Planning a Pregnancy? Study Shows Fertility Diet May Help

Healthnotes Newswire (December 6, 2007)—One in six couples experiences infertility at some point during their reproductive years. A new study has found that eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and maintaining normal weight can help ensure normal ovulation and therefore improve fertility.

Ovulation—the time when a woman’s ovary releases an egg that is ready to be fertilized—is controlled by hormones and usually occurs around the middle of each menstrual cycle. Though ovulation passes unnoticed for most women, ovulation disorders are responsible for as many as 30% of infertility cases. Women who have poor blood sugar control due to insulin resistance, have a sedentary lifestyle, and are overweight or obese are more likely to have ovulation disorders than more active women with normal weight and blood sugar.

The new study, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, included data from 17,544 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II who either became pregnant or tried unsuccessfully for at least one year to become pregnant during the eight-year study. Diet, physical activity, height, weight, and fertility history were assessed through questionnaires that were completed at the beginning of the study and after two, four, six, and eight years.

The women’s diets were scored based on how closely they matched a “fertility diet,” which included foods high in monounsaturated fat, vegetable protein, high-fat dairy such as cheese and butter, and iron, all of which have been associated with fertility in previous research. Points were added for eating a diet low in trans fats, taking a multivitamin, and favoring complex carbohydrates and other high-fiber foods such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds over refined, simple carbs.

Following a fertility diet was linked to lower infertility rates. The risk of ovulation disorder infertility was 66% lower in the women who had the highest fertility diet scores compared to women with the lowest scores. In addition, they were 27% less likely to have infertility for any reason.

Diet had the greatest impact on fertility—and getting 30 minutes or more of vigorous physical activity per day and maintaining a healthy weight added to its benefits. Women with the highest number of healthy diet and lifestyle habits had an 84% lower chance of ovulation disorder infertility compared with women with the fewest healthy habits, leading the study’s authors to conclude that “the majority of infertility cases due to ovulation disorders are preventable through modifications of diet and lifestyle.”

Foods for fertility

A diet that supports your reproductive health might include the following types of foods:

• Foods high in monounsaturated fat: Foods that contain olive, canola, and peanut oils.

• Vegetable protein: Try soy-based foods, such as tempeh, tofu, and any of the many varieties of textured vegetable proteins that are available as meat substitutes.

• High-fat dairy: Get moderate amounts of cheese, butter, and yogurt.

• Iron-rich foods: Leafy green vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, oysters, dried fruit, molasses, and wine. Acidic foods (such as tomato sauce) cooked in an iron pan can also be a source of dietary iron.

• Complex carbohydrates and other high-fiber foods: Whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds.

• Foods low in trans fats: Avoid margarines, fatty processed baked and fried foods, such as french fries, and potato chips, in favor of homemade goods baked and fried using non-hydrogenated fats and oils.

Finally, take a multivitamin to ensure you get nutrients your diet may miss.

(Obstet Gynecol 2007;110:1050–8)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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