By definition, Infertility is considered when one fails to achieve pregnancy after 1 year of unprotected intercourse. Generally, 85 to 80 % of the couples conceive within 1 year. Out of 100 around 8-12 % of couples struggle with fertility problems. Amongst these around 30 % are due to males causes 30% due to female causes 10% due to both factors and 25% are unexplained and the rest 5% due to other causes.
Apart from medical causes of infertility - age, lifestyle, stress, pollution, pesticides, and diet all play a role in fertility. While couples cannot control all the medical causes of infertility, but they can control their eating habits and keep themselves healthy. It is well known that proper nutrition with an active lifestyle to maintain an ideal weight can have a significant positive effect on the fertility potential of both partners So ideal body weight comes under one of the modifiable factors which the couple can strive for.
Women & Weight
Both obesity and underweight can be detrimental to ovulation and pregnancy. Obese women can take a longer time to conceive.
Men & Weight
Low sperm count and reduced motility are especially common in overweight men due to altered hormone levels. A balanced diet containing green leafy vegetables and colourful fruits have lots of minerals, vitamins and antioxidant which regulates hormones, lower stress levels and improves reproductive health.
This is calculated based on body mass index BMI. The formula is BMI =Kg/m^2 where kg is weight in kilograms and m^2 is the height in meters squared. According to this as per the Indian population-
- Ideal BMI is between 18.5kg /m^2 to 22.9 kg/m^2 -healthy weight.
- More than 23.0-24.9kg/m^2 is overweight.
- More than 25 kg /m^2 is obese.
- Less than 18.5 kg /m^2 is underweight.
Even being underweight like gymnastics and athletes is also detrimental to fertility health. One should always strive for a healthy weight. The risk of infertility is highest among those who are lowest and highest end of BMI distribution.
What To Include In Diet?
There is no magical potion that will result in pregnancy, but the food has a significant impact on the reproductive potential of both partners. A healthy balanced diet that includes protein, folic acid, iron, vitamin B12, omega 3 fatty acid, omega 6 fatty acids, and zinc are best for improving fertility. These are readily available in nature in form of grains, vegetables, fruits, and nuts.
- Cereals, lentils whole grains, quinoa, and beans are rich sources of protein, fibre, and folic acid which help in ovulation and can help in healthy embryo growth. Fruits like strawberries, raspberries, avocados, bananas, apples, and citrus fruits are rich sources of vitamin C and are natural antioxidants.
- Nuts like walnut are full of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acid that helps in regulating hormones and result in better semen parameters. Cashew nut, sunflower seeds are rich sources of zinc, vitamin E.
- Food rich in iron includes beans, lentils, spinach, beetroot, and whole grains.
- Fresh green vegetables like lettuce, spinach broccoli, peas beans, capsicum, and bell pepper should be part of a balanced diet and are shown to improve ovulation and sperm quality.
- Choose monosaturated fats and less trans-fat like olive oil, sunflower oil. Fish, flax seeds are rich sources of omega 3 fatty acid, omega 6 fatty acids, and vitamin D, etc.
Foods To Avoid
Sweets, sweetened beverages, fried food, processed meats, food containing preservatives, frozen food, and ready-to-eat food can have adverse effects on fertility. Trans fat commonly found in hydrogenated vegetable oil is commonly found in margarine, fried food, etc should be avoided. Easily digested carbs like cakes, pastries, pizza chips should be avoided.
In women with PCOS, it is better to follow a lower / complex carbohydrate eating plan which reduces insulin level and helps in menstrual regularity and weight reduction. A high fibre diet with low glycaemic carbohydrates should be the preference. This includes whole grains, legumes, nuts fruits, etc. They should avoid white bread, sugary beverages, red meat, solids fats, and fast foods. PCOS can be controlled with proper diet and physical activity can lead to improved insulin metabolism, regular periods, and reduced level of male hormones. Women with PCOS should have frequent small meals with protein portions.
Important 10 Points To Ponder
1. Always try to start and maintain with ideal healthy weight before trying for pregnancy especially in obese PCOS.
2 Avoid over-the-counter vitamins supplement. Women attempting to get pregnant are advised to take folic acid supplements of at least 0.4mg to reduce the risk of neural tube defect
3. Don’t go for any fad diet. It is best to discuss a healthy eating diet plan by talking to a registered dietitian or nutritionist.
4. Limit your caffeine intake to one or two cups of coffee per day.
5. Excessive alcohol (6 alcohol drinks and their benefits) is found to increase the time to get pregnant. It is detrimental to semen quality and a risk to the fetus.
6. Choose proteins from vegetable sources like lentils instead of animal sources for example red meat which can improve fertility levels
7. Dietary changes along with an active lifestyle can work wonders.
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8. Eating one or two servings of full-fat dairy milk and cheese (benefits of cheese) a day was linked to increased fertility.
9. Take active participation in group programs involving exercise and dietary advice leads to more pregnancies than weight loss advice alone.
10. Recreational drugs should be avoided.
A healthy diet can help to reduce the time of conception, increases the rate of ovulation, and increases semen parameters, and finally helps in realizing the dreams of being parents.