many fertility clinics will not treat couples who are overweight and they are advised to lose the weight before treatment can begin.

BMI (body mass index) is not necessarily a good indicator as to what is happening internally and a better one is to measure mid-abdominal fat. This excess fat is lapped around the ovaries, uterus and male reproductive areas. These fat cells disrupt the functioning of the sex glands and interfere with hormonal harmony.

To reduce tummy fat, eat less processed carbohydrates and aim to eliminate all sugars and foods containing processed fats. Replace with good quality protein instead, and bulk up on vegetables.

Watch your adrenaline

Couples going through fertility difficulties tend to be vulnerable and may find the journey stressful. When stressed, the body produces greater amounts of adrenaline. Adrenaline is a stress hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and prolonged exposure to adrenaline is not conducive to conception. Excess adrenaline switches off all non-essential life processes and can inhibit conception.

Drinking caffeine and sugar-laden caffeinated drinks increase the production of adrenaline. Women in particular tend to be more sensitive to caffeine and caffeinated products. Adrenal glands can become burnt out from excess stress. Support them by taking some vitamin C daily and foods high in magnesium such as dairy products, nuts and green vegetables.

Avoid trans-fats

Male and female hormones are made up of fats. Fats are hugely important raw materials that are components of both the sperm and all sex hormones. Cell membranes are made from the various fats and sugars consumed in the diet. A diet high in sugar and processed fats, known as trans-fats, interfere with the delicate signalling that occurs in these membranes. There is no safe limit for trans-fats in the diet. These are artificial fats made from margarine or re-heating polyunsaturated fats.

Aim to eliminate doughnuts, white bread, certain pizza, chips, deep fried foods, pastries, biscuits and cakes unless they are made from butter.

Eat Essential fats

The body can make fats from all food groups especially sugar and excess carbohydrates. There is an exception to this rule: it cannot make omega 3 fat. Omega 3 must be consumed from dietary sources and the body needs a constant steady supply of this fat.

Sperm in particular need plenty of omega 3 in the reduced form of DHA to support mobility and motility. Similarly EPA, the other reduced form of omega 3, is involved in female hormone signalling and hormonal balancing. The best sources of omega 3 are mackerel, sardines, anchovies, salmon and trout. I would avoid tuna in the pre-conceptual period and during the pregnancy.

Go nuts

Zinc is an essential nutrient in fertility. Men need zinc for sperm health and the immune function. Women also need zinc at this time for many regulatory processes to happen. Zinc is involved in blood glucose control and keeping a healthy insulin response. It is a powerful antioxidant which is involved in clearing debris from the cells. Alcohol interferes with zinc's absorption and assimilation.

Zinc is abundant in fish, in particular shellfish and oysters, it is also found in pumpkin seeds, nuts and meat.

Selenium is a mineral which is involved in reproductive health and normal thyroid function. Males in particular depend on a good supply of selenium for optimal reproductive health. In certain areas and parts of the world it is lacking in the soil. The best sources of selenium are brazil nuts, fish and potatoes fortified with selenium.

Be Iron-aware

Low levels of egg storage in the ovaries is an increasing issue. This tends to be more prevalent with ageing. Maintaining a rich supply of blood and oxygen to the immature eggs is crucial and this is an area which is receiving much attention.

Iron is a mineral involved in the production of red blood cells and studies have shown that a lack of iron can cause anovulation, which means a woman doesn't ovulate as the egg may be in poor health.

When blood does not get sufficient iron, anaemia may occur and sufficient blood cells may not be produced. Since it is the job of the red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the ovaries, which store the eggs, insufficient oxygen and iron may weaken stores and eggs become less viable.

Animal products contain haem iron, which is the most biologically available to the body. Best sources include lamb's liver, red meat, fish, spinach.

Embrace Bean power

Pulses and legumes are super foods for both the male and female reproductive health. Similar to nuts they are an excellent source of protein and they contain lots of fibre which will keep you fuller for longer. They are rich in B vitamins, which support fertility, and they also contain the amino acid L-arginine, which supports the release of the egg and enhances the blood flow into the intrauterine environment.

L-arginine is crucial for the male and it works by enhancing the mobility and motility of sperm. It is known to be a vasodilator, which means it dilates the blood vessels in the body allowing blood to flow smoother. Good sources are chickpeas, black-eye beans, aduki beans, butterbeans, black beans, nuts, peas and lentils. For optimal support aim to eat at least three times per week.

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