If your family is anything like ours, sunscreen is a routine part of our daily lives. Sunscreens protect our skin from sunlight using mineral or chemical filters. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Most sunscreens use chemical filters that contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone. Studies have demonstrated that these chemical filters mimic hormones and can act as endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Sunscreen exposure increases our exposure to chemical filters, such as oxybenzone. Oxybenzone use is widespread throughout the US. It is detected in nearly every American.
The reproductive system is sensitive to environmental factors. Early pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time for endocrine disruption. Exposures when trying to conceive can impact the likelihood of conceiving as well as the health of the pregnancy.
Oxybenzone exposure and exposure to related compounds is associated with male infertility and poorer reproductive success in men undergoing fertility treatments. Similarly, men with greater exposure to a similar compound found in sunscreen had poorer sperm quality and took longer to conceive. Female exposures to oxybenzone and related chemicals have been linked to increased risk of endometriosis and problems with ovulation. These chemicals have also been associated with oxidative stress and inflammation in pregnancy.
The good news is that we can be informed consumers and change our exposure.
This is a great resource of safer sunscreen alternatives.
Take home points
- Avoid sunscreens with chemical filters, particularly oxybenzone
- Use mineral sunscreens when possible when trying to conceive
The stress related to a diagnosis of infertility parallels what is experienced with a cancer diagnosis or grief of the loss of a loved one. We all recognize that stress has a negative impact on our health and can impact fertility. However, most of what we know has been from studies based on the female partner. New research demonstrates that the stress of infertility on male partners should be considered as well.
Nearly 50% of men seeking IVF reported symptoms of depression. 50%! This study found that although major depression is more common in female partners than in male partners, it can still have a significant impact on fertility success. Couples in which the male partner had major depression were 60% less likely to conceive and have a live birth than those in which the male partner did not have depression.
Although this study shows an association between male depression and decreased likelihood of success with fertility treatments, it leaves many questions about whether one causes the other unanswered. What this study does a great job at, however, is demonstrating the need for us to focus on the health of all our families prior to conception.
Take Home Points:
- Infertility and the associated treatments are a major life stressor.
- Depression during fertility treatments can be common, in both female and male partners
- Untreated depression in men may decrease fertility
- Talk to your REI and primary care doctor if you think depression is impacting your life
Does anyone else remember when we first started realizing that fast food was unhealthy? I personally remember watching the documentary “Super Size Me”and being shocked; I think we all suspected that fast food wasn’t as healthy as a home-cooked meal, but few of us realized just how dangerous this food could be for our health. Documentaries like “Super Size Me” revealed the negative impact of fast food on health: significant physical and psychological negative impacts were found with regular fast food consumption. Worse yet, this documentary showed how corporations encourage poor nutrition through marketing in order to benefits its own profits.
New research now shows that fast food is particularly harmful when trying to conceive. In this study, the nutrition habits of couples trying to conceive were watched. What they found was that couples that ate the most fast food and the least fruits & vegetables took longer to conceive and were more likely to have infertility. This study also found that the effect was dose-dependent: couples that ate the most fast food (>4 times/week) had the highest risk of infertility.
Take home points:
- There are many reasons why you shouldn’t eat fast food. Your fertility is one of them.
- Limit or altogether avoid fast food while trying to conceive
- Try to eat diets full of fruits & vegetables to enhance your natural fertility
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
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.
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.
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
A common question asked in a new fertility evaluation is: “Which prenatal vitamin is best?” We have previously tried to provide some guidance in choosing the best vitamin. The ingredient list in your prenatal vitamin needs to be considered.
In particular, iodine is an often-overlooked but extremely important component that should be considered in a prenatal vitamin. Iodine is a mineral used by the body to regulate metabolism; it is also very important for brain development in children. It is often found in seafood, iodized salt, dairy, and some fruits and vegetables.
A new study shows that women who have low iodine levels take longer to get pregnant than women who have normal iodine levels.
Take home points:
- Iodine is important in pregnancy and when you are trying to conceive
- Boost your fertility naturally with iodine
- Make sure you are on a good prenatal vitamin
- Talk to your doctor about what levels of iodine are best for you