The right balance
Benefits of a high protein, low carb diet on fertility
Maintaining a well-balanced and healthy diet is highly recommended, especially when you’re trying to have a baby. But did you know that a high protein, low carb diet could help to boost your fertility? That is precisely what a study by the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine (DIRM) in Newark, New Jersey, USA has found.
The study, which was conducted between January 2010 and December 2011, looked at 120 patients who participated in assisted-reproduction therapy programmes at the DIRM. The patients were asked to keep diet diaries and document what they ate, prior to undergoing an embryo transfer.
According to the head researcher, Dr Jeffrey B. Russell, they wanted to understand why their thin and healthy patients had poor quality embryos. After analysing his patients’ diet diaries, he was surprised to see that a large percentage of the women were eating more than 60% carbs each day and 10% (or less) protein. Those who ate like this were found to have poor quality embryos.
Meanwhile, patients whose daily protein intake was 25% or more of their diet and whose carbohydrate intake was 40% or less of their diet, had four times the pregnancy rates of other patients who ate less protein and more carbs daily.
While no differences were found in the body mass index (BMI) of either group, there was a significant difference in egg and embryo quality. “Protein is essential for good quality embryos and better egg quality, it turns out,” said Dr. Russell.
This conclusion was made after the research team assessed embryo development after five days of culture or at the blastocyst stage. It was found that 54.3% of patients whose daily protein intake was greater than 25% had an increased blastocyst formation. Meanwhile, patients whose daily protein intake was less than 25% had 38% blastocyst formation. The study also found that pregnancy rates significantly improved in patients with greater than 25% daily protein intake.
Due to these findings, Dr. Russell and his colleagues at DIRM have made it a requirement for their patients to eat a diet consisting of 25% to 35% protein and 40% or less carbs for three months, before beginning their IVF cycles. So if you are looking to ensure the health and quality of your eggs, it is best to start changing your diet to include more proteins and less carbs.
However, it is important to keep in mind that it’s not just about the right amount of protein, but the right kinds too. It is best for you to load up on low mercury fish and seafood like pomfret, sardine, salmon, tilapia, shrimp, shellfish, tuna (canned light) and cod; skinless chicken or turkey; eggs and lean beef, as well as fresh and full cream milk, cheese and yogurt. If you’re vegetarian, your best sources of protein are legumes like beans and lentils; nuts and seeds; as well as organic soy products like edamame and tofu.
Fight Oxidative Stress
The effects of alcohol, smoking and pollutants on women’s fertility
We all know that the excessive intake of alcohol, smoking and environmental pollutants are bad for our health, but can they negatively impact a woman’s chances of getting pregnant? The answer is a resounding (and unsurprising) yes! Here’s why – Firstly, as toxicants, they cause our bodies to produce Reactive Oxygen Species or ROS, which are highly-reactive ions and molecules that contain oxygen. ROS are a lot like free radicals, and they are both known to wreak havoc in our bodies by damaging proteins and impairing their function.
Usually, our bodies are able to neutralise the harmful effects of ROS and free radicals with antioxidants. However, when an imbalance in the production of ROS and free radicals occurs, our bodies are unable to cope. As a result, our bodies undergo what’s called – oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a physiological condition that’s linked to a variety of health issues, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease; cancer; heart problems; blood vessel, gut and vision disorders; lung conditions; chronic fatigue syndrome; kidney, autoimmune, arthritis and inflammatory disease; diabetes; pancreatitis and more.
There is also mounting evidence on the negative effects of oxidative stress on male subfertility, including decreased sperm motility and numbers. And now, findings indicate that oxidative stress can increase the risk for female infertility, as well as delaying pregnancies and lowering pregnancy rates. It can even lead to pregnancy complications like preeclampsia and even miscarriage.
While the field is currently understudied and there is so much more to discover, there is no denying that it is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of how to combat oxidative stress. “If we can identify factors that can be modified to decrease oxidative stress in women, it may be an inexpensive and non-invasive treatment for infertility,” states a study called The Impact of oxidative stress on female fertility by Elizabeth H. Ruder, Terryl J. Hartman, and Marlene B. Goldmanc.
But does this mean we have to play the waiting game for more research to be conducted on the subject? While it may be a few years time before scientists can identify the factors that can be modified to fight oxidative stress, there are steps you can take right now.
We know that oxidation occurs when we’re exposed to toxins, chemicals and stress. Therefore, it would be highly beneficial for you to minimise your exposure to triggers that are present in your lifestyle, foods and environment. Numerous studies have also shown the benefits of a healthy and varied diet, which is supplemented with multivitamins and antioxidants.
In addition, you can maintain your reproductive health by limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, quitting cigarettes, getting adequate exercise, learning ways to manage daily stress and maintaining a healthy body weight. By taking these steps and making crucial lifestyle changes, you can significantly enhance your fertility and boost your chances of conception. Not sure where to begin? Don’t hesitate to speak to a healthcare professional to get on the right track.
The link between Vitamin D and fertility
Caucasian women love showing off a sun-kissed tan, so much so they would dedicate a good portion of their holidays to sunbathing. We Asian women, however, are the exact opposite, preferring to keep out of the sun, sometimes taking considerable pains to do so. This aversion to the sun is largely due to the desire to maintain a fair complexion, but is driven in part by concerns over harmful UV rays. This penchant for shunning the sun, however, has had an undesirable side effect on Asian women, as we are known to have lower levels of Vitamin D despite living in tropical climates.
Few people realise that vitamin D plays a significant role, not only in their general health, but their fertility as well. It has been shown that people living in countries with strong seasonal contrasts have always had fewer pregnancies during winter and more in summer, resulting in a baby boom around spring. Scientists have discovered that this ebb and flow has to do with exposure to the sun.
Over the years, this link between Vitamin D and fertility has been extensively investigated, but it has been further detailed in a systemic review published in 2012 by the European Journal of Endocrinology. The review, by Elisabeth Lerchbaum and Barbara Obermayer-Pietsch from the Medical University of Graz, Austria, assessed studies that evaluated the relationship between vitamin D and fertility in women and men, as well as in animals.
Here’s what the review, entitled ‘Vitamin D and fertility: a systematic review,’ found:
- Vitamin D receptors (VDR) and vitamin D metabolising enzymes are present in the reproductive tissues of both men and women.
- Laboratory mice deprived of VDR tend to suffer significant gonad (sex gland) insufficiency, decreased sperm count and motility, and abnormalities in the microscopic structure of tissues in the testis, ovary and uterus.
- Vitamin D is involved in female reproduction including IVF outcome (clinical pregnancy rates) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- In PCOS women, vitamin D supplementation might improve menstrual frequency and metabolic disturbances.
- Vitamin D might influence steroidogenesis of sex hormones (estradiol and progesterone) in healthy women.
- In men, vitamin D is positively associated with semen quality and androgen status.
- Vitamin D treatment might increase testosterone levels.
While the results are encouraging, the researchers emphasise that vitamin D supplementation alone can’t improve fertility issues. However, what is certain is that it is a safe and inexpensive treatment that can be a boon to conception. So if you’re trying to conceive, don’t shy away from the sun! Instead, aim to get about 15 minutes of sun each day and take care not to overexpose yourself to UV rays.
In my next post, I’ll be discussing another topic related to fertility and nutrition – the findings of the Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study. Stay tuned!