Welcome to a brand-new year! This brings with it a chance to make some positive changes to your lifestyle that could have a huge impact on both you and your partner’s fertility and chances of conceiving, whether that be naturally or through assisted conception. You may be at the start of this ‘journey’ to find out what could be preventing you from falling pregnant and/or carrying a baby to full term, or be much further down the line of investigative tests and potential treatments which can involve taking medications or undergoing surgical procedures – whatever your situation, it is never too late to focus on your overall nutritional health and fitness and find out more about ways to ensure your body is in top condition for conception or IVF.
As we begin this new year, here at The Natural Fertility Clinic we are very excited to be adding to our already wonderful team of experts by welcoming Rebecca Stacey, a specialist dietician and nutritionist who has a particular interest in optimum nutrition for fertility, pregnancy and women’s health. As part of our couples’ fertility assessment, Rebecca will be able to provide dietary advice for a range of issues and conditions including:
- hormonal imbalance
- thyroid disorders
- infertility for men and women
- coeliac disease
- type 2 diabetes
- weight management
- nutrition support
- digestive issues such as IBS
- allergies and intolerances
I spoke with Rebecca about some of the basic principles we can follow when considering making changes to our diet and lifestyle which can have a positive impact on fertility, as well as during pregnancy. Outlined below is an overview of some initial suggestions for both women and men specifically, as well as some general advice that we can all follow:
- Avoid restrictive diets as these can cause nutritional imbalances.
- Aim for a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables to get all the different antioxidants which can reduce oxidative stress and its negative effects on fertility.
- Ensure you are getting enough folate through food choices such as leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, peas and brown rice and for those planning a pregnancy a folic acid supplement is recommended as well.
- Take a daily vitamin D supplement to help the body absorb calcium, especially during autumn/winter months when there is little sun - our main source of vitamin D.
- Eat foods rich in iodine, the main sources in the UK diet being fish and dairy. Plant sources include seaweed and some fortified plant milks. This is needed for the production of thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism, immune function, growth as well as ovulation. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, iodine is particularly important for the development of a baby's brain.
- B12 is needed for rapidly developing cells and this can be found in animal-based foods such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy as well as fortified cereals, nutritional yeast and marmite. If you follow a vegan diet, you may wish to take an additional supplement for this to ensure you have optimum levels.
- Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 200mg a day which equates to 1-2 cups of coffee or 3-4 cups of tea, and is also found in energy drinks, chocolate and cola.
- Opt for healthy fats including omega 3 which is important for egg quality.
To increase sperm quality the following nutrients are beneficial:
- Selenium - found in brazil nuts, fish, meat, eggs and cereals
- Zinc – animal products such as meat and shellfish are excellent sources. Good plant sources include nuts, seeds and legumes but these are absorbed less efficiently.
- Antioxidants – found in fruits and veg, which can reduce oxidative stress and its negative effects on fertility.
- Omega 3 fats – found in oily fish, walnuts and flaxseeds.
Lifestyle measures for both men and women:
- Ensure you are getting enough good quality sleep, aiming for at least 7 hours a night
- Take regular exercise
- Drink plenty of fluid - at least 1.5 litres a day
- Avoid alcohol altogether if possible or have it only in moderation. The current NHS advice is for pregnant women to completely avoid alcohol.
- Aim for a healthy weight - being under or overweight can affect fertility.
Whilst this information is incredibly useful as a starting off point, we thoroughly recommend you have the opportunity to meet with Rebecca at our clinic and discuss the specific needs of both you and your partner. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different so it is important that you are provided with an informed assessment of your individual circumstances. After an initial consultation, she can offer specialist and tailored nutritional advice to fit you personally whether that be support for chronic conditions such as endometriosis, PCOS, thyroid and other hormonal imbalances, weight management or ways to improve low egg/ sperm quality.
If you are undergoing treatment for assisted conception such as IVF, Rebecca can also create a plan to support you throughout this time. Eggs and sperm have specific nutritional requirements when going through IVF and it is vital that they can grow in a nutrient rich environment, which means building nutrients into your diet or including supplements where necessary.
To book a consultation, please contact the clinic where we look forward to supporting you.
By Suzanne Higgins