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Preconception Care and Nutrition for Fertility: Where to Start

By August 26, 2021No Comments

Preconception Care and Nutrition for Fertility: where to start

By Sarah Trimble Nutrition

Dietary and lifestyle changes are key in helping to prepare your body for conception. When we are trying to conceive we are essentially trying to improve the health of our bodies right down to a cellular level, aiming to produce healthy cells and healthy eggs. It can be difficult to know how best to achieve this and understand which changes should be prioritised, so I’ve put together an evidence-based guide on where to begin.

 

Eat a Mediterranean diet

Instead of focusing on specific foods that promote reproductive health it is important to begin by addressing your dietary pattern, the balance of foods that you consume. Time and again the research tells us that following the Mediterranean dietary pattern is the most beneficial way to eat to improve our reproductive health. Men eating a Mediterranean diet have better sperm quality, while women who followed a Mediterranean style diet were found to have much greater chances of success in assisted conception.

Even if you don’t live in a Mediterranean climate you can achieve a Mediterranean dietary pattern by following a few key principles.

Be Plant-based

The term plant-based diet is now commonly used to refer to a vegan diet. However, this phrase was initially used to refer to a Mediterranean dietary approach that is based around an abundance of vegetables and fruit. Mediterranean meals are based around a variety of fresh and seasonal vegetables, so focus on filling up half your plate with vegetables at each main meal. Fresh fruit should replace sugary snacks and is often served as dessert at the end of a meal. Ideally if you are following a Mediterranean dietary approach you should be consuming 5 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit every day.

Eat the Rainbow

Fruit and vegetables are our main dietary source of antioxidants, the nutrients that protect our reproductive cells from damage and promote egg and sperm quality. These antioxidants are often the compounds that give fruit and vegetables their bright colours, for example, beta carotene in carrots – so by eating a variety of colours of fruit and vegetables daily we can ensure we are consuming a greater variety of these all important antioxidants.

Meat in moderation

The Mediterranean diet is plant based, but it does not exclude meat, fish or shellfish completely. Instead the focus is on eating high quality animal products in moderation. This is a key benefit of the Mediterranean diet for reproductive health because red meat is the best dietary source of the mineral zinc, which is absolutely essential for male fertility. In fact high quality grass-fed red meat can also be a source of the GOOD omega-3 fats which we normally associate with fish consumption. Have good quality red meat 1-2 times a week to ensure you are getting enough of these essential nutrients.

Love your legumes

Beans and lentils are a central ingredient in a Mediterranean diet, usually consumed on a daily basis. Beans and lentils are a nutritional package that combines slow release carbohydrates with protein and soluble fibre, so not only do they fill us up for longer, they have a very positive impact on blood sugar levels. Incorporating beans and lentils into a meal reduces the blood sugar response to that meal, helping to prevent blood sugar levels getting too high. This is a key goal for a fertility promoting diet as we know that high blood sugar levels can negatively impact male and female fertility. Aim to have one serving of beans or lentils daily by adding beans to a soup or salad at lunch time or try hummus as a snack with raw vegetables.

Olive oil all over

Olive oil is probably the most important ingredient in the Mediterranean diet and for a very good reason. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat that helps control and reduce levels of inflammation. Olive oil is packed full of dietary antioxidants, and on top of that dressing salads and vegetables with olive oil will actually increase the absorption of antioxidants present in those vegetables. Choose extra virgin olive oil as it is highest in antioxidants and aim to consume around 2 tbsp daily in salad dressings or drizzled over cooked vegetables.

Drink responsibly

Alcohol is not forbidden in the Mediterranean diet, however, the alcohol choices and the way it is consumed differ from a Northern European approach. A Mediterranean dietary approach focuses on consuming small servings of alcohol across a week and this alcohol is usually in the form of wine, especially antioxidant-rich red wine. Whereas, in Northern Europe, it is more common to consume most of our alcoholic drinks at the weekend, consuming 4 or more drinks in one day is considered binge drinking. Binge drinking has a rapid negative impact on our reproductive health as it leads to elevations of an inflammatory toxin (called LPS) in our bloodstreams. Higher levels of LPS have been shown to have a negative impact on reproductive health. So avoid binge drinking sessions at the weekend and limit intake to 2 alcoholic drinks in one day.

Address your stress

Managing and avoiding stress could be the most important lifestyle change you make in promoting and protecting your reproductive health. All the health benefits of eating a healthy diet can be easily negated if we are experiencing high levels of stress. Stress is the ultimate hormone disruptor for both men and women and has the potential to reduce chances of conception. When women are stressed and producing higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, they can experience a reduction in progesterone levels, which are essential in promoting conception. For men, higher levels of cortisol may contribute to lower sperm number and motility. It is not always possible to avoid stress and often trying to conceive is a stressful time, so try to focus on activities that we know help to reduce cortisol levels such as gentle exercise, sleep, yoga, meditation, massage, reflexology or just spending time with friends.

Get more sleep

There is a direct relationship between the amount of sleep we get and our fertility. Research has found that women getting less than seven hours of sleep are 15% less likely to get pregnant than women who got seven to eight hours. Men who got more sleep were also found to have better quality sperm. Not only does sleep reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but men produce testosterone when they sleep. On top of that the sleep hormone melatonin has been shown to improve egg and sperm quality. So try getting a bit more sleep, it’s an effective (and free) way to support your reproductive health.

Detox your environment

Many scientists attribute the drop in fertility rates worldwide to the variety of hormone-disrupting chemicals we are all exposed to in our day to day lives. In fact, exposure to chemicals such as pesticides and plastics is probably the main environmental factor contributing to a drop in fertility rates. The plastic BPA is known to directly reduce egg quality and chances of conceiving in women. It is essential to reduce exposure to these chemicals when trying to conceive by removing them from your home environment and diet as much as possible. Start with removing plastic containers and cling film from the kitchen, avoiding water in plastic bottles and buying organic food wherever possible. Be wary of advice promoting fertility detoxes or cleanses as these could negatively impact conception.

 

References

Cutillas-Tolín A, Adoamnei E, Navarrete-Muñoz EM, Vioque J, Moñino-García M, Jørgensen N, Chavarro JE, Mendiola J, Torres-Cantero AM. Adherence to diet quality indices in relation to semen quality and reproductive hormones in young men. Hum Reprod. 2019 Oct 2;34(10)

Karayiannis D, Kontogianni MD, Mendorou C, Mastrominas M, Yiannakouris N. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility. Hum Reprod. 2018 Mar 1;33(3):494-502

Fallah A, Mohammad-Hasani A, Colagar AH. Zinc is an Essential Element for Male Fertility: A Review of Zn Roles in Men’s Health, Germination, Sperm Quality, and Fertilization. J Reprod Infertil. 2018;19(2):69-81.

Niels Henrik I. Hjollund, Tina Kold Jensen, Jens Peter E. Bonde, Tine Brink Henriksen, Anna-Maria Andersson, Niels Erik Skakkebæk, Is glycosylated haemoglobin a marker of fertility? A follow-up study of first-pregnancy planners , Human Reproduction, Volume 14, Issue 6, June 1999, Pages 1478–1482,

Chemlal H, Bensalem S, Bendiab K, Azzar M, Benberkane A, Lalaoui K, Iguer-Ouada M, Bournine L. High HbA1c levels affect motility parameters and overexpress oxidative stress of human mature spermatozoa. Andrologia. 2021 Feb;53(1)

Rinaldi de Alvarenga J. F.; Quifer-Rada P.; Francetto Juliano F.; Hurtado-Barroso S.; Illan M.; Torrado-Prat X. y Lamuela-Raventós R. M.; “Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Cook Vegetables Enhances Polyphenol and Carotenoid Extractability: A Study Applying the sofrito Technique”. Molecules, April 2019.

Bala S, Marcos M, Gattu A, Catalano D, Szabo G. Acute binge drinking increases serum endotoxin and bacterial DNA levels in healthy individuals. PLoS One. 2014;9(5)

Zhan XX, Qing XR, Shang XJ, Huang Y, Lipopolysaccharide affects male reproductive function through Toll-like receptors Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2013 Feb;19(2):163-8

Klonoff-Cohen H. Female and male lifestyle habits and IVF: what is known and unknown. Hum Reprod Update. 2005 Mar-Apr;11(2):179-203.

Klimek M, Pabian W, Tomaszewska B, Kołodziejczyk J. Levels of plasma ACTH in men from infertile couples. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2005 Aug;26(4):347-50.

Palnitkar G, Phillips CL, Hoyos CM, Marren AJ, Bowman MC, Yee BJ. Linking sleep disturbance to idiopathic male infertility. Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Dec;42:149-159.

Chen HG, Sun B, Chen YJ, Chavarro JE, Hu SH, Xiong CL, Pan A, Meng TQ, Wang YX, Messerlian C. Sleep duration and quality in relation to semen quality in healthy men screened as potential sperm donors. Environ Int. 2020

Ewa Matuszczak, Marta Diana Komarowska, Wojciech Debek, Adam Hermanowicz, “The Impact of Bisphenol A on Fertility, Reproductive System, and Development: A Review of the Literature”, International Journal of Endocrinology, vol. 2019

 

 

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Amy Martin

Marketing Director

Amy is a high achieving individual with a number of marketing awards under her belt, including Young Digital Business Person of the Year 2019. She is a big believer in digital marketing and an expert in executing personalised targeted campaigns. Amy strives to learn from data and campaigns that show return on investment.

Robert Gordon

Managing Director, Gordons Chemists

 

Robert Gordon, director at Gordons Chemist's. Gordons Chemists is a chain of more than 60 pharmacies, located in NI and Scotland. Gordons Chemists is Northern Ireland's largest independent pharmacy chain.

Dr. Debbie Collins

MBBchBAO MRCGP

 

Dr. Debbie Collins MBBchBAO MRCGP, a practicing GP and partner in Belfast. She has a passion for patient education and advocacy. Her special interests are Women's Health and Fertility

Sarah Trimble

Nutritional Therapist

 

Sarah Trimble - a nutritional therapist with a passion for good food instead of fad diets. Sarah has a particular Interest in using the power of nutrition to support hormonal imbalances and reproductive health.

Barbara Scott

Director, Seren Natural Fertility
Chair, Association of Reproductive Reflexologists

 

Barbara Scott is Chair of The Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, founder of Seren Natural Fertility and author of Reflexology for Fertility. In 2017, she was awarded ‘Complementary Therapist of the Year’ by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and has been nominated for several awards within the field of complementary therapy. In 2019 she was awarded the Innovation in Reflexology Award by the Association of Reflexologists.

Barbara speaks and lectures globally on her integrative approach to supporting couples having difficulties conceiving. She has spoken at many of the Fertility Shows and Fertility Fest. Alongside her own busy clinics, she also trains practitioners in providing this integrative, approach to fertility and reproductive healthcare and well-being. The ARR (Association of Reproductive Reflexologists) has trained practitioners globally, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and most areas of the UK.

Her expertise and passion is in advocating a patient-centred and integrative approach to supporting both men and women on their journey to parenthood.

Cindy Charles

Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife

 

Cindy Charles- Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife. Cindy is a committed advocate of social and personal development. Her own life experiences inspired her fertility support services. Cindy has worked with the Fertility Network UK, and has had the privilege to work as a resident Fertility Coach for the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street. Cindy believes in the importance of nurturing our own fertility.

Dr. Lyuda Shkrobot

MD, MSc Gynecologist, Fertility specialist at unq.life fertility clinic

 

Dr Lyuda has a special interest in reproductive immunology. Dr Shkrobot assisted in establishing the first European Donor Egg programme at Sims, coordinating and liaising with Intersono Clinic in Ukraine Advisors. She is passionate about patient-centred, results-driven care.

Lisa Corcoran

Business Development Executive

 

Lisa has 15 years of commercial business experience. She has proven her capabilities in Investment Property Sales and, Management & Business Development for Technology companies that have provided her with an understanding of different customer needs across several sectors. Lisa appreciates the value of customer education and relationship building in long-lasting partnerships.

Aoibheann Murphy

Chief Financial Officer

 

Having trained with PWC, Aoibheann qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1997. She subsequently spent eight years working in industry, gaining invaluable experience in many areas In 2005 Aoibheann became MD of Pangur Consulting, providing professional expertise to a broad client base. She is looking forward to the new challenge of Nua Fertility.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

Right craic!
 

Do you prefer podcasts or books? And of the one that you prefer, what is a show or title that you recommend?

I love sport…any sport…and the outdoors. Living in the Barrow valley I get to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Barrow and exploring the Blackstairs mountains. Since I hung up my soccer boots (the body just couldn’t take it anymore!), I’ve been cycling with my lovely friends in Mount Leinster Wheelers and was chuffed to have completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon event in Dublin in 2019!
I’m an avid reader…books beat podcasts hands down!...although recently I’ve dabbled with audio books through the library app Borrow Box. “A Little Life” left its mark on me. A harrowing story, definitely not for the faint hearted.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be?

Don’t be consumed by the roles in your life – parent, partner, employee etc. Parenthood, be it getting there or going through it, will have its tough times. Cherishing yourself as an individual and making time for yourself can help you through those times….it’s good to be a bit selfish!!

Mark Mullins

Director of Sales

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

To be honest it was very difficult. At the beginning we thought that when we decided that we wanted to start a family Deborah would fall pregnant shortly afterwards like many of her friends. As time went by, we started to suspect something was wrong. After initial tests we found out that I had a low sperm count which meant that we would have to go down the assisted pregnancy route. This took me several months to get my head around as I blamed myself for this. All I wanted was my wife to be able to go through the pregnancy journey. We couldn’t wait to become parents. There were many long and painful nights where I thought this would never happen for us. After several failed attempts we decided to look at further ways of improving our chances. This led us to look at fertility supplements, our diet, exercise. I will never forget when that morning during our Two Week Wait when Deborah woke me up at 5 a.m. to show me those two lines, we had both been yearning for! We are blessed to now have our beautiful daughter.
 

On challenging days, what kept you going? Where did you find inspiration?

My wife was my inspiration. She kept me going through those challenging months and years. She was there to help me deal with everything. The guilt I felt when I saw her having to go through everything.
 

What is your ideal was to relax and unwind?

My latest passion is cooking on my BBQ. I find it so peaceful and I just switch off. It just gives me a bit of alone time which everyone needs.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on men as they begin trying to become parents, what would it be?

I would highly recommend communicating with friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved. Failing that there are some really good private Facebook groups for men suffering from infertility. I found this great support through the good and especially the bad times.

Deborah Brock

Founder & CEO of Nua Fertility

 

Deborah has a personal passion for fertility health, supporting people and communities. With over 15 years experience of working in the Non profit and Education sector, I have had the honour of working together with people and communities focusing on their strengths, capacities and assets. With extensive senior management, project management and creative programme development experience.

How did your experience with fertility inspire you to help start Nua Fertility?

My own personal fertility journey opened my eyes to the world of fertility health. Trying for a baby is one of the most exciting yet vulnerable times in your life. It took myself and my husband over three years and the helping hand of science to become a mum.  I have always worked with people and communities and felt my vision for Nua Fertility could genuinely support others who have fertility challenges.

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

I'm am curious person and love all things research. My ideal evening would be reading and exploring scientific journals! I like to think I am a little bit creative and I LOVE paint by numbers! Its probably the only time I slow down, I become immersed in the painting and think of nothing else.

What do you want to tell someone trying to conceive or already pregnant?

Educate yourself! Knowledge is power. The more you inform yourself about your fertility health the more you are empowering yourself with knowledge. Own your journey and take control over your own fertility health.

What’s something you wish someone told you while trying to conceive?

Open up and talk with friends and family. I was surrounded by amazing friends and family but I never opened up. When your struggling to conceive, a non-judgemental ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on is so powerful.