Deciding to start a family is one of the biggest decisions that is made in life and although that journey can be a wonderful happy time, for many people it can also be an emotional roller-coaster. When the decision to try for a baby is made, some presume that will be the hardest bit done, but for some people the decision is the easiest part and what follows may not be the easy conception that is hoped for. It is suggested that 1 in 6 couples are affected by infertility in some way, so although you are not alone in the struggle to conceive, it can still feel like a very lonely time.
The inability to conceive after a period of trying can have a big emotional impact on a couple, which takes its toll both physically and emotionally. What makes it even harder in some cases, is that there is not always a clear answer as to why conception is not achieved, especially if medical tests have shown no specific cause of infertility. It is especially in these couples where nutrition and a change in diet may have a significant impact.
Often when we speak of fertility we tend to place emphasis on the woman’s health only, but remember it takes two to tango and by addressing only the woman’s health and diet, only half the problem is tackled, which is not maximizing the chances of conceiving. It is therefore important when it comes to health, nutrition and diet, for purposes of fertility, both the man and woman in the partnership should partake in the health and nutritional changes recommended.
So if you are currently trying to conceive or struggling with infertility, especially if that has been determined as ‘unexplained infertility’, one thing you can review is your diet. Some foods and specific nutrition can really help give a boost to fertility and may just give you a helping hand in achieving that longed for pregnancy.
Semen Production and Healthy Ovulation
The mineral zinc is vital for both male and female fertility. In males low zinc levels negatively impact on semen production and can also play a part in erectile dysfunction. In females zinc is required for healthy ovulation and is also needed for production of male and female sex hormones, so eating foods rich in zinc when trying to conceive is essential.
Oysters are a very good source of zinc, in fact they have more zinc per serving than any other food and their reputation as an aphrodisiac means that not only will they help improve your zinc levels, but they can also give a boost in the bedroom by improving libido. If the idea of oysters is too hard to swallow, then you will be relieved to know that red meat, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts and cocoa powder are all rich in zinc too, so make sure at least some of these are consumed daily. Dairy foods, including Delamere Dairy’s goats’ milk, are also a good source of zinc and easy to consume as part of your daily diet.
Improving Sperm Production & Motility
Obviously when you are trying for a baby, producing enough sperm that is of good quality and has superior motility is the utmost importance if it is ever going to reach that egg. One thing that can really help here is an amino acid called L’arginine. An amino acid is a building block of proteins, so it will come as no surprise that this amino acid is found in specific foods that are high in protein with the highest source found in turkey. L’arginine is also found in pork, chicken and pumpkin seeds and can be bought in supplement form too.
The sunlight connection - Vitamin D
It is believed one in five UK adults are deficient in Vitamin D and in women of reproductive age, more than 40 percent are believed to have insufficient vitamin D levels. With an estimated 90% of our vitamin D
requirements coming from sunlight, it goes without saying that those of us residing here in the UK are at a severe disadvantage and are often unlikely to get our full vitamin D requirement. There has been some evidence to show that Vitamin D deficiency can impact on fertility, particularly in women. Some research suggests that Vitamin D deficiency results in underdevelopment of the uterus and inability to form normal mature eggs, which results in infertility, although more detailed research is needed to assess this in more detail. If sunlight is lacking and you have no sunny holidays planned, you can get a small amount of vitamin D from eggs (yolks only), fortified foods and wild fish such as herring, kipper, mackerel and salmon as well as it being available in supplement form or in a spray form for under your tongue.
Alcohol – It’s a no
Although most people know and adhere to drinking no alcohol during pregnancy, many people do not adjust their alcohol content whilst trying to conceive. Alcohol consumption can increase the length of time it takes to
get pregnant and increases the risk of having an unhealthy baby, especially if alcohol consumption is high. The Health and Medical Research Council recommend that women trying to get pregnant should avoid alcohol altogether to increase chances of a healthy conception. And if you thought men got away lightly here you would be wrong, as alcohol has been shown to reduce sperm quality and cause impotence, neither of which are helpful when trying for a baby. So men are recommended to adhere to the safe alcohol guidelines, or even better refrain from alcohol during this crucial time of trying to conceive.
The Importance of Vitamin C
Vitamin C may be best known for its benefits for immunity, however when it comes to fertility it’s of big importance to both men and women, especially women diagnosed with ‘luteal phase defect’ which can be a common cause of infertility. Luteal phase defect is when the time between ovulation and when you start menstruating is too short (normal luteal phases should be about 12 days). If this luteal phase is shortened, it means the uterus does not have enough time to grow and prepare a healthy uterine lining in preparation for implantation of a fertilized egg and thus will prevent an egg turning into a possible pregnancy. The main cause of luteal phase defect is due to lack of progesterone production and this is where Vitamin C can help, as this little vitamin can stimulate progesterone production in women. Consuming foods high in Vitamin C including peppers, citrus fruits, blueberries, broccoli, strawberries, kiwis, peppers and fresh chilies can therefore help bolster production of progesterone. Remember that Vitamin C cannot be stored by the body, so it is important you consume food sources every day.
In men, vitamin C is just as important, as low vitamin C levels have been linked with low sperm count and inadequate sperm motility so making sure you have enough Vitamin C in your diet is crucial to improve these two factors.
“Why almonds?” I hear you ask, and the answer would be because they are a very high source of Vitamin E. This vitamin can help improve fertility in two ways. In women it helps regulate the production of cervical mucus, which is vital to protect and nourish the sperm on its journey through the female reproductive system. Having enough, good quality cervical mucus during the most fertile phase is an important requirement if conception is going to happen, especially as it is this mucus that helps the sperm to survive up to several days within the female reproductive tract maximising its chances of reaching its destination.
In men, Vitamin E can help improve sperm motility and sperm count and help prevent testicular damage, which can inhibit hormone production that is essential for reproduction. Research has shown that men who have low levels of Vitamin E are very likely to be infertile. If you are not a fan of almonds then eat flax seeds, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and hazelnuts, which are all high in Vitamin E.
Like most things in life there are no magic fixes to infertility, but you can make lifestyle changes that research shows improves the chances of conception in many people. Being overweight, smoking and high stress levels are three factors that severely impair the chances of conceiving so if this relates to you make small changes to tackle them. Read the previous November article to find out what foods can help reduce stress levels.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to realise that consuming a diet that is just fresh and abundant in different varieties of fruit and vegetables and good fats is going to ensure your body is in the best possible place to be able to conceive and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Good luck!