Is My Diet Affecting My Ability to Conceive?
Many people have heard the saying “you are what you eat”, well this saying is especially true for a couple trying to conceive. Never has nutrition played such an important role in a person’s life as when they are trying to have a baby. Just as an athlete who is training for a marathon makes dietary changes to optimize their health and improve their performance, so too should a couple consider the important role that nutrition plays on the functioning of the reproductive system. Numerous studies have shown that dietary choices can have an effect on ovulation, decrease your chances of miscarriage and improve sperm health.
The foods you eat form the basis of building blocks of cells in your body. There are foods that can improve your health and fertility and yet some can have a negative effect and be harmful and diminish your fertility. Harvard Nurses Health Study completed a research study looking at the effects of diet on a woman’s body. The research only showed the effect of diet on ovulatory infertility, it did not consider physical impediments nor did it explore male infertility. The basis of this study can apply to anyone trying to conceive because it helps prepare the body for a healthy pregnancy. Whenever I work with a couple that is having fertility struggles one of the first topics I discuss with them is diet and nutrition. They are given a daily dietary journal to complete and report back. It surprises me how people who are trying to conceive do not consider how important their diet is. When asked how they would rate their diet, many men and women say “healthy” however, after delving deeper into the subject, they are surprised with what they learned. Some people often have a bowl of boxed sugar-laden cereal for breakfast and consider that to be a healthy choice, some skip meals all together, neither of which is healthy.
So what should you eat?
The goal of a fertility diet is to bring the body to a state of balance so that it can function optimally. A fertility diet aims to include foods which have specific nutrients and minerals needed for hormone function and egg and sperm health and healing. There is no magic recipe or dietary protocol to follow but there are basic nutritional principles.
Diet fads come and go and it can become very confusing about what foods you should and should not eat. The nutritional guidelines have changed throughout the ages. There was a time when nutritional guidelines were based on a food pyramid. The base of the food pyramid encouraged you to consume the most of your daily calories from grains and carbohydrates. Research now shows that carbohydrates and specifically which type of carbohydrates you choose can influence your fertility. Carbohydrates affect your sugar and insulin levels. When there is an imbalance in sugar and insulin it disrupts the balance of hormones needed for reproduction, which disrupts ovulation. What is important to note is that it is not the total number of carbohydrates that affects your fertility, rather more importantly the type of carbohydrates you choose. According to the Harvard Nurses Health Study participants who consumed foods with high glycemic load, in general cold breakfast cereal, white rice, potatoes and other easily digested carbohydrates increased the odds of ovulatory infertility, while those who ate slow carbohydrates decreased their odds.
Fats are another controversial topic. I have always been fond of eating nuts and seeds and I remember fellow nurses always asking me, “aren’t you afraid you’ll get fat eating nuts all the time, they are so full of fat.” What one needs to realize is that just as not all carbohydrates are bad the same holds true for fats. It is important to note that often times packaged foods that are labeled fat-free often have other additives that are harmful. Fats are important for the reproduction of women. Women with decreased body fat often have a lack of or irregular menstruation or ovulation. Although many people may shudder at the word “cholesterol” thinking it is bad, what you need to know is that cholesterol is actually a precursor to reproductive hormones.
So what types of fats affect your fertility? The Harvard Nurses Health Study indicated that trans fats are a deterrent to ovulation and fertility. They also found that fertility decreases most among nurses who consume trans fats vs. monounsaturated fats. Avoiding hydrogenated oils and vegetable oils and including good fats such as avocados, coconut oil and nuts may improve your fertility. Eggs are another great food choice, both the white and the yolk. There are many seeds and nuts that actually help the body to produce reproductive hormones. Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flax seeds have lots of great nutrients
So what should you avoid?
There are many other things that one should consider eliminating or reducing from their diet to improve fertility. Plastic is one of those things. Plastics can cause a disruption in hormone balance due to their phytoestrogen properties. You may want to avoid drinking from plastic bottles & storing foods in plastic. Avoid warming up foods in the microwave in plastic as this may also cause more of the harmful chemicals to be released. Many studies have shown that chemicals in plastic such as Bisphenol A (BPA) can affect both male and female fertility. A study by the American Society of Reproductive Health states that BPA can inhibit the embryos ability to attach to the uterine lining. Although you cannot completely eliminate the use of plastic you can greatly reduce it and this can decrease your exposure to toxic chemicals.
Soy foods have become increasingly popular, however, it is another food to limit or avoid. Soy has been shown to have estrogen-mimicking properties. This can have a negative impact on your reproductive system. Many soy foods are also genetically modified. Genetically modified foods have not been adequately tested for their effects on human reproduction.
Knowing what to eat can be sometimes daunting; it doesn’t have to be so.
If you choose whole organic foods and eliminate processed and packaged foods you can greatly impact your health and fertility.
For more information on nutrition for fertility and to learn about the Shared Journey Fertility Program tm schedule a consultation with Patty Almeida RN, BSN at the Lotus Center 45 East Main St. Avon, CT 06001 (860) 987-3823 and you can also visit www.lotuscenter-llc.com.