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).
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.