Having Trouble Getting Pregnant?: Dr. Jorge E. Chavarro, co-author of "The Fertility Diet" Shares Ten Tips On Enhancing Your Fertility--Including Leaving the Soda Can Unopened and Drinking Whole Milk, Instead of Low-Fat
Dr. Chavarro discusses how diet, exercise and weight can impact a women's chance of getting pregnant, including information on a super fertility vitamin every woman should take
Dr. Chavarro's Ten Tips On Improving Your Infertility:
• First, avoid trans fats. In addition to their well known effects on heart disease we have found that they are associated with a higher risk of infertility due to ovulation problems and more recently have also linked them to a higher risk of endometriosis.
• Second, try to increase your intake of mono-unsaturated fats. This can be done by consuming foods like avocados or using more vegetable oils like olive and canola oil.
• Third, favor protein from vegetable sources, like beans and nuts, over protein from animal sources
• Fourth, favor whole grains fruits and vegetable rather than from highly refined carbs.
• Fifth, take a multivitamin with folic acid
• Sixth, get your iron from vegetables, legumes and supplements (like a multivitamin with iron) but not from red meats
• Seventh, leave the sodas unopened
• Eighth, aim for a healthy weight. This could either mean losing or gaining weight depending on where you stand right now
• Ninth, is you are not physically active, start exercising. If you already exercise keep doing it while keeping an eye on your body weight, especially if you are lean
• Last and optionally, consider having a glass of whole milk every day instead of skim or low fat milk temporarily while trying to get pregnant
These recommendations are based on our work relating diet to infertility due to ovulation disorders.
Commitmentnow.com: Does diet really affect a woman's chances of getting pregnant?
Jorge E. Chavarro, MD: It certainly does. In our initial study of diet and fertility, which is the foundation of our book, we found that dietary choices are very strongly related to the changes of experiencing fertility problems, specifically as they relate to ovulation disorders.
After this initial work, we and others have also found that specific dietary factors are associated with semen quality parameters, which are a marker of male fertility, and with conditions that are associated with infertility such as endometriosis.
Commitmentnow.com: Are there certain foods men should eat that will help improve their sperm?
Dr. Chavarro: There is very little we know about diet and men's fertility. It is an active area of research in our group so we will hopefully be able to provide an answer to this question a few years down the road. Something that has been studied quite a bit and seems to matter for men's fertility is their body weight.
Underweight men have lower quality sperm as also do men who are severely obese. What is not so clear, however, is whether men who are overweight but not obese have also lower semen quality than normal weight men.
Commitmentnow.com: What role does folic acid play in fertility?
Dr. Chavarro: Folic acid appears to be very important for fertility. We saw that preconceptional folic acid intake was very strongly related to a lower risk of infertility due to ovulation problems.
Several groups have also reported that folic acid is associated with better semen quality in men and some studies of couples undergoing assisted reproduction have also reported some improvements associated with greater folic acid intake although one study among couples being treated with IVF also reported a higher chance of giving birth to twins with greater intake of folic acid.
Commitmentnow.com: What foods are incredibly bad for infertility that you would highly recommend stopping?
Dr. Chavarro: First and most importantly, foods containing trans fats. This involves a little bit of detective work since it requires searching for specific words such as "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" or "vegetable shortening" in the ingredient lists of packaged foods. The other food that I would consider stopping are sodas.
We saw strong association between soda consumption and a higher risk of infertility due to ovulation problems. There certainly is not a good reason to consume them in the first place and not having them may be helpful for fertility.
Commitmentnow.com: Are there certain vitamins and minerals you would recommend taking that enhances fertility?
Dr. Chavarro: I have already mentioned folic acid. In addition to folic acid we found that iron intake from plant sources and supplements, but not from red meats, was associated with a lower risk of infertility due to ovulation problems.
Commitmentnow.com: Is there a number one, two and three best food for fertility? If so, what are they?
Dr. Chavarro: More than specific "miracle" fertility foods it is more about the entire dietary pattern and learning to incorporate it into your daily life in a manner that you feel comfortable and willing to stick with it over time.
Commitmentnow.com: Does being overweight contributed to infertility? If so, how?
Dr. Chavarro: Body weight is one of the strongest predictors of fertility. I mentioned already the role on men's fertility. For women, the association is even more striking. Women who are underweight have a harder time getting pregnant, mostly due to problems with ovulation.
Likewise, women who are overweight or obese also have more problems with ovulation and higher infertility rates. It is not only ovulation and semen quality, however. Among women undergoing assisted reproduction, where problems with ovulation and semen quality can be bypassed, women who are underweight as well as women who are overweight or obese have lower chances of having a child as a result of treatment.
Commitmentnow.com: How much exercise is appropriate for a woman who is trying to overcome her infertility? What type of exercise is best?
Dr. Chavarro: This is a hard question to answer. It is mostly a matter of balance. For a lot of women, especially those who need to lose weight, exercise can be extremely beneficial. However, for women who are already lean adding or increasing the pace of exercise can actually be counterproductive. A good rule of thumb is to try to decide on the amount of exercise based on your body weight.
To Purchase The Fertility Diet click here.
About the Authors: Jorge Chavarro, M.D., Sc.D., is Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health. He earned both master's and doctoral degrees in epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he is currently a research fellow studying the role of diet and lifestyle on reproductive function.
Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., is the Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is one of the leaders of the influential Nurses' Health Study, as well as the author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.
Patrick J. Skerrett is coauthor, with Walter Willett, of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy. He is the editor of the Harvard Heart Letter.