A study by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) has found that women have a reduced risk of infertility due to ovulatory disorders if they adopt a combination of healthy lifestyle and dietary measures. The study, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, was based on 17,544 women who were tracked for eight years as they attempted to get pregnant or became pregnant.
The team, led by Dr Jorge E. Chavarro, found that the more closely the women followed the fertility diet pattern the lower their risk of infertility due to ovulation disturbances. As a result, Dr Chavarro comments that 'the dietary and lifestyle choices women make as they try to get pregnant can impact profoundly their fertility'. None of the women studied had a history of infertility, and all were voluntary participants in the Nurses' Health Study II based at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
The team devised a scoring system based on the following factors: ratio of monounsaturated fats to trans fats in diet, protein consumption and source, carbohydrate consumption, dairy consumption, iron consumption, multivitamin use, BMI (body mass index) and physical activity. It was found that a diet containing fewer trans fats, less sugar, more protein from vegetable sources than animal sources, more fibre, more iron, vitamin supplements, longer periods of exercise and, surprisingly, more high fat diary products than low fat diary products, reduced the risk of infertility. A lower BMI was also found to be beneficial for fertility.
It was also suggested that women should cut back on caffeine and alcohol, as well as not smoking cigarettes. According to Dr Chavarro, 'as women started following more of these recommendations, their risk of infertility dropped substantially for every one of the dietary and lifestyle strategies undertaken'. Adopting five or more of the lifestyle recommendations listed was associated with a 69 per cent lower risk of ovulation-related fertility.
Senior author on the paper, and chair of the HSPH Department of Nutrition, Walter Willett, said that 'the key message of this paper is that making the right dietary choices and including the right amount of physical activity in your daily life may make a large difference in your probability of becoming fertile if you are experiencing problems with ovulation'. Infertility affects one in six couples, according to US studies, with ovulatory problems identified in 18 to 30 per cent of cases.