There is a global obesity epidemic. More than one BILLION adults are projected to be obese by 2025. Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of medical conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as numerous types of cancers. Obesity, in either male or female partners, is associated with a decrease in the ability to become pregnant. Obese women are not only at an increased risk of having trouble conceiving, they are also at risk of: needing medications to conceive, being less responsive to fertility treatments, losing pregnancies to miscarriage, having children with birth defects, as well as having complications during pregnancy such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
Many people use artificial sweeteners or “diet” drinks as a substitute for whole ingredients with the hope of cutting calories. A recent study suggests that this may be a bad idea. This group followed people for 10+ years and found that people that used low-calorie sweeteners had a higher body mass index (BMI), larger waist circumference, and were more likely to be obese. This paper suggests that using low-calorie sweeteners may not be effective means of weight control, and might even lead to harm.
When I review studies like this, I think it’s important to note that these studies are NOT designed to prove that artificial sweeteners CAUSE obesity; rather, they show an ASSOCIATION at a population level. For me, as a physician and mom, this association is reason enough to be cautious about the use of artificial sweeteners. For others, especially die-hard Diet Coke drinkers, they might want more proof before changing their diet habits.
There is no easy solution for weight loss; diet drinks probably aren’t going to help. If you are overweight or obese, don’t lose hope. Even a modest weight loss (10-15% body weight) can enhance your natural fertility. It will take hard work through diet and lifestyle changes. Avoid sugary snacks and drinks in general. Consider using natural sweeteners like stevia (Dr. Greene’s favorite!) or honey (my favorite!) instead of artificial ingredients. Your selection in which sweetener you use, is likely going to depend on what is most important to you including considerations like why you are using a sweetener, why you are looking for artificial sweeteners (cutting calories), and taste. Please be an informed consumer and make sure that you know why you are making the choices that you make. Taking care of yourselves will help prepare you for a healthy pregnancy and prepare you to be healthy parents.
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/
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/
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 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/
There is a a growing body of evidence that the outdated idea that soy inhibits fertility needs to be abandoned. There are too many studies now that have found the exact opposite. Here is one just published regarding women with PCOS: http://www.medpagetoday.com/endocrinology/metabolicsyndrome/59561
One of the most frustrating questions for women trying to conceive is “what can I do to improve my chances?” Given that women are born with every egg that they will ever have, there are a limited number of ways to optimize the health of the remaining eggs. But for those that are motivated, I have described steps like the use of Acai berry extract and CoQ10 as well as improved sleep and Vitamin D. Now for the first time, there is evidence that some women may be able to improve the responsiveness of their ovaries in as little as one month!
The typical diet of people living in the USA has changed dramatically over the last century. One glaring example has been in the type of fats that we consume on a daily basis. Essential dietary fats—those that we must get from foods because our bodies can’t make them—are typically classified as Omega-6 and as Omega-3 and serve many important physiologic functions. The ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is 1-to-1. However, the typical Western diet—popular amongst most Americans—has a ratio as high as 25-to-1. The result of this unhealthy shift is that many people are eating foods that promote inflammation. This unhealthy shift is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and infertility.
Given that it’s not easy to encourage people to make lasting dietary changes, a recent study looked at the effects of starting a high potency omega-3 fatty acid supplement upon ovarian function and hormone balance. For this study, they put 27 women on a 4 gram supplement and measured their FSH levels before and 30 days after starting this program. Even within this short time frame—effectively one menstrual cycle—they found a dramatic improvement in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Their inflammatory markers improved and their FSH levels dropped. Given that FSH level is considered a marker of ovarian sensitivity; this result is interpreted to mean that their ovaries were more sensitive and thus more fertile.
A cautionary note; they did not find an improved ovarian sensitivity in the women in the study that were obese. It is possible that with longer time and with weight loss, obese women might also experience improved fertility. Obesity has been linked to worsening infertility as well as resistance to some of the treatments offered to normal weight women. It is theorized that obesity itself produces inflammatory chemicals in the body which in turn trigger a state of hormone imbalance. In act, it was discovered that all of the women in the study—including the women that were obese—had improved markers of glucose metabolism. That suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids could help reduce the risk of diabetes and maybe make it easier to lose weight as well.
Another important benefit of omega-3 fatty acids is that they can reduce oxidative stress. That means that consuming these healthy dietary fats can reduce the risk of DNA damage to a woman’s eggs—another important fertility promoting benefit. So although this was a small study and needs to be confirmed in a longer time period, you don’t need to wait. Make this health promoting change in your fertility promoting plan now. Here are a few practical suggestions:
- Switch to a low-fat diet plan taking care to avoid animal fats when possible
- Use products at home that include healthy omega-3 fatty acids instead of butter
- Incorporate more olive oil, Flax seeds and tree nuts into your daily diet
- Start taking a daily supplement—preferably a plant based one (rather than fish oil) like those made by Life’s DHA
- IMPORTANT NOTE TO MEN: Emerging evidence suggests that increasing your omega-3 fatty acid consumption can improve sperm shape (teratospermia) as well!!