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Big breakfast might help counter common fertility problem

07 October 2013

By Dr Lucy Spain

Appeared in BioNews 725

Eating a hearty breakfast can improve fertility in women with a common menstrual disorder, a small study suggests.

Diet's influence on fertility is complex and has inspired plenty of research over recent years (for example, see BioNews 720, 717 and 669) but a study by researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem took a slightly different approach. It asked whether when we eat, rather than what we eat, is important.

And during the 12 weeks the study ran for, women who ate a big breakfast were found to have higher levels of ovulation than those who ate a big evening meal.

Professor Oren Froy, the lead investigator, told The Telegraph: 'The research clearly demonstrates that indeed the amount of calories we consume daily is very important, but the timing as to when we consume them is even more important'.

The study involved sixty women of normal weight aged between 25 and 39 who had polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of infertility. PCOS is a common condition, affecting 'millions of women in the UK', according to NHS Choices, and alters how a woman's ovaries work.

Participants were instructed to eat 1,800 calories per day, with half of the participants consuming the majority of their intake during breakfast (the 'big breakfast' group) and the other half consuming the majority during their evening meal ('big dinner' group).

After 12 weeks researchers looked at differences in both ovulation levels and hormone levels. Insulin resistance is common in women with PCOS, resulting in higher than normal levels of the hormone testosterone and ultimately missed or absent periods. Insulin and testosterone levels were the same in both groups at the start of the study; however after 12 weeks both were reduced in the big breakfast group, while no change was seen in the big dinner group.

This was reflected in the levels of ovulation in the two groups, with 50 percent of the big breakfast group ovulating at least once during the study as opposed to only 20 percent in the big dinner group.

Although the findings are encouraging for PCOS patients seeking to improve their fertility, the study is small and would need to be confirmed by larger trials. There would also need to be confirmation as to whether any increase in ovulation would actually result in higher rates of conception in these women.

Discussing this study, NHS Choices advises PCOS patients that the main way to improve their fertility is to maintain a healthy weight. Increasing calorific intake at breakfast, without reducing that at dinner, could lead to weight gain, it says.

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