Infertility – the inability to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex – is common and affects up to 15% of couples.
It is increasingly recognized that nutrition plays an important role in fertility. Several studies have linked improved fertility to specific nutrients and foods.
It is difficult, however, to translate these findings into dietary advice for couples since we do not consume foods or nutrients in isolation. Limited research has investigated the effect of overall diet quality on fertility, especially in couples trying to conceive naturally.
Now, new study findings suggest that an overall high-quality diet can improve the chances of getting pregnant.
The latest research
The study, published in the November issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at the effect of four healthy diets – the Mediterranean diet, the 2010 US Healthy Eating Index, the Danish Dietary Guidelines Index and the Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII) – in time to conceive in women who were not using fertility treatment.
The participants, 9,232 in total, took part in one of two ongoing pregnancy studies, one conducted in Denmark and the other in North America. Upon entry into their respective studies, each participant completed a detailed dietary questionnaire which was used to calculate adherence to each diet.
Overall, greater adherence to all diets was associated with an increased risk of becoming pregnant.
The diet, however, with the most consistent and strongest effect on improving time to conception was DII, a diet designed to minimize inflammation in the body.
In both studies, women who ate a more anti-inflammatory diet were more likely to get pregnant compared to those who ate a less anti-inflammatory diet. The results were even stronger in obese women and in women 35 and older.
Inflammation has been shown to play an important role in the development of insulin resistance, a condition that can influence hormonal function and interfere with ovulation.
Keep in mind that these results may not apply to the general population since study participants tended to have healthier diets, were less likely to smoke, and had higher levels of education and income. students.
What is the DII diet?
The DII is a scoring system based on 45 inflammation-promoting and anti-inflammatory food components. Major anti-inflammatory contributors to the DII score include fiber, magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and polyunsaturated fat – the type of fat found in foods such as as oily fish, flax and chia seeds, walnuts, sunflower oil and grapeseed oil.
Although the other diets studied also have anti-inflammatory components, the DII is unique in that it focuses on how strongly each component affects inflammatory proteins in the blood.
The DII is also the only food scoring system that includes specific vitamins and minerals. Although these micronutrients have been included in the DII for their anti-inflammatory potential, they can also improve fertility in other important ways.
The “pro-fertility diet”
A healthy diet has also been shown to increase the likelihood of a successful pregnancy in women receiving assisted reproductive technology (ART).
A 2019 study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who closely adhered to a “pro-fertility” diet prior to fertility treatment had a significantly higher likelihood of becoming pregnant and giving birth compared to to other diets.
The pro-fertility diet, developed by researchers at Harvard University, is based on foods and nutrients linked to positive ART results in previous studies. It is characterized by higher intakes of folic acid, vitamin B12 and vitamin D, as well as low-pesticide fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, dairy products and soy foods.
It is believed that the fertility-friendly diet may promote fertility by improving the body’s ability to synthesize and repair DNA, protecting cells from free radical damage, reducing inflammation and regulating blood sugar and insulin levels.
A growing body of evidence suggests that optimizing nutrition and diet is important for increasing fertility potential in women trying to conceive naturally and in those using ART. (A healthy diet is also linked to improved fertility in men.)
In addition to supporting fertility, a nutritious diet is essential to fortify a woman’s nutrient stores and provide the building blocks necessary for the baby’s development during pregnancy.
Leslie Beck, a dietitian in private practice in Toronto, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD
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