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.

Are Low-Calorie Sweeteners Making You Fat?

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.

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

Soy Helps Improve Metabolic Status in PCOS | Medpage Today

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

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: another tool for ovarian rejuvenation

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!!