Four dietary tips to consider when you’re trying to conceive

Written by Melanie McGrice
27 Jan

Women and couples who are trying to conceive are often looking for answers about what they should be eating during this time. Particularly women who are struggling to conceive. They feel so much is out of their control, that some simple tips on dietary improvements are often welcome in their quest to improve their chances of getting pregnant.

Luckily, when you are trying to conceive, the dietary advice is not as prescriptive as when you are pregnant. The important thing to remember is that this should be a time that you focus on foods that help you feel your best and be aware that you can easily take steps to improve your health when you are trying to create new life.

The human body is a complex ecosystem performing millions of chemical reactions to make new cells, hormones and enzymes constantly. The food that we choose to eat not only fills the gnawing hole in our belly, but also provides key nutrients that are important for those chemical reactions.

Here are my top four nutrition tips to help you have adequate stores of important nutrients to prepare your body for pregnancy. You’ll see they are easy to incorporate into your regular routine.

Lady eating salad

Swap refined carbohydrates for whole grains

Swapping refined carbohydrates known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to decrease inflammation, which has been found to increase fertility*. You don’t need to suddenly exclude all your favourite treats, just make sure you have for Low GI carbohydrates such as whole grains has been to reduce insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone that controls the storage of fat in our bodies. Reducing the level of insulin in our bodies has widespread benefits to your general health. These include reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease and lowering cholesterol levels.  A couple of ways to reduce the GI in your diet is to replace white bread with wholegrain, and sugary breakfast cereals with porridge.

Optimise protein intake

Your body uses protein to help make new hormones and the type of protein we eat is important. I’d recommend swapping 25 grams of animal protein with 25 grams of vegetable protein like nuts, seeds or legumes each day. Limiting fatty meats such as bacon or chorizo and including a couple of vegetarian days each week can also be beneficial.

Dairy foods are also a great source of protein. As well as being relatively low in kilojoules, dairy foods are rich in vitamins and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and vitamin B12. It is recommended that you consume at least three serves of dairy foods each day to meet nutritional requirements. Put milk on your breakfast cereal, have a tub of yoghurt for a snack, add cottage cheese to a salad or snack on vegie sticks with a tzatziki dip.

Embrace good fats

Saturated fats including trans fats found in fatty meats, takeaway and processed foods including biscuits, snack bars and chips are associated with increased oxygen free radicals and inflammation, therefore potentially decreasing fertility. In contrast, studies have found good fats, them in moderation. Incorporating good fats into your diet, for example, avocado and tomato on wholegrain toast is a simple and nutritious way to start the day.

Keep up your folate

One of the only scientifically proven nutrients for healthy conception is folate. This is why the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia recommends women take 0.5mg folic acid daily for at least three months before pregnancy and for three months into the pregnancy. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects (most commonly spina bifida) in babies. Speak to your health care professional about the right dose of folate supplements for your personal needs.

As well as taking a folate supplement it is beneficial to increase your dietary intake with one of the best natural sources of folate being green leafy vegetables. To increase your intake of vegetables, don't just save them for dinner; eat vegie sticks and vegetable soup as between meal snacks, and bulk your lunch up with more vegetables too.

Summary

Trying to conceive can be a stressful time if it’s taking longer than you had planned. So, my advice would be that if you are looking to improve your health and wellbeing, incorporating some of the above ideas in to your daily routine is a simple and effective way to do something positive.

An additional benefit is that it may also help improve any weight issues and help to optimise your body for pregnancy. It’s important to remember to enjoy yourself – go for a meal out and treat yourself to your favourite foods in moderation. If you’d like further assistance, speak to your health care professional.

If you're trying to conceive and looking for extra advice, register for our free Fertility Facts Program in your area (ends February 7th 2016)

Melanie McGrice, Dietitian, AdvAPD, Guest Blogger

Melanie McGrice is a nutrition and wellbeing specialist, and our guest blogger this month. Melanie is passionate about working with people to improve their nutrition, one bite at a time, whether through her books (such as ‘The Pregnancy Weight Plan’), presentations, clinic or social media.  In her spare time you’ll find her fundraising for her favourite charities, playing with the myriad of foster kids coming through her doors, checking out new restaurants and getting outdoors. Join her free nutrition and wellbeing network » 

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There’s a sperm donor shortage in Australia – but only 20% of men know about it

The leading fertility clinics in the Virtus Health group, including IVF Australia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, have joined forces to research sperm donation in Australia

What did we find out about Sperm Donation?

Only 20% of men are aware that there is a shortage of sperm donors in this country.
 
While the majority of Australians are aware of the need for blood and organ donation, the requirement for sperm donors is largely unknown.
 
Used by patients as either part of an In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) cycle, or via Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), donor sperm can help overcome male factor infertility (15%), or help same-sex couples (35%) and single women (50%) have a child.

What are the common motivations for donation?

The same research also discovered that the common reasons for wanting to donate sperm included:

  • Helping others to have a family (38%)
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Sperm donors in Australia can be known to the recipient or recruited via the clinic. Many couples and individuals choose their sperm donor through a clinic, as knowing the demographic profile of the donor but not their identity is a preferred option. In these cases, children of sperm donors are able to access their biological father’s details when they are 18 years old.
 
While Australians cannot be paid for their sperm (like blood or organ donation) most clinics reimburse donors for legitimate expenses. Sperm donors in Australia are typically aged 25-50, with or without their own families, and of any sexual orientation.

Would you or someone you know now consider sperm donation?

After seeing the results of this research, we want to raise awareness of the need for more sperm donors in Australia. If it is something that you would consider talk to your local clinic for more information.

Sperm Donation in Australia Infographic

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Sperm Donation in Australia infographic thumbnail

 

* Research conducted by Woolcott Research in March 2012. 

Mediterranean diet – can it influence IVF results?

UK scientists will examine the effects of a Mediterranean diet rich in omega-3 fish oil and vitamin D on fertility for women and couples undergoing In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Common sense would suggest that preconception health of both women and men could play a role in the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment outcome. We all know that a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition influences the quality of egg and sperm in the preconception period, therefore increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy.

What is a Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean style diet is high in fruits, vegetables, fish, wholegrain, nuts and seeds. It is limited in red meat, dairy, alcohol and processed foods such as cakes and mayonnaise2

In 2010 a Dutch study showed that preconception Mediterranean style diet in couples undergoing ART treatment increases chances of achieving pregnancy by 40% 2.

More evidence of Mediterranean diet’s benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from oily fish sources such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 serves as a precursor to different prostaglandins (PGs) that are important in the menstrual cycle, growth and development of eggs and initiation of the ovulation. PGs also play a role in fertilization of the embryo in the uterus.2

Vitamin D is derived from dietary oily fish and eggs. It appears to impact IVF outcomes by boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulates menstrual cycles improving the chance of conception.

You may be thinking what about men? Vitamin D also benefits semen quality and count in males. Additionally, it increases levels of testosterone, boosting libido. 3

Current guidelines suggest to prescreen all women before IVF. Optimal vitamin D levels are considered to be 75m/mol or above. We commonly prescribe vitamin D doses ranging from 1000-5000iu a day. Dosage recommended in infertility depends on the  blood levels. If you are very deficient it may be hard to obtain sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from the diet alone and supplements are highly recommended.4

But, do these positive results from dietary omega-3 and vitamin D, translate into positive results from supplementation?

The answer is we don’t know yet. Vitamins and minerals absorb more effectively from food sources. There are other co-factors in food that increase vitamin and nutrient activation in the body. Nevertheless, both omega-3 and vitamin D supplements have a low side effects profile and are safe before, during and after (breastfeeding stage) pregnancy.

One other likely benefit of the Mediterranean diet to fertility is its high vitamin B content. Vitamin B6 and B12, as well as Folate, is required to breakdown homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in blood plasma. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with adverse reproductive and pregnancy outcomes. This is why adequate intake of Folate, B6 and B12 is recommended for women who are trying to conceive either spontaneously or via IVF. In another blog I will discuss the significance of homocysteine pathway and its link to the quality of sperm and egg.2

What does this mean if you’re undergoing IVF?

Following a Mediterranean diet may increase your chances of achieving pregnancy through IVF. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D play an important role though further research is still required to confirm this link.

Currently there are no specific guidelines on what constitutes a Mediterranean diet and optimal quantities of certain foods in order to make a routine recommendation. IVF patients may benefit from a nutrition assessment by a clinical dietitian or a naturopath who can review their dietary habits and develop a food plan.

In the case of Vitamin D, given the current prevalence of deficiency in sub-fertile women and men, and difficulty deriving enough from diet alone, supplementation alongside ART treatment may be recommended in most cases.


References: 1, Mediterranean diet trial targets IVF boost. The Australian. 25 Mar 2014. Available: [http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/mediterranean-diet-trial-targets-ivf-boost/story-fn3dxix6-1226864778849].  Accessed:  [27 Mar 2014]. 2, Vujkovic M, De Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, Van Der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen PM. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the change of pregnancy. Fertility and sterility Vol. 94, No 6, November 2010. 3, Lerchbaum E, Obermayer-Pietsch B. Vitamin D and fertility – a systematic review. European Society of Endocrinology. 24 January 2012. 4, Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. Clinical Practice guideline: Antenatal Care – Module 1. Australian Government Department of Health and Aging, Canberra. 31 August 2012. Available: [www.health.gov.au/antenatal]. Accessed: [27 Mar 2014].

Has following a Mediterranean diet worked for you?

Current study: Can acupuncture support IVF treatment?

Many people use complementary or alternative therapies to improve their overall physical and emotional health. Some women also consider using these therapies to prepare their body for pregnancy or support them through fertility treatment.

Why are women turning to Acupuncture while undergoing IVF?

Acupuncture has grown in popularity in Australia as an adjunct to IVF treatment and is claimed to reduce stress, improve the quality of life while you’re undertaking treatment, and stimulate blood flow to the uterus influencing menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Some limited studies have shown that acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer, within an IVF cycle, may improve implantation rates although it should also be borne in mind that some recent studies have not found acupuncture to be effective.

Background on the current study into IVF and Acupuncture

The clinics within the Virtus Health group, including IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, are continually investing in research projects that seek to improve health and reproductive outcomes for patients. In some cases this involves working together with complementary therapists to maximise patient fertility. An example of this is the relationships that have been setup between acupuncture clinics in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and the Bondi Junction IVFAustralia clinic.

A current research project that IVFAustralia and Melbourne IVF are involved in is a national multi-centre randomised controlled acupuncture trial in conjunction with The University of Western Sydney. The purpose is to formally investigate the effectiveness, or not, of acupuncture in improving the proportion of live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

What are the expected outcomes of this trial?

This study will determine the cost effectiveness of IVF with acupuncture, assess the personal and social context of acupuncture on IVF patients and identify other effects of acupuncture.

It will add significant knowledge to defining the exact role of acupuncture in the management of IVF from a clinical and cost effectiveness perspective. Any way that we can reduce the number of cycles it takes for our patients to achieve a healthy pregnancy, is likely to have a positive emotional and financial impact on that family.

However, regardless of the outcome of this trial, while improving your general health and wellbeing is clearly beneficial, acupuncture is not for everyone and varied opinions reflect the limited evidence on its effectiveness.

Who is eligible to take part?

We are currently recruiting IVF Australia and Melbourne IVF patients interested in taking part in the trial.

To participate you must: be less than 43 years of age, be undergoing a fresh IVF or Intracystoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) cycle; and not be undergoing a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) cycle.

Participants in the trial will receive their treatments on the day of embryo transfer – administered by experienced acupuncturists – at research partnered IVF units in clinics across Australia.

If you want to find out more or register for the trial, contact IVF Australia or Melbourne IVF.


Read more: Complementary Therapies for Pregnancy (NSW), Adjuvant Therapy & IVF Treatment (Melbourne), Complementary Therapies & Fertility (QLD)

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