Chances of Conception

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With infertility problems plaguing an estimated 6 million American couples, Harvard researches Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D. and Patrick J. Skerrett say they were amazed to find that farmers knew more about how nutrition affects pigs' abilities to conceive than fertility experts knew about how iet ffects fertility in humans. Beyond a few medical studies, no one had looked comprehensively at dietary issues affecting human reproduction.

So the researchers selected more than 18,000 of the women taking part in the famous Nurses' Health Study, a long-term research project looking at the effects of diet and other factors on the development of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer and other diseases. The subjects were chosen because each said she was trying to have a baby and, over the next eight years, most did. However, about one in six women had some trouble getting pregnant. From those, the researchers selected hundreds who experienced ovulatory infertility - a problem related to their eggs.

When the team looked at habits of the woman who conceived easily compared to those who struggled with the ovulatory issues, some factors came to light that seems to affect fertility. Here are some to consider:


  • Type of carbohydrates. The amount of carbs made no difference but eating a lot of "fast" carbs with high glycemic loads such as sugared sodas, cold breakfast cereals, white bread and potatoes increased the chance of ovulatory infertility by 92 percent compared to women who ate the lowest. Choosing slowly digested carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and beans that are rich in fiber improved fertility.

  • Cholesterol, saturated fat and monounsaturated fat. None affected fertility.

  • Trans fats hinder ovulation and conception. Even four grams a day or one donut's worth had a negative effect.

  • High animal protein diets increase fertility risks. However, high plant protein diets do the reverse.

  • Ice cream good, skim milk not so good. A daily serving or two of whole milk or food like full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and even ice cream offered some protection against ovulatory infertility, while skim and low-fat milk do the opposite.

  • Weighing too much or too little can impede conception. Being over weight causes a variety of pregnancy problems from diabetes to high blood pressure.

  • Vigorous exercise improves fertility. While previous studies showed that heavy exercise reduced ovulation in elite athletes, this research has little bearing on the average women. Aerobic exercising along with strength training and stretching should be a part of a minimum of 30 minutes of each day.

The researchers took their findings and published The Fertility Diet: 10 Simple Steps to Improving Ovulation. There are in-depth discussions and theories about some of their recommendations. While no one suggestion is the magic factor, the tips can be combined into a lifestyle that can increase the chances of conception.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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