Dear Dr. Keith:
My girlfriend and I have decided to get pregnant!
Both of us!
So, of course, we have started to do all the online research. We started asking our friends and family but we seem to be getting conflicting info! No soy, yes soy … Yes milk, no milk… Not to mention, neither of us know if we are particularly fertile right now and we are not particularly in the best shape of our lives. The donor is a great friend, so we are lucky in having that part taken care of. Help us make some babies! Any words of wisdom?
Thanks in advance,
Dear Mommy Squared: Infertility is common amongst women in Western society and has been on the rise over the last few decades leading to a boom in fertility drugs and procedures as well as the increased associated costs. It has been commonly perceived that the major reason for the rise in the observed infertility rate had to do with the increasing age at which many women in the Western world start attempting to become pregnant. However, many recent studies suggest it has more to do with a women’s diet and weight than the age at which she attempts to conceive.
Since the 1950s and ’60s, our diet has tended to drift towards processed and away from fresh foods; and with our prosperity, an increasing consumption of animal based foods. While this has helped Americans get enough calories on a daily basis, it hasn’t equated to increased nutrition and health, and in this discussion, increased fertility. Let’s take a look at what recent studies, many centered on the Nurses’ Health Study II (one of the worlds largest and ongoing studies), have found and what can be done to improve fertility.
(These recommendations are specifically for ovulatory infertility and not genetic or structural causes of infertility.)
Hormones. Ovulatory fertility is based upon normalizing your hormonal cycle. This may, or may not lead to the obvious decision to avoid consuming any dietary hormones or hormone-like substances. The most obvious is soy and its phytoestrogen components. If you cannot do without your soy protein, make sure you only consume fermented soy products like miso and tempeh that degrade the phytoestrogens. The other most common source of foreign hormones is in animal proteins. f you eat any animal based foods, including dairy, make sure they are organic and hormone free. Pesticides can also have hormone like effects when ingested, so organic fruits and vegetables are also recommended.
Protein. One of the surprising findings was the correlation between increased consumption of animal protein and the increased risk of infertility. While most equate more protein to better health, many studies find that the type of protein we take-in is more important than overall quantity. It appears that high consumption of animal protein can contribute to a state called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which we know contributes to infertility. It is recommended that women attempting to conceive should switch to a plant based diet. This does not necessarily mean becoming a vegan, but significantly limiting meat and dairy consumption (however, there was a correlation to less animal based foods consumed and increasing fertility).
Dairy. If you choose to continue to eat dairy products, you may be surprised we recommend whole fat dairy products over reduced fat options. Most of the beneficial nutrients found in milk are associated with the fat, so when you remove the fat, you remove those nutrients. Also, the process of removing the fat involves adding whey or casein, those animal proteins we are trying to avoid. Don’t forget hormone free.
Iron. There is strong evidence that iron supplementation aids in boosting fertility and may be related to a high incidence of undiagnosed iron deficiency amongst women. Again, studies surprisingly show non-animal sources of heme/iron were better at increasing fertility and even suggestive that animal based sources may worsen infertility. High doses of iron prenatal vitamins are recommended over the lose dose varieties.
FATS. It’s not a secret that the American diet has increasingly included higher, and higher levels of fats, and primarily coming from animal-based sources. Studies have consistently shown that saturated fats (especially trans fats) found in animal products decrease fertility, likely through problems with insulin regulation, which we’ll talk about next. It is recommended to significantly reduce consumption of saturated fats and switching to more mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in plants to increase fertility. The study also did find that the benefit of mono- and polyunsaturated fats was specifically dependent on adequate iron supplementation as previously discussed.
Insulin. As briefly mentioned earlier, PCOS is a major contributor to infertility and PCOS is strongly-related to problems with insulin regulation. An obvious source of insulin deregulation is weight. It is recommended if you are overweight or obese, to try losing weight to increase fertility. Remember, no fad diets, as these are not healthy and may cause infertility due to poor nutritional intake. No more than 1-2 lbs. a week of weight loss is recommended. Exercise, whether overweight or not, whether associated with weight loss or not, has proven to increase fertility by directly influencing insulin levels. We recommend five days a week of 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, aerobic preferably to resistance. Stress has a direct influence on insulin levels and high levels of stress can lead to infertility even when everything else is taken into account. If you cannot eliminate the source of your stress (i.e. changing jobs), try meditation and yoga, or counseling if relationship in nature. Lastly, as we at Naturally Fortified have mentioned before, reduce or stop the use of processed sugars (this does not mean you can start using artificial sweeteners).
Lifestyle. There are many daily influences that can affect fertility. The most obvious is smoking. There is a direct correlation to smoking cessation and increased fertility, so stopping is an important step to increase fertility as well as transitioning into a healthy pregnancy and postnatal environment for your new child/children (Howard Brown Health Center has a free cessation clinic called Bitch to Quit). Excessive coffee/caffeine consumption has also shown to have a negative effect on fertility, but all is not lost. Studies show 1-2 cups of 6-8 oz. of caffeinated coffee a day has no detrimental effect on fertility (remember, no sugar, creams, caramel, etc.). Lastly, contrary to popular belief, there is little to no evidence that alcohol is detrimental to conception. Fourteen or fewer drinks a week has been shown multiple times to be just OK (this, however, does not mean all 14 drinks in one day … we never recommend binge drinking, no more than two to three drinks a day for a woman).
Use these guidelines to help in your efforts to conceive and Godspeed.
Naturally Fortified works with clients of varying backgrounds with varying goals. Many of those we work with are seeking to conceive, and have conceived, using our healthy guidelines to increase fertility and promote a healthy natal period. Private message us at Chip Allman on Facebook or email us at Chip@NFortified.com for more information on how we can help you on your healthy journey.