Influence of diet on conception

When trying to conceive, often even the smallest thing, like the food that one eats, makes a difference. What one eats certainly affects the sex drive. But it can also impact the chances and the quality of conception. Lifestyle factors, like the diet and ways of life, can greatly influence overall health and well-being, including fertility. The good things is that these can be easily modified to suit one’s objectives.

The results of a 8 year study covering over 18,000 women published in The Fertility Diet (McGraw-Hill) by Jorge E. Chavarro, M.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett “uncovered evidence based suggestions for improving fertility”. Instead of the many traditionally suggested fertility food items like oysters, ginseng, yam and garlic, ovulatory infertility, which is the underlying cause in almost a quarter of all cases of infertility, is now believed to be prevented much more through a complete and balanced diet.

At least five servings of fruits and vegetables: Inclusion of fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet not only ensures overall health and fitness, but also fulfills the requirement of essential vitamins and minerals in the body, required for both male and female fertility. Some deficiencies, especially those of folic acid and certain minerals, can play havoc with the fertility of both sexes, reducing the quality of sperm in males and abilities to sustain a pregnancy in women.

Plenty of unrefined carbohydrates: Whole grain cereals in multi-grain breads, pasta or chapatti helps meet the requirement of carbohydrates while also providing the body with essential fiber. Sufficient carbohydrate is important not only to ensure adequate energy levels and overall fitness but also to maintain the appropriate biochemical balance in the body.

High quality proteins: While non-vegetarians can include fish, sea-foods and poultry, as sources of protein, in their diets, people with vegetarian diets also have a wide choice of pulses, soya products, milk and milk-products for sourcing their protein requirement. One should also include eggs in the diet if it is an option. It is advisable to include at least 2 servings of protein rich foods in the daily diet. Besides strengthening the muscles and improving stamina, some protein sources like certain pulses and meats also help in meeting the requirement of folic acid in the body.

Adequate water: The adequate intake of water per day depends on various factors like gender, activity level, health and of course the environmental conditions. Though there are various recommendations on the right quantity of water to be consumed per day, the Institute of Medicine recommendation, for temperate climates, is fluid intake per day of 3 liters for men and 2.2 liters for women. This is almost the same as the often mentioned thumb rule of “8 glasses” per day. Just remember that the intake covers all fluids.

But besides ensuring that one switches to a diet that is appropriate for supporting a healthy conception, one must also be aware of certain things that need to be avoided for the same.

AlcoholConsumption of alcohol, especially if not strictly regulated, affects not just the overall health and fitness but also both male and female fertility. Since it is not often easy to regulate, couples trying to conceive should attempt to completely stop alcohol consumption.

Smoking: Couples trying to conceive should abstain from smoking and generally any kind of tobacco use. Smoking inevitably affects both the sperm quantity and quality in males and thereby the chances of a conception. In women, smoking affects how receptive the uterus is to the egg.

Cessation of smoking and alcohol consumption are lifestyle modifications which apply to to both the partners if they are desirous of having a baby. For dads-to-be, limiting alcohol is even more important when compared to moms-to-be. According to a research study, ‘Effects of caffeine, alcohol and smoking on fertility’, published in the journal of The Fertility Society of Australia, the mechanisms by which alcohol impairs fertility are unclear, but in men it has been found to cause impotence, reduction of libido and poorer sperm quality.

Caffeine: Caffeine is present in tea, coffee and in some soft drinks. It is known to drastically reduce the chances of conception. Studies have shown that consumption of even 200 mg of caffeine per day almost doubles the average risk of miscarriage of 12.5%. This doesn’t mean that one has to altogether give up their coffee or tea if they want to conceive…just limit it to a reasonable level. While some experts suggest during pregnancy a limit of 100 mg of caffeine per day from all sources (1 cup of brewed coffee or 2 cups of tea), there is no specific basis for the same.

It is important to note here that alcohol consumption and smoking are undesirable not only during the phase of conception, but also throughout pregnancy. So when it comes to planning a baby, the first step should be a decision to abstain from both of them. According to National Health and Medical Research Council and National Institute of Clinical Studies, pregnancy is a time when smoking cessation advice has been found to be most effective.

Mercury: While it may sound a bit bizarre, we may unknowingly intake a lot of mercury by consuming certain soft water fishes, which are known to have high mercury content. High mercury levels can lead to Menamata disease, which interferes with fertility and can also cause miscarriage and preterm delivery.

To summarize… A healthy, complete and balanced diet, that includes lots of carbohydrates, good quality proteins, fruits and vegetables and less refined foods and fats, when combined with abstinence from alcohol and tobacco consumption and moderation with caffeine, can support a successful and healthy conception.