Could sunshine improve your chance of IVF success?
Dr Petra Ladwig - Queensland Fertility Group Sunshine Coast | 1st Sep 2015
As we welcome spring with open arms, did you know that the warmer weather does more than put a smile on your face? A dose of sunshine, the best natural source of vitamin D, could also increase your chance of IVF success.
We have known the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy for a long time, and how it supports the baby’s development. But now, there is a growing body of research into its contribution to positive IVF treatment outcomes as well.
Why is Vitamin D important in pregnancy?
Vitamin D is essential to maintain proper levels of calcium in the body. For pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, it helps to form your baby’s bones and teeth, and can affect bone development and immune function from birth through to adulthood. A vitamin D deficiency in pregnant women can also contribute to complications such as gestational diabetes. This is why a simple vitamin D blood test is generally recommended for women who are trying to conceive or in the early stages of pregnancy.
Could Vitamin D also contribute to IVF success?
While the role of vitamin D in fertility is less certain, an Italian study published in 2014 found that women undergoing IVF treatment with sufficient levels of vitamin D were more likely to produce high quality embryos, and nearly twice as likely to become pregnant. Although the researchers stated further studies were needed, the results indicated that low levels of vitamin D could contribute to infertility.
More recently, 11,500 women were evaluated in a European study examining the effect of the environment (temperature, rain and sunshine) on the outcomes of IVF treatment. The study found the birth rate improved for women exposed to more sunshine the month before the start of their IVF cycle, while the egg was maturing.
For the men, a link between vitamin D and sperm movement and function has also been identified.
Natural Sources of Vitamin D
For most Australians, one of the best sources of vitamin D is from natural sunlight – in moderation of course, to avoid the risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D can also come from food such as fatty fish, eggs and some milk products, although it is difficult to get enough vitamin D to meet recommended levels from food alone.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that a quarter of all Australian adults are vitamin D deficient – although it must be emphasised that the majority of these are only mildly or moderately deficient. Only 1% are considered severely deficient.
Since the sun is a major source of vitamin D, it’s not surprising that your levels vary depending on the time of year and where you live. In summer, only 6% of Queenslanders are vitamin D deficient. Although if you travel a bit further south, approximately 19% of people living in New South Wales are vitamin D deficient, even in Australia’s warmer months. In the winter months, this figure skyrockets for those living in south eastern states to almost 50% for Victorians and 43% for Tasmanians.
Other lifestyle improvements for your fertility
While the importance of vitamin D in pregnancy and its link to IVF outcomes certainly gives couples something to think about, don’t overlook the well-established health and lifestyle improvements you can make to boost your natural fertility including quitting smoking, consuming alcohol in moderation, and maintaining a healthy weight.
If you are undergoing fertility treatment, your fertility specialist will likely have already organised a vitamin D blood test. For all other women trying to conceive, visit your GP for more information.