Fuelling fertility - the food tips to enhance your chances of conception
If you're trying to conceive, empower yourself with these simple evidence-based food tips to improve your health and enhance your chances, writes our dietitian
When it comes to fertility, it's important to focus on the modifiable factors or, in other words, the things you can change. Below dietitian, Orla Walsh has complied a simple list to help you understand how to fuel your fertility.
* Weight Matters
Body fat matters. Although people love to hate the BMI, it is a rather good indicator of whether or not you're overweight or underweight. If your BMI is over 25, it's usually due to excess fat on your body and not excess muscle. If calculating your BMI at home, it is best to look at your waist circumference also. If both are elevated, you may need to lose excess fat.
For women, being closer to your ideal weight and body composition is not only best for conceiving but increases the likelihood of having a healthier pregnancy, easier delivery and creating a healthier baby.
Similarly for men, there are many ways weight interferes with fertility. For example, men with a BMI over 28.7 kg/m2 are 30pc more likely to have erectile dysfunction. Additionally, excess may negatively impact the quality and quantity of sperm. A cross-sectional study looked at the association of body weight and measures of reproductive potential in men. As BMI increased, oestrogen levels increased and testosterone levels decreased. Although BMI was unrelated to sperm concentration and motility, the ejaculate volume decreased steadily with increasing BMI levels. It is also worth noting that this study showed that men with raised BMIs also had more sperm with DNA damage.
If both of you are overweight, the risk increases. A study looked at BMI and waiting time to pregnancy for 47,835 couples between 1996 and 2002. The results showed that among men and women with a BMI of 18.5 kg/m or more, there was a relationship between increasing BMI group and time to pregnancy of more than 12 months. Therefore if both partners are overweight, the likelihood that it will take more than a year to get pregnant increases.
* Undiagnosed Coeliac Disease
Coeliac disease is increasingly recognised as a clinically silent disorder as many people with undiagnosed coeliac disease display no obvious symptoms. Undiagnosed coeliac disease may result in a couple having fertility issues. As a result, reduced fertility may conceivably be the first clinical feature that ultimately leads to their diagnosis.
It's estimated that one per cent of the population have coeliac disease. If someone in your family has coeliac disease or if you or a family member has an underactive thyroid or Type 1 diabetes, it is sensible to get checked. The blood test checks for the presence of certain antibodies, so you must be eating a diet that contains gluten prior to testing. Not everyone who has coeliac disease has issues with their gut, so don't let the lack of obvious systems stop you from asking for this test. This simple blood test can be done at your local GP.
The most important thing to do when diagnosed with coeliac disease is follow the gluten free diet very strictly, as this will greatly reduce the risk of fertility issues. Although you can't control whether you have coeliac disease, you can control the disease by following a gluten free diet.
* Folate and Zinc
The evidence supporting the role of folate and zinc in both male and female fertility is fairly sound. Studies support the positive role folate and zinc have in the production of sperm. With regards to female reproduction, folate positively impacts the quality of the female egg as well as implantation, growth of the foetus and the development of its organs. Zinc plays a role in ovulation and the menstrual cycle.
To increase your intake of folate, include lots of spinach, beans, asparagus, and yeast extract like Marmite in your diet. In addition to this, it is important for all women of child bearing age to take a 400 microgram supplement of folic acid. To add more zinc to your daily diet, include the likes of meat and fish such as beef and oysters as well as pumpkin seeds, baked beans, tempeh and wheat germ.
* Mackerel for Omega 3 fats from oily fish
A study investigated the omega-3 fatty acid levels in fertile and infertile men. Fertile men had higher blood and spermatozoa levels of omega-3 fatty acids compared with infertile men. The levels of the omega 3 from oily fish (EPA and DHA) were shown to be important with regards to sperm count as well as motility and their appearance (form, structure and shape). Although they looked at plant omega 3s (ALA), they weren't shown to have the same impact as the omega 3s found in oily fish. Oily fish are the fish with a dark flesh such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines. Ideally we should all be eating them once a week.
* Walnuts - a source of plant omega 3s & healthier sperm!
Plant omega 3s are found in the like of walnuts, soy beans, chia seeds and flaxseeds. A study tested the effect of increasing walnuts within a man's diet on their sperm. A larger serving (75g) of whole shelled walnuts were added to the daily diet of young, healthy non-smoking men that followed a typical Western-style diet. The group consuming walnuts experienced improvement in sperm vitality, motility and morphology. No change was seen in the group that did not add walnuts into their daily diet. Although walnuts provide plant omega-3 fatty acids they also supply folate and selenium which are nutrients that have been associated with sperm quality.
* Oysters for Zinc
Evidence suggests that zinc is an important nutrient for the reproductive system. A large study published last year examined all available data to see if there was a relationship between zinc and male infertility. A total of 22 studies were identified, and their combined results showed that zinc levels were lower in infertile males. Zinc levels have been shown to correlate with sperm count and how normal the sperm appeared under the microscope. Another study, published last year, looked at why zinc may be so important for fertility. They concluded that zinc enhanced motility of sperm in fertile men and that this beneficial effect may be due to its positive effect on the immune system or its work as an antioxidant.
For this reason, there may be a need to supplement zinc in a bid to increase the sperm quality of infertile males. To add more zinc to your daily diet, include the likes of meat and fish such as beef and oysters as well as pumpkin seeds, baked beans, tempeh and wheat germ.
* Eggs for Vitamin D
Vitamin D is considered to be the 'sunshine vitamin' as it can be produced when our skin is exposed to sunlight. There are many factors that lead to deficiency in this important vitamin including age and reduced exposure to sunlight. Unlike other vitamins, there are only a few food sources. One of the best sources is oily fish, but unfortunately, Irish people don't eat as much fish as they should. Another good source, and a popular one too, are eggs.
There is some evidence that vitamin D modulates reproductive processes in both women and men. The vitamin D receptor (VDR) is found in reproductive tissues of women and men. When mice were changed genetically to not have this VDR, the mice had significantly decreased sperm count and motility, as well as abnormalities in their testis, ovary and uterus.
For those undergoing IVF treatment, a study investigated the link between vitamin D levels and pregnancy rates. Interesting less than half of the women studied had sufficient vitamin D levels. Women with sufficient levels of vitamin D had significantly higher rates of pregnancy per IVF cycle.
Therefore vitamin D supplementation, or improved intake through food, could provide an easy and cost-effective way of improving pregnancy rates.
* Berries and herbs to increase your intake of antioxidants
Free radicals are produced in our body naturally through everyday internal processes and through exposure to different physiochemical conditions or pathological states. It's necessary to create a balance between free radicals and antioxidants in our body to ensure our body can work as it should. If free radicals within the body become very high, so high that the antioxidants and the body are unable to regulate them, a condition called oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can damage the reproductive system. The evidence highlighting the importance of antioxidants in the diet is growing.
Supplementation of antioxidants in females with fertility issues was examined in a large review. The review included taking folic acid in the typical 400mcg dose. It looked at 28 well controlled trials. Based on the results they were able to speculate that approximately 23pc of women would become pregnant if they weren't taking a supplement of antioxidants compared with 22-36pc of women taking the supplement. They also noted that antioxidants didn't appear to be associated with negative side-effects. So it may do you some good, but it's unlikely to do you harm.
In a similar review, but this time honing in on male fertility, they reviewed 48 well controlled studies. Most of the men within these studies had low total sperm motility and concentration. The results showed that antioxidants may be effective in treating men with infertility. Based on the results they were able to speculate that you may expect a pregnancy to occur in 11-28pc of men taking a supplement of antioxidants compared to 6pc who were not taking a supplement.
This is positive result for antioxidants. Nonetheless, it's important to note that there are dangers associated with taking very large doses of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants through tablets. It's important to seek medical help before taking anything over your daily recommended allowance. To boost your antioxidant intake naturally with foods, why not include the likes of goji berries, blueberries as well as herbs and spices like cloves, oregano and rosemary into your daily diet.
A study was conducted in 2010 to see if there was an effect of caffeine consumption on pregnant and IVF treatment. They collected samples of serum and follicular fluid from over 600 women and tested them for caffeine. The compared their results to the number of teas, coffees, or caffeinated drinks drank each day. Nearly all participants drank caffeinated drinks, with the average intake reported as 456mg per day. They found no association between coffee or tea consumption on IVF performance. However as caffeine serum levels increased, the number of eggs decreased. Additionally, an increase in coffee consumption was positively associated with the number of failed pregnancies, while the number of good embryo decreased with high tea consumption. What's worth noting is that the range in consumption was as low as 4mg and as high as 3561 mg per day in this study. To put this in perspective, coffee has about 75-150mg per cup while tea has about 45-80mg. Additionally there has been other studies that have failed to show any relationship between fertility and caffeine. This topic clearly warrants further investigation and it would be wise to keep levels low with a limit of 2 mugs of coffee per day or 4 mugs of tea.
Health & Living