Doing an IVF cycle? A Mediterranean diet can help!

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Couples often ask me: “What else can we do to make this IVF cycle successful?” The first answer, is to pick the right lab. I’m fortunate to work with an amazing group of embryologists so I encourage my patients to consider the next step: using your diet and lifestyle to stack the odds in your favor. As we have discussed before in the blog, what you eat and what you do can absolutely impact your fertility and overall health. New research demonstrates that your diet, in particular, can impact your success with IVF.

 

As many of my patients know, I encourage a plant-based diet to enhance your fertility naturally. The problem with many of these studies that we have previously reviewed is that people who eat a plant-based diet are more likely to be thin and the following question emerges: “Is diet really impacting your fertility or does this have to do with your weight?” A new study helps us address this question.

 

In this study, women who had a normal weight (BMI < 30 kg/m2) underwent IVF in Greece. Women who ate a Mediterranean diet were more likely to get pregnant and bring home a healthy child compared to women who did not eat a Mediterranean diet. Women who ate better were almost 3 times as likely to bring home a child than women who did not eat a Mediterranean diet! The results suggest that dietary modifications may help increase the chances of a successful pregnancy and delivering a live baby for women undergoing IVF treatment.

 

What this study doesn’t answer, however, is when these dietary changes need to be implemented in order to have the full benefits on your fertility. My advice is simple: the sooner the better. The healthier you are when you start an IVF cycle, the more likely you are to get the full benefits of diet on your fertility. However, if you have a time crunch with regards to your fertility, with diagnoses such as diminished ovarian reserve, it may not be in your best interest to delay starting treatment. Talk to your doctor for more information about what the best next steps are for you.

 

Take home points:

  • Your diet can impact your chance of having success with IVF
  • Consider implementing a Mediterranean diet
  • Talk to your doctor for more information to help select the best diet for your goals

You are what you drink- continued

We have previously discussed in this blog the impact of the beverages we drink on fertility.The old saying of “You are what you eat” couldn’t be more true- what you eat absolutely impacts how we feel and our overall health.

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New research is adding to this old saying- what you drink may be just as important as what you eat, when it comes to fertility. Similarly, we also discussed that the beverages you consume now can impact the health of your future children: women that drank beverages with low-calorie sweeteners are more likely to have obese children.

New research adds to these concerns. In this large study, the dietary habits of men and women were evaluated while they tried to conceive. Drinking sugary beverages was associated with decreased fertility for both men and women. Similarly, participants who had consumed the most sugary drinks (>7 servings/week) were found to have the lowest odds of fertility for both men and women.

This study looked at what couples drank during an IVF cycle and monitored their outcomes. They found that couples that drank more sugary drinks like soda did worse in IVF, when compared to couples who don’t drink sugary drinks: fewer eggs and fewer good quality embryos.

Take home points:

  • Men and women should avoid sugary drinks when trying to conceive, but particularly if they are using IVF
  • Using artificial sweeteners is not necessarily a safe alternative to sugary drinks
  • If you can’t completely eliminate sugary drinks, consider limiting your intake to <1 beverage a day.

Is going low carb dangerous?

At the initial patient visit, I try to learn about any special dietary restrictions my patients may have. A common diet is going “low carb” in an effort to lose weight. Emerging research, however, suggests that this could be dangerous when trying to conceive.

Folic acid is a vitamin that reduces the risk of having a child with a problem with it’s spinal cord, known as a neural tube defect. Folic acid is added to many common meals, like cereal, in order to fortify the food. Women who intentionally avoid carbohydrates, thereby consuming fewer fortified foods, may not have adequate dietary intake of folic acid.

This study found that women eating low carb had significantly lower dietary intake of folic acid. Women eating low carb were 30% more likely to have an infant with a severe neural tube defect such as anencephaly or spina bifida.

What you should do:

  • Talk to your doctor about any special diets you have before trying to conceive
  • Women should take a daily prenatal vitamin in addition to having a well-balanced diet while trying to conceive

Organic Food and your Fertility

Has anyone else noticed that just about everything is available now as “organic?!” Should we buy organic everything? I mean, Oreo’s?! How is that even an option? Is buying organic worth it?

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Organic food refers to food produced with limited pesticides, fertilizers, and additives. Organic foods tend to be higher in vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidant content compared to conventionally grown food. Conventionally produced food is associated with higher rates of various cancers compared to organic foods.

 

Organic food is usually more expensive than conventionally produced food. But is the cost worth it?

 

A recent study evaluated pesticide exposure in couples going to a fertility clinic. They found that the more pesticides a couple consumed, the less likely they were to get pregnant and bring home a healthy child. This finding was dose dependent: women with the highest pesticide exposure had the lowest pregnancy rates.  This was true even though the couples were going through fertility treatments. This suggests that dietary pesticide exposure can be associated with difficulty conceiving.

 

Switching to organic products can also reduce your exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals and support beneficial practices for our environment.

 

What you can do:

  • Buy organic produce whenever possible. Some products are more worth the cost than others. Consider being selectively organic to keep your budget on track.
  • Just because something is labeled as “organic” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Organic junk food is still junk food.
  • Buying organic doesn’t fix everything. Organic food has just as many calories as conventional food. And buying organic is healthy, but should not be used as a substitute for going to the gym.

You CAN improve your swimmers

Nearly 40-50% of couples who are having trouble getting pregnant have a male factor impacting their ability to conceive. Part of the evaluation includes performing a semen analysis, which measures how much sperm is produced. These results can help us learn if there is a male factor contributing to your infertility.

The majority of preconception counseling involves preparing a woman for a healthy pregnancy. I go even further and encourage your entire family to make positive changes to their nutrition when trying to conceive. Not only will you all become healthier, which will enhance your fertility as a couple,  but you will also keep one another motivated because it’s hard work!

We have previously reviewed what guys can do to boost their fertility and improve their numbers on this test.  A recent study adds to this: what you eat impacts your semen analysis results and, ultimately, how easy it is for a couple to conceive. Men who stick to a healthy diet were found to have more sperm and a greater number of swimming sperm. This suggests that men with poor sperm counts could potentially improve their numbers with their nutrition when trying to conceive.

So keep up the good work and continue to motivate one another to be the healthiest you can be when trying to conceive. Fertility and enhancing fertility is a team effort.

You are what you drink

Anyone who has met me in clinic or has read this blog knows that I firmly believe that our diet and environment impact our health. The old saying of “You are what you eat” couldn’t be more true- what you eat absolutely impacts how we feel and our overall health.

New research is adding to this old saying- what you drink may be just as important as what you eat, when it comes to fertility.

This study looked at what couples drank during an IVF cycle and monitored their outcomes. They found that couples that drank more sugary drinks like soda did worse in IVF: fewer eggs and fewer good quality embryos.

The good news is that no associations were found between consumption of coffee or caffeine and IVF outcome. As we have posted before, caffeine gets a bad reputation without cause when it comes to fertility. Similarly, some of the decaffeinated beverages may actually be more dangerous than the caffeine itself. If you are interested in reading more about the risks associated with decaf, please check this link out.

 

Take home points:

  • What you drink matters in terms of fertility, especially during an IVF cycle
  • Avoid sugary drinks, especially during an IVF cycle
  • It’s ok to keep drinking moderate amounts of caffeine during an IVF cycle

Could unexplained infertility be explained by your diet?

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Unexplained infertility is a frustrating diagnosis and 15% of couples are affected by unexplained infertility. It means that despite undergoing all the costly evaluations, we don’t know why you are having trouble getting pregnant. Many cases of unexplained infertility are probably caused by the presence of multiple subtle factors, each of which on their own do not significantly reduce fertility, but reduce the pregnancy rate when combined.

 

Research is now suggesting that your nutrition could be a potential reason for unexplained infertility. A recent study compared women who had the diagnosis of unexplained infertility to women who conceived naturally. They found that women with unexplained infertility had significant abnormalities in their dietary habits. These differences ranged from minor imbalances in micronutrients to severe combined macronutrient and micronutrient imbalances. This study suggests that paying attention to your diet could potentially cure cases of unexplained infertility, improve IVF treatment, and even restore natural fertility.

 

What you can do:

  • Take a daily prenatal vitamin to help your micronutrient balance
  • Eat a well-balanced meal when trying to conceive
    • Consider talking to a nutritionist for formal recommendations about your diet if you are concerned you may have an imbalance in your macronutrients