The number of couples facing fertility problems is on the increase with close to 1 in 6 couples not able to conceive after a year of trying with many seeking medical help. There is a great deal that be done through changes to diet and lifestyle to optimise your fertility. Here are just a few:
- Balancing blood sugar levels can help keep the stress hormone cortisol in check. Elevated cortisol can result in reduced progesterone which is vital in pregnancy. This can lead onto imbalances in estrogen and testosterone levels. Aim to eat balanced meals regularly with a source of protein, slow releasing carbohydrate and vegetables / fruit at each meal and snack
- Keep an eye on stress levels (which can lead to raised cortisol). Consider taking up yoga, meditation, more time out, quiet walks, reading a book in the bath etc.
- Eat plenty of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. They are rich in antioxidants that can protect against birth defects and miscarriage. They can also protect sperm from oxidative damage
- Increase zinc containing foods such as spinach, cashew nuts, pumpkin and squash seeds, organic chicken, dark chocolate, chickpeas and grass-fed beef (max twice a week). Zinc can increase sperm count and it is an essential part of genetic material so a deficiency can cause chromosomal changes
- Omega 3 fatty acids are important for healthy hormone functioning. They also control inflammation which can interfere with staying / getting pregnant. Foods rich in omega 3’s include walnuts, crushed flaxseeds and chia seeds, oily fish (max 2 portions a week)
- Limit / avoid alcohol. Alcohol can reduce both men and women’s fertility. In men it decreases sperm count and sperm motility
- Decrease / avoid caffeine – a number of studies have shown that caffeine (particularly in the form of coffee) decreases fertility. Caffeine is a stimulant and raises cortisol levels so can also interfere with hormone production
- Obvious one – don’t smoke! It is linked to infertility in both men and women. It can decrease sperm count in men and make sperm more sluggish (as can smoking marijuana).
2016 is here: does it seem like every person on your Facebook, twitter and Instagram is detoxing? But is it really necessary? Do we need to detoxify our bodies and organs after having a period of overindulging? The reality is that our bodies do a very good job of filtering out harmful substances all on their own – our kidneys and liver are designed to do just that. In a society where extremes seem to be the norm – where we are either at home stuffing our faces in front of the box or constantly in the gym and ‘eating clean’ the concept of extreme detoxing is appealing as people buy into the idea that if you follow a strict detox regime for a finite period of time you will be cleansed of all your health ‘sins’.
Personally, I prefer a more moderate approach. Doing anything to an extreme, whether it be eating, drinking, exercising and even excessive ‘healthy’ eating is not good for you. If though, like me you’re keen to kick-start the New Year and get healthy there are a number of things you can do which can help optimise your liver function and help improve your health without you having to live off green juices and put your body into starvation mode:
- Keep yourself hydrated. Aim to drink 1.5-2 Litres of water a day (a little more if you are doing lots of exercise but no need to go up to 4 litres a day. That is too much). As popular as juicing is, fruit juice is high in fructose which is easily stored as fat in the body and vegetable juices need to be drank with caution as some vegetables should be consumed cooked rather than raw (see below). Stick to water and herbal teas and have a juice as a treat now and again
- Cook with plenty of fresh herbs and spices. They help boost liver enzymes
- Eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower as they can help stimulate liver enzymes. Make sure you cook these foods though as eaten raw they contain goitrogens that can interfere with thyroid function (hence why it’s not a good idea to drink high quantities of these vegetables juiced)
- Add garlic, lemon and olive oil to your food. These foods are also helpful in boosting liver enzymes
- Eat regular balanced meals and snacks which contain protein, a wholegrain carbohydrate and some fruit / vegetables at each sitting
- Keep an eye on portion size and always fill your plate half full of veggies to ensure you are consuming plenty of nutrients
- Eat the rainbow! Eat lots of brightly coloured fruits (you are far better off eating your fruit rather than juicing it which gets rid of the fibre) and vegetables
- Aim to do minimum 3 x sessions of 30 minutes cardiovascular exercise a week with 2-3 sessions of resistance training per week (you can combine cardio and resistance training in one session). Lifting weights, yoga and Pilates all count as resistance training. Walking in-between exercise sessions is also very helpful but you have to walk quickly so that your heart-rate is raised and you get sweaty!
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The actual cause of endometriosis is unknown, however we do know that endometriosis is an oestrogen-dependent inflammatory disease. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that prostaglandins, a group of lipids secreted by the endometrium that have a hormone-like effect in the body, regulate many of the physiological processes in the development of endometriosis. Prostaglandins are involved in a range of body functions, including the modulation of inflammation. Prostaglandins are made at sites of tissue damage or infection, where they cause inflammation, pain or fever associated with the healing process. Prostaglandins also regulate the female reproductive system, and are necessary in the control of ovulation, the menstrual cycle and the induction of labour.
There has been a fair amount of research into diet and endometriosis, which suggests that cutting certain foods from your diet and including more of others may stop endometriosis from developing and /or reduce symptoms. Essential fatty acids found in our diet are converted into prostaglandins in our bodies. Prostaglandins break down into three forms: Prostaglandin E1 (PGE1); Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2); and Prostaglandin F2a (PGF2a). While PGE1 is said to help reduce endometriosis symptoms, PGE2 can contribute to heavy painful bleeding and PGF2a has been linked to vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea. By making changes to your diet it is though possible to reduce PGE2 and PGF2a and encourage the production of PGE1 with the aim of managing and reducing endometriosis symptoms.
Foods to increase in diet:
- Omega 3’s help increase non-inflammatory Prostaglandins (PGE1) – found in oily fish such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, herrings, anchovies, salmon and trout (aim to eat at least two portions of oily fish a week), walnuts, ground flaxseeds (add to cereal or porridge) and pumpkin seeds
- Evening primrose oil, blackcurrant seed oil and borage oil are great sources of GLA (Gamma linolenic acid) which the body converts to PGE1
- Fibre is effective for keeping our bowels regular and helping to excrete excess oestrogen associated with endometriosis. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains such as brown rice, buckwheat noodles, quinoa, rye bread etc.
- The brassica family of vegetables: broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower to aid liver detoxification for excretion of excess oestrogen.
Foods to avoid / decrease:
- Coffee – can exacerbate cramps and is said to increase oestrogen levels in the body (most likely due to the extra burden it puts on our livers) and other caffeinated drinks such as strong black tea, colas and energy drinks
- Alcohol – for similar reasons to caffeine. Alcohol interferes with oestrogen detoxification
- Red meat – especially processed meats such as sausages, bacon, salamis, cured meats and hams, increase inflammatory prostaglandins (PGE2) levels in the body
- Deep fried foods – have been linked to elevated PGE2 levels
- Trans fats – found in processed foods such as cakes, croissants, sausages, margarines, muffins, pies etc. block anti-inflammatory prostaglandins
- Sugary foods – such as cakes, muffins, sweets, chocolate, processed / convenience food, fizzy drinks and fruit juice. Eating sugar triggers the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by lots of names so look out for words ending in ‘ose’ on the back of packs. Fructose, sucrose, maltose, galactose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup and even agave syrup should be kept to a minimum.