Dads- pay attention too!

In my fertility clinic, much of the discussion about pre-conception counseling, or what should be done to prepare for a healthy pregnancy, focuses on the female. We discuss a woman’s diet, vitamins, immunization status, supplements, exercise habits and more. New research is suggesting that dad needs to be involved in this health optimization before starting a family.

Epigenetics is a new hot term in science. We all have DNA, which is a roadmap of genes that encode the proteins that are expressed that make our bodies work. To describe it simply, epigenetics is the field that ensures that these genes are expressed at the right time, the right place, and the right amount. My research over the past three years has focused on epigenetics.

I am passionate about learning how our environment impacts our fertility. Epigenetics is an emerging link  to learning about your environment and how it may impact your genetic health: most toxins in our environment are not strong enough to cause DNA damage and mutations, but are able to impact gene expression, and ultimately the health of an individual, by altering epigenetic profiles. Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our environment, like those commonly found in plastics, induce epigenetic changes in sperm. Worse yet, these changes can be transmitted to future generations.

Recent studies suggest that epigenetic changes may be the key mechanism by which paternal factors such as age and weight contribute to health outcomes in their kids. For example, dads who smoke have children that are more likely to be overweight. Similarly, dads that are obese are more likely to have obese children as a result of epigenetic changes.

Dads- don’t lose hope. There are early indications that some paternal lifestyle-associated effects on sperm can be reverse through exercise, diet, and/or surgical weight loss. In my practice, I like to focus on the couple becoming the healthiest they can be before conceiving. Because ultimately, our goal is similar: we don’t just want to help you get pregnant, we want to help you be a healthy and happy family for generations to come.

If you’d like to take some steps to reduce the impact of your environment on your fertility, consider the following:

 

Your standard prenatal vitamin might not be enough

 I still remember feeling completely overwhelmed the first time I shopped for prenatal vitamins when I was ready to try to conceive. I’m sure I was putting too much thought into it, but like many others, I was going to take my fertility seriously and I wanted the BEST option. So why did my drugstore have over 5 different types of prenatal vitamins, all with a different concoction of what they claimed was “best?” Some of my friends reported using “prescription prenatal vitamins” and swore they were worth the cost.

I ultimately ended up buying prenatal vitamins that contained docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) since they were advertised as “supporting neurodevelopment” and who wouldn’t want a smarter baby? DHA is an omega-3- fatty acid that is important for brain development.  It has been recommended to eat foods which are high in omega-3 fatty acids for women who want to become pregnant or when nursing.  Although vegetarian sources are now available, fish and fish oil are often utilized for DHA supplementation. For months, I endured gross fishy tastes in my mouth and a fishy odor to my breath; all in the sake of helping my baby’s brain develop. Was it worth it?

The sale of prenatal supplements with DHA continues to increase, despite limited evidence that it actually helps brain development. A recent study suggests that DHA may not be all that it was chalked up to be. This group evaluated pregnant women who took DHA supplements and compared them to women who didn’t. There was no difference in cognitive, language, or motor development in the children from moms who took DHA compared to those that didn’t at 18 months, and 7 years- DHA doesn’t seem to result in smarter kids.  This data is strong enough for me to recommend that you can skip the DHA supplement in your prenatal vitamin, especially if you are having undesirable side effects like gross fish burps.

So what does a good prenatal vitamin need, anyway?

  • Folic acid- at least 400 micrograms; some patients require higher doses of folic acid
  • Iodine

Although a prenatal vitamin will help supplement your diet with extra amounts of vitamins and minerals, your diet should be the primary source. Iron, calcium, and vitamin D are particularly important in pregnancy.

My advice to anxious patients (like myself a few years ago) is simple: eat a well-balanced diet, stay healthy, and find an inexpensive prenatal vitamin that you like so that you remember to take every day.

Getting Healthy While Getting Pregnant! Flax Seeds for Hypertension

One of the most important aspects of boosting your chances of becoming pregnant is to optimize blood flow to your pelvis–this is true for both men and women! For women, this is even more important since pregnancy can exacerbate blood pressure problems dramatically. Rather than resort to medications, here’s a great nutritional tip. Introduce 30 grams of ground flax seed into your daily diet–that’s about a 1/4 cup. You can add this to salads, soups, cereals, smoothies or just about anything. Studies now show that this simple intervention can reduce your blood pressure more effectively than many of the popular–and much more expensive–medications. For those of us that love the science and want to see the proof, watch this brief video with links to the supporting studies:  http://nutritionfacts.org/video/flax-seeds-for-hypertension/

 

Resveratrol (supplement from red wine) could reduce the hormonal effects of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Here’s another fascinating study for women with PCOS; 1500 mg of the potent antioxidant from red wine can reduce testosterone levels by nearly 25%. This can not only improve egg quality and pregnancy rates but also reduce other symptoms of PCOS as well!

http://press.endocrine.org/doi/10.1210/jc.2016-1858

Male Fertility and Diet | NutritionFacts.org

Too often the entire focus of fertility recommendations are directed towards women. It is true that egg quality is the single most important factor in determining conception. That said, a healthy egg cannot overcome sperm with damaged DNA. So, let’s provide some guidance for what men should be doing with their food choices to improve the chance of a successful conception.  http://nutritionfacts.org/video/male-fertility-and-diet/

Iodine Supplements Before, During, and After Pregnancy; critical problem with a simple solution

The problem of iodine insufficiency during pregnancy has troubled me for years. So much so that I spoke at length about this in pregnancy book that I wrote as well as the fertility book. Now there is a very brief video made by Dr. Michael Greger that explains this problem more articulately than I ever did with simple recommendations—check your prenatal vitamin! Only about half contain this nutrient that is so important for your baby to build a healthy brain.     http://nutritionfacts.org/video/iodine-supplements-before-during-and-after-pregnancy/?utm_source=NutritionFacts.org&utm_campaign=94b0f568b9-RSS_VIDEO_WEEKLY&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_40f9e497d1-94b0f568b9-23307533

Coffee and Uterine Blood Flow | NutritionFacts.org

Coffee has remained a matter of debate and controversy for some time in the fertility world. Initially it was thought to promote miscarriages and reduce uterine blood flow. Newer data is suggesting that it can reduce the risk of diabetes and may actually promote arterial blood flow. Until more information is obtained or you have been specifically advised by your provider to abstain from coffee; practice moderation or consider tea! Here’s a great video to bolster your confidence.   http://nutritionfacts.org/video/coffee-and-artery-function/