Research from the Nurses Health Study* and the Harvard School of Public Health reveals that certain dietary choices can interrupt ovulation or contribute to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). In books such as “The Fertility Diet” by Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett, you’ll find specific recommendations.
Not surprisingly, experts agree that smart choices include high fiber whole grains, plant protein (soy), omega-3 fatty acids (wild cold-water fish, walnuts, flax seeds) and “good” fats, On the other side, red meat, refined carbs, sodas and trans-fat junk food should be limited. A sensible amount of high fat dairy products may also help increase fertility according to the Nurses Health Study.We also advise women undergoing IVF to eliminate caffeine, a morning cup or two (a cup = 8 ounces) is fine for our other patients.
Tip the Scale in Your Favor
A woman’s weight can impact ovulation. Fat cells actually produce estrogen, the same hormone found in birth control pills. With a body mass index (BMI) over 34, you might unknowingly risk your chances of ovulating. Some women will even experience ovulation problems with a mildly elevated BMI (e.g. 25-34). Likewise, a BMI of less than 18 can cause irregular cycles or even stop you from ovulating altogether.
Just Say No
There’s no question that smoking cigarettes damages your eggs, increases miscarriage risk, and leads to low birth weight babies. Researchers link marijuana with abnormal embryo development and low sperm counts. While it’s not clear exactly how many alcoholic drinks impact fertility, the medical community advises couples to limit drinking if they are trying to become conceive. For women, up to 1-2 alcoholic drinks a day before ovulation occurs is a common suggestion; after ovulation, when pregnancy may have occurred, there is not a safe known amount of alcohol, and women should then abstain. In general, men can consider up to 2 alcoholic drinks a day. More than this may affect sperm function.
It’s stressful to lack control in such an important decision as when to have a baby. Choose an activity that makes you feel good as an individual and as a couple: yoga, 5Ks, massage, spiritual growth activities, and support groups can help to bring balance and lower stress. One study even suggests that holding hands together on walks helps reduce stress.
The Jury’s Out
As for the advice you hear from well-meaning friends (stand on your head after intercourse) and read on the Internet (laptops zap sperm counts), use common sense and always consult with your physician before pursuing untested therapies such as herbal supplements.
On the other hand, some subclinical fertility enhancements fall under the “it couldn’t hurt” category. For instance, some studies show that acupuncture may enhance fertility, but researchers don’t know why. Consider making an appointment with a reproductive acupuncturist (ask your doctor or nurse for recommendations). If the tiny needles that improve circulation and relieve stress can lead to a successful pregnancy, we say: “Go for it!”
During this journey, it helps to focus on your relationship as a couple and total wellness — in addition to drug regimens and appointment times. If you change your habits for good, not only will you feel better during the rigors of treatment, the long-term benefits will improve your overall quality of life.