Infertility is a condition that affects approximately one in six couples in the UK. As well as there being a variety of treatments to help increase your chances of becoming pregnant, and of giving birth to a healthy child, there are things you can do to further increase your chances.
One important thing is to ensure that you are providing your body with good nutrition. Numerous studies have shown that there is a relationship between maternal nutrition (preconception diet) and foetal growth, development and subsequent infant birth weight.
The food you eat nourishes you physically, mentally and emotionally. It provides the building blocks for your body and the fuel for all life’s processes. It sustains your life and can help enable you to create a new one by providing the materials needed for healthy hormonal function and the good quality blood.
According to Hethir Rodriguez, the President of Natural Fertility Info, nutrition is one of the biggest influencers on the body’s health and reproductive system. She adds that there are many aspects to a healthy fertility diet, including antioxidants, that protect sperm and eggs that are essential by-products of the food we consume.
So, if you want to know what you can do to help increase your chances at getting pregnant, and of having a healthy pregnancy, it is worth evaluating your diet and we have some advice to get you started.
Understanding what a Preconception Diet is
First, before embarking on your journey, you must understand what a fertility diet is. Rodriguez explains it as eating specific foods that contain a sufficient amount of nutrients that optimise “hormonal function, production and balance, foetal development, egg, sperm health and blood health”. A study by Harvard, supports this notion by showing that such foods can significantly increase your chances of healthy fertility and pregnancy by as much as 80%.
What should you be eating?
“Fresh is best”
As a general rule, the more local, seasonal and organic, the better. These foods are less likely to have been tampered with and will contain more vitality.
Veggies & Fruit
When shopping, buy plenty of green, red and yellows. In other words, buy vegetables and fruits. These are rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Try to eat up to 2 cups of fruits and 2 ½ cups of veggies a day.
Meat & eggs
Organic food, by definition, contains less toxins and it is my opinion that any meat or eggs you eat should at least be free-range. Grass-fed meat is preferable.
Don’t neglect your seafood intake. However, try to avoid anything high in mercury. Fish free of the contaminant include shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon or catfish. If you are interested in supporting sustainable fishing you can check here: http://www.fishonline.org/
Ask the retailer for any details about where the fish were sourced.
Identifying essential nutrients will help you put together the best grocery list. So you should consider:
- B6 – The American Journal of Epidemiologypublished a study showing that high levels of vitamin B6 in the body can boost conception rates and reduce the likelihood of miscarriage during early pregnancy.
- B12 – A Study by scientists at the University of Dublin showed that consuming vitamin B12 with folic acid is an effective way of decreasing the chances of Neural Tube Defects (NTD). When it comes to egg fertilisation, B12 is known to provide an essential helping hand to the endometrium lining.
- Vitamin C – This nutrient is known to improve fertility in women suffering from luteal phase defect, as it helps increase hormone levels. A study published in Fertility and Sterility showed that women who consume enough vitamin C have a greater chance of getting pregnant. It’s generally recommended that you take at least 85mg every day.
- Vitamin D – Known to assist the body in producing sex hormones that positively impact ovulation and hormonal balance, this nutrient is essential. Out of 67 women struggling with fertility studied by the Yale University of Medicine, only 7% were seen to have an adequate supply of vitamin D. While research is still on-going on how much Vitamin D you need, Bruce Hollis, a professor at the Medical University of south Carolina, says you need to consume up to 4,000 IU (0.10 milligrams) a day.
- Fats – Healthy fats are essential in producing hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone, which play vital role in the menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that adequate amounts of fats can help avert preterm births and an undesirably low weight at birth. Nutritionists recommend you consume monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and the latest research suggests that a small amount of saturated fat is also necessary (butter or whole fat dairy). Avoid saturated and hydrogenated/trans fats as they stop your body from utilising the essential fats omega 3.
- Folic Acid – Prevents babies from developing neural tube defects and helps prevent miscarriage. It is advised to consume 400 micrograms daily for at least a month (ideally for 3 months) before you plan to conceive and every day once pregnant. One study showed that mothers who took folic acid a year before having birth cut their chances of premature birth by 50%. Food-sourced folic acid is considered favourable, as concerns have been raised about the body’s ability to metabolise synthetic Folic acid. Food-sourced is available as a supplement.
- Fibre – Known to dispose of excess oestrogen and xenohormones. Apart from acting as a cleaning agent that aids digestion, fibre can also help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by preventing glucose intolerance. Further studies even show that consuming more than 21 grams of fibre daily in the first trimester can lower the chances of preeclampsia. We would recommend up to 35 grams a day.
- Iron – This nutrient carries many benefits from making haemoglobin (protein responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood) to helping sustain a strong immune system. It is also known to help anovulation and poor egg health. This makes it essential to consume at least 10 milligrams a day and 27 milligrams during pregnancy (especially in the second and third trimester).
- Proteins – Amino acids, contained in protein, are the building blocks of your body. Nutritionists recommend about 45 grams a day.
- Zinc – Works with more than 300 different enzymes in the body to keep things working well. Without it your cells can’t divide properly, oestrogen and progesterone levels can get out of balance, sperm and ova production can be affected and your reproductive system may not be fully functioning.Zinc also contributes to the protection of cells from oxidative stress and to normal DNA synthesis. Deficiency is common (especially after contraceptive pill use).
What you should avoid
Avoid too much processed food, as there will be many additives and preservatives, many of which are toxic (even if only mildly) and can influence your hormonal system.
Although studies are inconclusive, the National Infertility Association suggests that you are cautious. Studies with animals have suggested a relationship between caffeine and underdeveloped eggs and a recent study on mice found that moderate doses of caffeine can reduce the benefits of having acupuncture (More, A et al. J Caffeine Res. 2013).Another inconclusive study suggested that caffeine might increase the chances of miscarriage.
Coupling acupuncture with a healthy preconception diet
Acupuncture has been shown to be beneficial for fertility and during pregnancy, and complementing it with a healthy preconception diet will improve your chances of conceiving and of a healthy gestation period and birth.