Fertility Blog

The Right Environment for Your Baby from Day 1 - Part 1

We all know that people that are not particularly health-conscious can conceive, many times easily or even unintentionally. However, conception is a much more common event when the involved parties are young, and eggs and sperm are much more likely to be genetically normal. It may also be that the reproductive system has not been subjected to years of accumulated age-related, environmental damage. Successful conception does not just involve eggs and sperm and the reproductive tract. Just as in all other areas of human physiology, the reproductive system works best when the entire organism is healthy and balanced. This includes not just physical health, but mental health and sexual health.

It makes sense that healthy people are more likely to have healthier babies, and this may be especially true in the later reproductive years. For example, a woman in her forties with mild high blood pressure is going to have a safer pregnancy when she keeps her weight down and consistently takes her medications for blood pressure. Similarly, the liver function may be negatively affected by the cumulative effects of drinking alcohol over many years and the liver is crucial to clearing toxins from the body.

The feeling of lack of control is one of the main issues for women and men facing the challenge of infertility. No one can know exactly when they are going to conceive, but for infertility patients undergoing fertility treatments, even the how

Certainly the most important component in eggs and sperm is the DNA, which carries the genetic material from the parents to the embryo. DNA molecules are long linear chains of nucleic acids, sugars and proteins. Damage to and degradation of DNA is a consequence of living. The energy packets in all our body’s cells, including sperm and eggs, are called mitochondria. Mitochondria contain DNA and produce important enzymes for metabolism and energy production. Molecular by-products of metabolism, oxygen free radicals and nitric oxide species, are constantly forming in our bodies .These free radicals can damage both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA. All living organisms have developed many mechanisms to protect their DNA from the environmental damage of excessive nitric oxide and oxygen free radicals. Anti-oxidant nutrients and vitamins are essential to support these protective mechanisms. Truth be told, we all should be ingesting anti-oxidants throughout our lives to protect our DNA and all our tissues from assaults from the outer (and inner) world, but no time is more crucial for the next generation than at conception and fetal development. There are known substances and chemicals in the modern world that can overwhelm our highly evolved physiologic protective processes. Just one well-known example is phthalate ester, a chemical used to soften plastics such as in disposable water bottles, which leaches into the water it contains. These phthalates have been shown to have toxic effects in animal studies on the reproductive system1 and have been found in urine and breast milk of pregnant and lactating women2. Unfortunately, phthalates are only one of many, many chemicals we are exposed to on a regular basis. So, there are substances to avoid, when possible, but can we really avoid every harmful chemical? Not likely. What we can do, beyond avoiding these chemicals, is make sure we are getting the nutrients, vitamins and minerals that help our own enzymes and proteins to protect our DNA.

There are numerous books on nutrition for pre-pregnancy and pregnancy. It is not possible to cover this topic exhaustively in this series of two articles. Suffice it to say that there is no one diet that has been conclusively shown to promote fertility. It is common sense that nutritionally empty diets, especially those that promote obesity, are clearly harmful to conception. Diets lacking in essential vitamins and minerals can have consequences beyond infertility, such as very poor pregnancy outcomes and malnourished babies. One recent article from the Netherlands2 looked at the diets of women undergoing IVF. They measured blood levels and follicular fluid levels of some essential vitamins and minerals in these women. To paraphrase their findings: In women, two dietary patterns were identified. The “health conscious–low processed” dietary pattern was characterized by high intakes of fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains and low intakes of snacks, meats, and mayonnaise, and positively correlated with red blood cell folate (? = 0.07). The “Mediterranean” dietary pattern that is, high intakes of vegetable oils, vegetables, fish, and legumes and low intakes of snacks, was positively correlated with red blood cell folate (? = 0.13), and vitamin B6 in blood (? = 0.09) and follicular fluid (? = 0.18). High adherence to the “Mediterranean” diet increased the probability of pregnancy by 40%. Their conclusion was “A preconception “Mediterranean” diet by couples undergoing IVF/ICSI treatment contributes to the success of achieving pregnancy.”

So avoiding environmental toxins and eating a healthy (possibly “Mediterranean”) diet may be helpful for general health, fertility and pregnancy, but what are the specifics? What to avoid? What to include? For some very general guidelines, see the side bar to this article. For more comprehensive help, I recommend the book “Fertility and Conception” but Dr. Karen Trewinnard3, listed in the References. Please also look for PART 2 to this article next month for more nutrition and health advice and information.

References:

1. Phthalates: toxicogenomics and inferred human diseases. Genomics. 2011 Mar;97(3):148-57. Epub 2010 Dec 13. Singh S, Li SS Department of Life Science, College of Science, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei 116, Taiwan. sher@ntnu.edu.tw
2. Phthalate exposure in pregnant women and their children in central Taiwan. Lin S, Ku HY, Su PH, Chen JW, Huang PC, Angerer J, Wang SL. Chemosphere. 2011 Feb;82(7):947-55. Epub 2010 Nov 13
3. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertility and Sterility Volume 94, Issue 6 , Pages 2096-2101, November 2010. Marijana Vujkovic, B.Sc. Jeanne H. de Vries, Ph.D. Jan Lindemans, Ph.D. Nick S. Macklon, Ph.D. Peter J. van der Spek, Ph.D. Eric A.P. Steegers, Ph.D. ,Régine P.M. Steegers-Theunissen, Ph.D.
3. Fertility and Conception – The essential guide to natural ways to boost your fertility and conceive a healthy baby – from learning your fertility signals to adopting a healthier lifestyle. By Dr. Karen Trewinnard BM FFSRH, Carroll and Brown Publishers, Ltd.

SIDEBAR:

What to Avoid (a much-abbreviated list):

  1. Drinking from plastic water bottles.
  2. Microwaving food in plastic (and especially stryofoam!) containers
  3. Pesticides and herbicides – whenever possible, buy organic, when not possible, wash fruits and vegetables well.
  4. Heavy metals such as lead (soldering, stripping old paint from walls), mercury (in high-food chain fish) and cadmium (cigarettes, solder materials, pesticides)
  5. White foods: too much white bread, refined sugar, white rice, potatoes
  6. Too much salt and butter, fried foods
  7. Caffeine – it’s a blood vessel constrictor
  8. Alcohol – more on this next issue.

What to Include (somewhat abbreviated):

  1. Olive oil rather than butter
  2. Fish that do not contain mercury (e.g. salmon, most shellfish, halibut, flounder)
  3. Organically-grown fresh fruit and vegetables
  4. Whole grains
  5. Omega-3 Fish oils
  6. Anti-oxidants such as blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes (lycopene)
  7. Pre-natal vitamins containing at least 800 mcg folic acid and 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 (for a more thorough discussion of the essential vitamins and minerals, see the website www.essbeg.com)

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