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
Bisphenol A (BPA) is commonly found in plastics and the majority of us are exposed to this hormone disruptor multiple times daily. We previously introduced BPA and the negative health impacts here. We know that BPA exposure when trying to conceive can negatively impact multiple aspects of your health, including your fertility and the likelihood of your children having health problems.
New basic science research is adding to our previous concerns about this endocrine disrupting chemical:
- BPA negatively impacts how an egg matures and egg quality by increasing DNA damage and oxidative stress. This study also shows the potential for the damage that BPA causes for mom to impact her future children.
- BPA can decrease sperm count in males and lead to neurodevelopment problems in their children. This study also was associated with increased obesity in female offspring.
What you can do:
- Switch to BPA free drinking bottles like those with a #5 stamped on them or use either glass or metal instead;
- Purchase soups and foods packaged in cardboard cartons or glass instead of the plastic lined cans;
- Hand wash plastic dishware with mild soap in warm water instead of using dishwashers for these products;
- Don’t place plastic ware in microwave ovens to warm;
- Express your support to companies that are voluntarily phasing out the use of BPA in their products.
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?
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.