Researchers in Greece have found that a Mediterranean diet is linked with an over 65 percent improvement in a woman’s chances of a successful pregnancy with IVF.
Inhabitants of the Mediterranean regions typically enjoy a diet rich in fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil. Their diet is balanced and lower in the 'meats and mayonnaise' consumed typically in the UK and USA. But researchers at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at Harokopio University of Athens wanted to find out whether this diet also affected IVF outcomes.
The team, led by Dr Nikos Yiannakouris, looked at a sample group of 244 women aged 22 to 41 who enrolled at an assisted conception unit in Athens. They aimed to study the effects of diet 'beyond body weight' and therefore only studied non-obese women. The study also controlled for various other factors, including physical activity, anxiety and supplement use.
The team used a food-frequency questionnaire to give each woman a Mediterranean diet score, and divided up women with high, medium or low scores. The highest scoring group of 86 women had the greatest adherence to a Mediterranean diet. These women also had a 65 to 68 percent greater likelihood of achieving a successful pregnancy and live birth compared to the 79 women in the lowest scoring group.
'The important message from our study is that women attempting fertility should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, because greater adherence to this healthy dietary pattern may help increase the chances of successful pregnancy and delivering a live baby,' said Dr Yiannakouris.
For conception, a healthy diet for male partners was just as important as for women (see BioNews 777). 'Previous work from our research group among the male partners of our study has suggested that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may also help improve semen quality.'
The findings of the study, published in Human Reproduction, cannot be generalised to all women, to obese women, or to women over the age of 35, the authors caution. There was no link between the Mediterranean diet and pregnancy outcomes among women in the older age group. The dominant effect of age on fertility could mask any environmental effects, the authors note.
The study did not pinpoint any causal mechanism for how the Mediterranean diet could be affecting IVF success. Calling for more research into this question, the group ultimately hopes to develop nutritional guidelines for women to further improve fertility treatment success rates.
'As more couples worldwide face infertility problems and seek access to assisted reproduction technologies to conceive, it is essential for them to receive counselling on the importance of dietary influences and of adopting a healthy lifestyle,' concluded Dr Yiannakouris.