All posts by Sally Day

Don’t forget to boost your immunity this spring!!

It’s the time of year when we are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring, but it’s important to remember that the flu season usually occurs in the UK from October to April and the common cold can strike you down at any time of the year, even during spring and summer. So, to try and stay as healthy as possible, which is particularly important if you are trying to conceive, and to stave off the last of the winter bugs, don’t forget to boost your immunity, and your fertility, this spring.

How to boost your vitamin D levels

Due to our indoor lifestyles during winter, processed food diets and the lack of essential sunshine in the gloomy northern hemisphere, our bodies can be low on vitamin D – also called the sunshine vitamin – at this time of year, which can cause tiredness, aches and frequent infections. If the level of vitamin D available to use in a body is low, it is probably regulating calcium levels in the blood and so the amount that is left for other vitamin D functions such as immunity, may be further diminished. Fortunately, there are things we can do to ensure that we can keep our vitamin D levels topped up. A simple change in diet and regularly getting outside in the sunshine for a few minutes without sunscreen should create enough vitamin D for most people. Good food sources to include in a healthy balanced diet are; salmon, sardines, mackerel, eggs, tuna, shiitake mushrooms and fortified breakfast cereals.

How to boost your vitamin C levels

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means it cannot be stored in the body. If you have more vitamin C than you need, your body will get rid of it in your urine and so it needs to be replaced each day via your diet. Water-soluble  vitamins can also be destroyed by heat or by being exposed to the air, so some of the vitamin C is lost during cooking, especially boiling. The best way to retain as many of the vitamins as possible is to eat them raw, or to steam or grill, rather than boil them.

Vitamin C has a number of important functions including:

  • Wound healing and formation of scar tissue
  • Supporting a healthy immune system
  • Maintaining connective tissue which supports major organs and tissues

Male fertility

Vitamin C has been shown in studies to help the motility and quality of sperm and appears to enhance sperm count. It also seems to help to prevent sperm from clumping (agglutination). Because Vitamin C is an antioxidant, it is also thought to help to protect sperm and prevent damage to sperm DNA.

Female fertility

Vitamin C is thought to help the endocrine system balance oestrogen and progesterone more effectively and so help regulate ovulation.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps to counteract some of the free radicals that enter our bodies. Our bodies do not make vitamin C so plenty of foods rich in vitamin C need to be included in the diet.

Fruits with the highest sources of vitamin C include:

  • Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange, lemons and grapefruit
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries
  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe melons
  • Pineapple

Vegetables with the highest sources of vitamin C include:

  • Squash
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and other leafy greens
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice
  • Red and green peppers

Try making this immunity boosting drink with lemons, which are abundant in vitamin C, and ginger which has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-toxic properties.

1 large unwaxed organic lemon
200 grams of local honey
1 inch portion fresh ginger

Method:
Peel and slice the ginger and cut the lemon into small pieces. Place into a blender and blend together.

Add the honey to the blended ginger and lemon, and mix together. Place the mixture in a glass jar and tighten lid. This needs to be kept in the fridge.

Adults can take one tablespoon per day, and children one teaspoon per day, melted into warm, filtered water.

 

 

If you would like information about male and female fertility assessment, please call 01992 78 50 60 or email your questions to enquiries@hertsandessexfertility.com or you can complete our online contact form on the main Herts & Essex Fertility website and we will call you back.

 

Figs are a sweet way to boost fertility

Figs are an extremely good source of fibre, vitamins and essential minerals, and are a sweet way to boost your fertility nutrition. They grow on the ficus carica tree which is a member of the mulberry family and are thought to have been first cultivated in Egypt. Today, California remains one of the largest producers of, in addition to Turkey, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Whether figs are fresh or dried they are a good source of calcium, manganese, fibre, potassium, zinc and vitamin B6. Fully ripened fresh figs contain the most antioxidants. They help to protect the heart and lower blood pressure because they contain a good amount of potassium. If you are actively trying to lower your BMI (Body Mass Index) in preparation for fertility treatment or if you are just watching your weight, figs are very useful to include in your diet as they are high in fibre and help to keep you feeling full. Figs can help with male fertility in that they have been shown to increase the motility and number of sperm.

Soft and sweet, fresh figs are gorgeous eaten with meat, salads and desserts.

Why not try eating chopped figs with:

  • Goats cheese
  • At breakfast with whole grain porridge or with natural yoghurt and honey
  • As a dessert poached in juice. Eat with yoghurt, crème fraiche or ice cream.

 

Poached figs

Ingredients:

2 cups apple juice

Juice of 1 large lemon

1 cinnamon stick

Large mint leaf

8 ripe fresh figs or rehydrated dry

1/2 pt fresh or frozen raspberries

 

In a saucepan, bring to a simmer the apple juice, lemon juice, cinnamon, and mint leaf. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Add the figs, cover and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until very soft.

Remove the figs, strain the juice and return to the saucepan. Reduce by half over a high heat until it turns to a syrup, which can be drizzled over the figs and raspberries.

 

Our nutrition and diet advice can help to improve your fertility over the course of 6-12 months. However, if you have been trying to conceive for one year with no success, we would recommend undertaking fertility investigations to be sure there are no underlying health reasons as to why you are not conceiving. Our One-Stop Fertility Assessment checks your general well-being, as well as assessing your fertility.

Please call us on 01992 78 50 60 to arrange an appointment or email enquiries@hertsandessexfertility.com

 

Can change of diet help your endometriosis?

 

Endometriosis is a condition whereby tissue from the lining of the womb finds its way out of the womb and grows onto other organs such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Endometrial tissue which is growing outside of the womb responds to normal hormonal fluctuations and goes through the same process each month as that of the tissue growing inside the womb – thickening in preparation for a pregnancy each month – if pregnancy does not occur the lining of the womb breaks down and leaves the body. Endometrial tissue growing elsewhere cannot leave the body as blood so instead causes pain, inflammation and scarring.

Endometriosis is the second most common gynaecological condition in the UK and can affect all women of childbearing age, regardless of race or ethnicity. The causes of endometriosis are not known and currently there is no cure, however, the symptoms can be managed with painkillers or hormone treatments. It is possible that a combination of the following factors could be causing endometriosis to develop in some women:

  • Environmental causes
  • Immune issues
  • Retrograde menstruation
  • Genetics
  • Lymphatic system
  • Metaplasia

If you suspect that you may have endometriosis you should seek help from your GP. A diagnosis is usually confirmed by laparoscopy but can also be made by the description of symptoms such as irregular bleeding or heavy periods, painful bowel movements, pelvic pain, fatigue, bloating of the lower abdomen.

 

How nutrition can help endometriosis

A change of diet has been found to have positive benefits, this includes cutting out or reducing the amount of red meat, wheat and dairy products.

Foods that may help:

  • Following a low GI diet may help to reduce pain.
  • Consume plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • Drink plenty of fresh water each day.
  • Omega 3 – oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel, along with nuts and seeds may help to reduce inflammation.
  • A mainly plant-based diet rather than red or processed meat based.
  • Foods that contain phytoestrogens, such as nuts and seeds, blackberries, beans, pulses, beans, whole grains (not wheat), raspberries and carrots may help balance hormones as phytoestrogens can block oestrogen receptors.
  • Green tea may help reduce the growth of the endometrial tissue.
  • Recent research has indicated that lycopene may be useful in reducing the abnormal activity of cells and as a result, may reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis. The best sources of lycopene are tomatoes and tomato products so make sure your diet is packed full of tomatoes, either raw or cooked.
  • Try to choose and eat organic produce whenever possible.

Foods to avoid:

  • All red and processed meats.
  • Reduce your sugar intake as much as you can.
  • Hydrogenated fats.
  • Caffeine – increases oestrogen levels.
  • Additives and processed foods – can affect your liver which is involved in hormone processing.
  • Saturated fats – such as butter, some cheeses and meats with high-fat content, which can lead to more inflammation.
  • Reduce salt intake.

 

Although endometriosis can make you feel tired, exercise has been shown to help control the symptoms because it releases pain relieving, feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which lifts your mood and increases energy levels. Exercise also promotes good circulation. Try exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga or dancing and aim to exercise for at least 30 mins four times a week.

As well as following a healthy balanced diet for the everyday help of endometriosis, these supplements may be helpful:

  • Selenium
  • Vitamin B6
  • Krill oil
  • Lycopene

For further information about endometriosis, and the diet, nutrition, exercise and complimentary therapies that may help, we recommend visiting www.endometriosis-uk.org

 

If you have any questions about endometriosis and why it might be stopping you from conceiving, please call us on 01992 78 50 60 or visit our website: hertsandessexfertility.com

 

Balancing your blood sugar levels

Sugar itself is not a food group, although it is naturally present in certain foods such as fruits. The importance of balancing your blood sugar levels is because excess sugar consumption can lead to inflammation, hormone disruption (which can affect fertility), continued stimulation of the adrenal glands, yeast infections, lowered immunity, which may contribute to leptin resistance, along with increasing bad cholesterol and triglycerides in the body.

Blood sugar level means the amount of sugar in the blood, also known as serum glucose, it is usually written in mmol/l which means millimoles per litre.

Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates erratically throughout the day will cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall, therefore insulin levels will peak and trough, which eventually may lead to insulin resistance. Insulin excess can affect ovulation. This may affect fertility in a number of ways, an example of which is in the case of  polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Some of the symptoms of poor blood sugar control (also known as poor glucose tolerance) are:

  • Headaches
  • Shaky after a few hours of not eating
  • Poor concentration
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain – especially around the middle

Ideal blood sugar levels are:

  • 4-7 mmol/l before eating
  • Less than 10mmol/l one and a half hours after eating
  • Around 8 mmol/l when going to bed

Your GP can check your serum glucose if you are concerned and a simple dipstick urine test can tell you whether you should follow this up.

Some of the reasons for poor control of blood sugar levels are:

  • Diet high in refined carbohydrates and insufficient nutrients
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excess alcohol intake
  • Chronic stress and anxiety
  • Diabetes (type 1 or 2)
  • Being overweight
  • May also be associated with hormonal imbalances due to polycystic ovaries

Top tips to help control blood sugar levels:

Try to consume more of the following:
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Foods with a low glycemic load
  • Complex carbohydrates – porridge, wholemeal bread
  • Oily fish
  • Chromium rich foods – romaine lettuce, onions, raw tomatoes, oysters, whole grains, potatoes, broccoli, turkey, green beans
  • Most vegetables especially root vegetables/leafy green vegetables
  • Legumes e.g beans, peas, lentils, kidney beans
  • Nuts, seeds, apples and pears
  • Try to eat three distinct meals per day, and if you need to have a snack try a handful of nuts/seeds or a banana rather than chocolate or crisps
Try to avoid:
  • Saturated fats (butter, cream, fatty meat, pork)
  • Hydrogenated fats (found in cakes, biscuits and pastries)
  • Potato crisps
  • Simple carbohydrates such as white rice, white pasta, white bread, chocolate (unless high cocoa low sugar), sweets, refined breakfast cereals

Try to do at least 30 minutes of exercise, four times a week.

Why not try these breakfast ideas to start your day in the right way!

Healthy granola

Create your own delicious granola with walnuts, almonds, pecans, raisins and oats or try adding your own healthy favourites.

  • 3 cups porridge oats
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup halves pecans

Pre-heat oven to 350 °F (175 °C).

Lightly coat a baking sheet with a low fat cooking spray.
Combine all the ingredients.
Bake for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes
Refrigerate. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks

Organic free range eggs on granary toast

Poach or boil the eggs and eat on top of wholegrain granary toast.

Organic porridge oats with organic semi-skimmed milk

Try sprinkling some blueberries and raspberries on top with some local honey.

You can contact Herts & Essex Fertility on 01992 78 50 60 or email enquiries@hertsandessexfertility.com to book onto one of our Open Evenings or Open Days .  You will be able to meet the staff and view the clinic which will help you to decide if fertility treatment is the right option for you.

Nutrition tips to improve sperm quality

Nutrition tips to improve sperm quality

Sperm quality is affected by a number of lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, too much exercise and temperature, and a poor diet can also have a negative impact. We thought we’d provide you with a few nutrition tips that may help to improve sperm quality.

Try to include the following into your everyday diet:

Essential fatty acids

Sperm contains large amounts of DHA, the omega 3 fatty acid, with the majority being found in the tail, so omega 3’s are of great importance to improve sperm quality, especially its motility. In a study that evaluated the relationship between dietary fats and semen quality in 99 men, the outcomes showed that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids was positively correlated with sperm morphology. In another trial, 238 infertile men received 1.84 g of EPA and DHA daily or placebo for 32 weeks; in the omega-3 study group there was a significant improvement in total sperm count and sperm density.

Good sources: Try to consume oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines two or three times a week.

Amino acids                                                        

These protein building blocks help to boost sperm quantity and quality and can be found in lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs and legumes.  The amino acid L-arginine is especially important and can help to boost blood circulation. Once in the body, amino acids are converted to nitric acid, which dilates blood vessels and improves circulation. Better circulation to the groin boosts sperm health and increases sperm motility. L-carnitine is an amino acid that reduces inflammation of the prostate, seminal vesicles and epididymis and enhances sperm motility.

Good sources:
Consume foods rich in L-arginine, such as fish, poultry, dairy products and red meat.
Consume foods rich in L-carnitine such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts and granola.

Antioxidants

Free-oxidizing radicals can cause up to 40% of sperm damage so a diet rich in Vitamins A, C, E, zinc and selenium is vital to protect the sperm, reduce clumping, abnormalities and increase motility.

Good sources: Citrus fruit, strawberries, peppers, blueberries, green leafy vegetables and almonds.

Zinc

Zinc is a key nutrient for the production of healthy sperm, boosting motility and for helping to remove excess oestrogen from the body (high levels of which is linked to low sperm count), and is commonly lacking is most people’s diets. Zinc is also a powerful antioxidant.

Good sources: Eggs, poultry, crab, lobster, nuts, seeds, dairy products and red meat. 

CoQ10

This is a powerful antioxidant helping to protect sperm and increase its motility. According to research, the amount of CoQ10 in the seminal fluid of men has a correlation to their sperm count and sperm motility.

Good sources: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, organ meats, beef, sardines and mackerel. 

Vitamin B12

This vitamin helps to improve sperm quality by increasing sperm count.  Vitamin B12, along with folic acid, is also important for the formation, maturation and duplicating of DNA, which is the genetic information within all cells, including sperm.

Good sources: Oysters, lobster, beef, lamb and eggs.

Folic acid

Low levels of folate in diets have been linked to an increase in sperm abnormalities. When sperm with abnormal chromosomes fertilize an egg, it may result in miscarriage or birth defects. More than half of first-trimester miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities in the embryo.

Good sources: Green leafy vegetables, oranges, lentils, peas, sweetcorn and asparagus. 

 

Extra reading:

Safarinejad MR, Safarinejad S. The roles of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in idiopathic male infertility. Asian J Androl 2012;14(4):514-515.

Vitamin D supplements could improve fertility:  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170523084302.htm

Easter eggs, spring and fertility

Eggs, Easter and fertility

Long before chocolate eggs, Easter and fertility became part of the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it was a pagan Equinox ritual and ancient cultures, including the Ancient Egyptians, Persians and Romans celebrated using eggs, which were a primitive symbol of fertility. Many different gods and goddesses were worshipped, and feasts were held celebrating the arrival of Eostra the Goddess of Spring.  Goddess Eostra represented new beginnings and fertility, birth, new life and re-birth. She was symbolised in the form of a rabbit, and images and icons of rabbits were used at these feasts because of their ability to rapidly reproduce.

Don’t forget to celebrate with real eggs

With so many chocolate eggs on the supermarket shelves at the moment it’s important to remember to buy some of the non-chocolate variety. They’re packed full of so many vital nutrients for conception and are extremely versatile. They are an excellent source of choline (which studies have shown can have significant positive effects on foetal development that may have a long-lasting influence on adult life). Eggs are also a very good source of iodine, selenium, molybdenum, vitamin B12, vitamin B2 and biotin. They are a good source of protein, iron, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin B5. So, it’s certainly a good idea to eat more of them this Easter – try to buy organic free range eggs wherever possible. A poached egg on wholemeal toast for breakfast will help to combat the rise and fall of your blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Eggs provide us with many health benefits including:

  • Eggs help to strengthen bones and teeth and contain good amounts of vitamin D and phosphorus.
  • They help to maintain healthy eyes – antioxidants such as zeaxanthin and lutein are contained within the egg yolks.
  • Egg consumption helps in the maintenance of healthy nerves and brain – choline helps to improve memory and the B vitamins support a healthy nervous system and brain.
  • They help to balance blood sugar levels – which is very important if you are trying to conceive, as excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates erratically throughout the day will cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall. This will cause insulin levels to peak and trough, which may eventually lead to insulin resistance. Excess insulin can affect ovulation.
  • Consuming eggs can help in the management of PCOS, as many women with this condition have low vitamin D levels and eggs help to boost this important nutrient.
  • Eggs might help increase sperm count and improve male fertility. They are rich in vitamin E, which is responsible for the maintenance of testicular tissue.
    Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant which counteracts the negative effects of free radicals on sperm and egg and is considered one of the most important nutrients for fertility.

Eggscellent did you knows?

  • Chicken eggs contain less cholesterol than all other types of eggs.
  • Duck eggs contain the most amount of folate, iron, choline and omega 3 fatty acids, but contain more cholesterol than chicken eggs.
  • Quail eggs are high in phosphorus and folate, they contain a high amount of vitamin B1 in comparison to chicken eggs.
  • Goose eggs contain an excellent amount of omega 3 fatty acids. They are also an excellent source of selenium and provide around 3.5 times the amount that can be found in a chicken egg.

Please note – if you have type 2 diabetes we suggest you consult with your  GP about how many eggs you can eat due to the effect on the transport of cholesterol through the bloodstream.

Further reading:

Xinyin Jiang et al.,(2012) Maternal choline intake alters the epigenetic state of fetal cortisol-regulating genes in humans

Chocolate eggs!

If, however, you also fancy enjoying some chocolate treats over Easter there’s no reason why you shouldn’t join in the fun! Try to make sure that you go for an organic chocolate which contains at least 85% cocoa. Dark chocolate is made from cacao or cocoa. All chocolate starts as harvested cacao beans from the plant’s seed pods. Once harvested, the cacao beans are typically fermented and dried before being sent off to factories for further production. Pure cacao and pure cocoa powder both have antioxidants and health benefits. It is rich in procyanidins, which help to relax blood vessels and aid circulation, heart health and play an important role in virility. It also contains polyphenols, which help to lower cholesterol; flavonoids, which help to reduce inflammation and theobromine which helps to lower blood pressure and combat fatigue. Dark chocolate is also thought to improve male fertility as it is a rich source of the amino acid L-arginine which studies show can increase the volume of ejaculate and improve sperm count and motility. This amino acid can also help female fertility as it increases the flow of blood to the ovaries and uterus. Always try to buy organic dark chocolate containing 85% cocoa.

In a study conducted by the Hershey Co. and published in Chemistry Central Journal, the total flavonol and polyphenol content, as well as antioxidant activity content of dark chocolate and cocoa powder were compared to super fruits like acai, cranberry, blueberry and pomegranate. The dark chocolates, cocoa powders and cocoa beverage in the study all contained natural or non-alkalized cocoa. This is important to note since the alkalization of cocoa has been shown to destroy healthy polyphenolic compounds. The researchers found that the flavanol content of cocoa powder (30.1 milligrammes per gramme) was significantly greater than that of all the other super fruit powders. It was also revealed that dark chocolate’s antioxidant capacity was higher than that of all the super fruit juices except pomegranate. The total polyphenol content per serving was also highest for dark chocolate (about 1,000 milligrammes per serving), which was significantly higher than that of all the fruit juices except pomegranate juice.

Further reading:

Crozier, S. J., Preston, A. G., Hurst, J. W., Payne, M. J., Mann, J., Hainly, L., & Miller, D. L. (2011). Cacao seeds are a “Super Fruit”: A comparative analysis of various fruit powders and products. Chemistry Central Journal, 5, 5. http://doi.org/10.1186/1752-153X-5-5

Chocolate Easter Cake

Ingredients

150g castor sugar (unrefined and organic if possible)
150g lightly salted organic butter
150g organic self-raising flour
2 medium organic eggs
½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda
40g cocoa powder (organic if possible)
130 ml of soured cream

For the ganache:

200g organic dark chocolate (definitely above 80% cocoa solids)
200ml double cream

Topping:

Decorate with Easter chicks (not real!), mini eggs or mini nests containing eggs

  • Turn the oven to 180°C (gas mark 4) and allow to heat. Grease and line two sandwich tins (approx 18-20 cm).
  • Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream together until smooth.
  • In a separate bowl, sift the cocoa, flour, bicarbonate of soda and mix well. Add to the creamed butter and sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with the soured cream and syrup. Mix the dry ingredients and stir it all together until smooth. Divide the mixture equally between the tins.
  • Place in the oven for approx 25 mins. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
  • To make the ganache, place the chocolate and cream into a bowl over slightly simmering water. Heat gently until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and stir briefly, until smooth.
  • Allow to cool until thick enough to spread. This can take up to an hour.
  • Divide the mixture approximately into half and use half for the middle of the cake and the other for on the top of the cake. Decorate with your choice of Easter decorations. Enjoy!

 

How omega-3 can improve fertility

As the spring weather starts to get warmer it is a great idea to start eating lighter foods such as fish and seafood after the long winter months of consuming casseroles … yummy as they are!

There is now robust evidence of how omega-3 fatty acids can improve male and female fertility.  NHS Choices recommend that women trying to conceive should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week. And don’t worry if you don’t eat much fish, there are plenty of other food sources that are good sources of omega-3 that you can include into your diet.

The typical intake of omega-6 in western countries is high, and the ratio of the omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids in the UK are now thought to be greater than 10:1 and even as high as 25:1 in some adult diets. Many years ago the omega-6:omega-3 ratio dietary intake of primitive man was closer to 1:1.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-3 fatty acids are important in the prevention and treatment of various diseases, including both male and female infertility. They are important in ovulation, male sperm count/motility/mobility and DNA, conception, and embryo development.

How omega-3 can improve fertility for women

  • Increases the blood flow to the uterus.
  • Helps to regulate monthly cycles and reducing inflammation.
  • During pregnancy – brain and retina development.
  • Helps prevent pre-eclampsia and postnatal depression.

How omega-3 can improve fertility for men

  • Improves sperm membrane composition and integrity.
  • Helps to increase sperm count.
  • Improves motility and morphology.
  • Reduces damage to sperm DNA.

A University of Colorado study recently presented to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s yearly meeting, suggests that women who frequently eat certain varieties of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may increase their chance of conceiving. The study involved mice, so more research is needed to be completed before omega-3 foods or supplements become part of treatment for infertility, but Dr Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, an obstetrician-gynecologist who led the study, is encouraged by the results.

Dr Skaznik-Wikiel worked with a group of mice that were genetically bred to have healthy ratios of omega-3 fatty acids. These mice are born with the ability to bathe cells and tissues in omega-3 fats, so the team investigated their egg development in the ovaries. Their research found that the mice with the higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids seemed to have more precursors to egg cells than control mice with lower levels of the fat, meaning they had a larger reserve of potential eggs. These mature into a healthy egg that is fertilized,  leading to a live birth. When the ovaries were examined even further, it was also found that the quality of the eggs was better among the animals with higher levels of omega 3s. A higher quality egg improves the chances that the egg will be fertilized and develops into a live pup. “Based on this study, it looks very encouraging that omega-3s can potentially improve fertility,” says Skaznik-Wikiel. Exactly how the healthy omega-3 fatty acids are helping the ovary to produce better quality eggs isn’t clear yet. But other studies involving mice suggests that these fats may lower levels of inflammation that can adversely affect ovarian function.

Fresh or canned fish and seafood that are excellent sources of omega-3 include:

  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel

Vegetarian or non-fish sources of omega-3 include:

  • Milk
  • Fruit juices
  • Soy milk
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Margarine
  • Kale
  • Mint
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Parsley
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds

Oils that contain a good amount of omega-3

  • Canola
  • Cod liver
  • Flaxseed
  • Mustard
  • Soybean
  • Walnut

 

Further reading:

Epping, J (2011). “Omega-3 Consumed During Pregnancy Curbs Risk For Postpartum Depression Symptoms. Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Accessed April 2014.

Saldeen, P and Saldeen, T (2004). Women and omega-3 Fatty acids. Obstet Gynecol Surv. ; 59(10): pp722-30.

 

Easy fish pie

Ingredients:

  • 550g fish (mixed fish eg salmon, cod, prawns etc)
  • 660ml milk
  • 10 -12 medium potatoes (depending on size of dish)
  • 60g butter
  • 5 tablespoons plain flour
  • 150g grated cheese
  • Fresh chopped parsley (optional)
  • Seasoning to taste

Method:

  1.  Preheat oven to 200 C / Fan 180 C / Gas mark 5. Place the mixed fish in an oven-proof dish and cover with 500ml of the milk. Leave until the fish is cooked (check after around 20 minutes).
  2.  Boil the peeled potatoes until soft and mash with half of the butter.
  3.  Flake the fish once cooked and drain off excess milk into a jug.
  4.  In a pan melt the butter on a medium heat and add the flour stirring until a smooth paste is achieved.
  5.  Add 160ml of milk a little at a time, stirring, until you get a sauce.
  6.  Add the seasoning and chopped fresh parsley (optional).
  7.  Add the sauce to the flaked fish and stir it. Place the mashed potato on top of the fish and sauce and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.
  8.  Place back into the oven until it goes slightly brown on top. The time will be different for different appliances but usually 35 minutes.

 

Being overweight affects your ability to conceive?

If you’re planning for a baby, or if you’re about to undergo fertility treatment, the first question you need to ask yourself is: ‘How healthy am I. Do I need to lose some weight?’ It’s an important question to ask because being overweight or obese when you’re pregnant puts your own health and your baby’s health at risk.

Being overweight affects your ability to conceive, for both men and women. Overweight and obese men have been found to have reduced sperm count and quality. Obesity can affect fertility in women by causing hormonal imbalances and problems with ovulation. It can also affect egg quality. Obesity is associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of female infertility.

Studies have found that being overweight and pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, high-blood pressure, pre-eclampsia and blood clots. It can also mean that your baby is more likely to be overweight and develop diabetes as they grow up. So, if you are trying to conceive, or want to start trying soon, be mindful of the fact that being overweight can affect your chances of conceiving and of having a healthy baby. Of course, how early you need to start losing weight will depend on how much weight you need to lose, but it is very important that you put in place a healthy eating and regular exercise plan that will help you to lose weight steadily, allowing you to enjoy a more comfortable pregnancy with less medical interventions. You will also be doing the best for your baby.

Body Mass index and obesity

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the calculation of a person’s height to weight ratio calculation. The simplest expression for this is the body mass index (BMI) calculated as weight (kg) divided by height in metres squared (m2). A BMI score below 18.5 means that a person is more than likely to be underweight, a score between 18.5-24.9 indicates a healthy weight, a score of 25 – 29.9 is above the ideal range and a score of 30 or more indicates obesity (to find out your BMI visit NHS choices 2015). Obese women are less likely to become pregnant through IVF and assisted reproduction. A BMI of over 30 (considered obese) has been shown to affect fertility and success with assisted reproduction by affecting ovulation and response to fertility treatment in terms of poor response to the stimulation drugs. Carrying excess weight is thought to affect how the ovaries function, due to changes in hormones and also metabolism.

Stress and weight gain

Unfortunately stress is a part of life, but it can also contribute to an increase of fat around the waist. In a stressful situation adrenaline helps you to get you alert and focused, whilst cortisol increases levels of fat and sugar in the bloodstream. The reason why fat targets your middle is because it is close to the liver where it can most quickly be converted back into energy if needed.

In order to manage stress though diet, eat little and often, and try to balance the protein, fat and carbohydrates in each meal or snack. Doing this will help to balance blood sugar levels which in turn will aid in managing stress and help to maintain your energy levels. Also, try to find out the best way of relaxing for you, whether it be a yoga class, a relaxing bath or a nice walk.

Stress busting nutrients

B vitamins

When stressed, our bodies use up B vitamins.  As these are our energy vitamins, low levels can leave us feeling fatigued. Eat lots of brown rice, quinoa, nuts seeds, green leafy vegetables, meat and fish.

Magnesium

Magnesium is another nutrient depleted during stressful times. Eat lots of quinoa, brazil nuts, oats, brown rice, legumes and leafy green vegetables.

Vitamin C

Low vitamin C levels decrease the activity of the immune cells that help fight bacteria and viruses, therefore keeping up your intake is especially important during times of stress. Eat lots of blackcurrants, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and green leafy vegetables.

Protein

During times of stress our bodies need more protein as it helps to balance blood sugar levels, an imbalance of which can lead to a weaker immune system. Good sources include lean meats and poultry, eggs, pulses and oily fish like salmon.

Stress inducing foods to avoid:
Caffeine, sugar, salt, alcohol and fizzy drinks

Top nutrition tips to help manage your weight prior to conception or assisted fertility treatment.

  • Eat until satisfied, not full.
  • Watch your portion sizes (1 portion = 80g or the palm of your hand roughly).
  • Eliminate processed and sugary foods – instead, replace with nuts/seeds or fresh fruit or vegetable snacks instead.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated, which can make you feel less hungry – aim for around 2 litres of water per day.
  • Eat a good balance of complex carbohydrates (to release energy over a longer period of time), protein and healthy fats.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Eat some prebiotic foods such as garlic, onions and leeks as these will feed the probiotic bacteria in the gut leading to a healthier digestive system.
  • Try to have a brisk walk each day for 20 minutes or more.
  • Choose a sport or exercise class that you like and try to stick to it.

 

Purcell, S. and Moley, K (2011). The impact of obesity on egg quality. J Assist Reprod Genet. 28(6): pp.517–524.

NHS Choices (2014)  http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/BodyMassIndex.

Festive fertility fayre

With the colder conditions of the winter months possibly improving sperm quality and boosting male fertility, and couples spending more time together through the long winter nights, December is often referred to as the most fertile month of the year, with more babies being conceived in December than in any other month of the year. With this in mind, we thought we’d let you know about all the fantastic festive fertility fayre that is so nutritious it can only help to boost fertility!  We recommend that everyone eats as wide a variety of colourful, organic and unprocessed food as possible during the Christmas break. So, go all out and enjoy the Christmas festivities!

Turkey

Many people enjoy turkey for lunch at Christmas – and for good reason too, it’s a low fat, lean protein with many nutritional benefits for fertility.

Turkey contains an abundance of vitamin B6, which is helpful in balancing out hormone levels. B6 is thought to assist in correcting any low progesterone levels in women, helping them maintain a healthier balance of hormones. It is important to get enough of this important vitamin when trying to conceive and during early pregnancy, as hormone levels that are out of balance affect fertility and can also be a contributing cause for miscarriage.

Turkey is also an excellent source of iron, selenium and zinc. Iron improves egg health in women. Egg health is critical to helping higher fertility rates and is closely monitored during infertility treatment. Iron is also important for a healthy and receptive endometrial lining in the uterus to help facilitate implantation.

Turkey is rich in selenium. Selenium is an antioxidant that helps protect the eggs and sperm from free radicals, which may cause chromosomal damage that can cause sperm damage and birth defects. Selenium is also important for sperm formation. Men with low sperm counts may benefit from the addition of more selenium in their diets.

Zinc is necessary in women for the cells to divide properly, keeping oestrogen and progesterone levels balanced and the reproductive system functioning properly. For men, zinc is one of the most necessary nutrients for fertility. Zinc helps boosts sperm levels and improves the shape, motility and chromosomal quality of male sperm.

Salmon

A fabulous alternative to turkey on Christmas day, Salmon contains a magic nutrient when it comes to fertility … Selenium. This mineral produces antioxidants that protect both egg and sperm from free radicals. It can help prevent chromosomal damage, which is known to cause birth defects and miscarriages. Try and buy good quality, organic, wild salmon wherever possible.

Brussel sprouts

Sprouts may not be everyone’s favourite vegetable, but they are packed with properties that boost fertility, a main one being folic acid. Folic acid is important at it helps to increase sperm levels and helps increase the chance of a healthy pregnancy by preventing miscarriage and birth defects.

Carrots

Filled with carotenoids that give carrots their colour, this vegetable is ideal for boosting conception chances. Research has found that carotenoids improve sperm quality and quantity, and help sperm swim towards an egg, improving sperm performance by up to eight per cent.

Potatoes

Potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, but they are also carbohydrate rich – so why not combine with some sweet potatoes to get an extra boost of vitamin A, vitamin b, vitamin C and beta carotene, whilst reducing the carbohydrate load that comes with white potatoes.

Peas

Why not enjoy some peas with your Christmas meal this year. Peas are an excellent source of zinc. Increasing zinc levels in infertile men has been shown to boost sperm levels by improving the morphology, motility and quality of male sperm. For women a lack of zinc can lead to an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone, so improving your zinc levels can help to balance hormones which will help towards boosting fertility.

Asparagus 

Delicious roasted or grilled, and teamed with egg or popped in a salad, asparagus contains lots of vital reproductive nutrients that are important for couples trying to conceive. It’s so easy to add into your daily meals – and well worth doing, too. Asparagus contains vitamins A, B, C and E and is filled with folic acid. It’s also packed full of iron, calcium, zinc, selenium and potassium.

Parsnips

Parsnips are a very good source of the antioxidant vitamin C but they also rich in many B complex groups of vitamins such as folic acid (important in preventing neural tube defects), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid as well as vitamin K and vitamin E. Parsnips are rich in sulphur which is the needed to create the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine – essential in the formation of enzymes, detoxification and in supporting the immune system.

Dark leafy vegetables

Dark leafy vegetables are packed with minerals, antioxidants and vitamins essential to healthy fertility, including Iron, folic acid, B6, vitamin E. Examples of dark leafy green vegetables are spinach, swiss chard, kale, and collards. 

Cranberries

Make some fresh cranberry sauce this Christmas. Cranberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, a very good source of manganese and a good source of vitamin K and E. The antioxidant level in cranberries is thought to be higher than the antioxidant levels found in most fruit and vegetables including: apples, raspberries, strawberries, broccoli, cherries and red grapes. Cranberries boost fertility as they help cleanse the urinary tract, including the kidneys. Strong, healthy kidneys are important in order to be able to conceive. Cranberries help prevent bacteria from sticking to the bladder and kidneys.

Seeds and nuts

Make the most of the variety of seeds and nuts that are available to snack on, or incorporate into recipes, over the Christmas break. Pumpkin, flax, hemp, chia, sunflower and sesame seeds contain some of the most important fertility nutrients, including omega 3, zinc, vitamin E and iron.. As for nuts, they are packed with four of the most important nutrients proteins, omega 3, zinc and vitamin E. Walnuts and almonds contain L-arginine which has been shown to increase sperm health Peanuts contain particularly high levels of zinc. Chestnuts and walnuts are excellent at boosting sperm quality as they are very good sources of the antioxidant vitamin C, whilst Brazil nuts are an excellent source of selenium.

Dark chocolate

Making sure that any chocolate you eat over Christmas is high in cocoa levels (no less than 70%) will help you to be sure that you’ve boosted your levels of antioxidants! Dark chocolate is packed with potassium, zinc, iron and selenium. It also contains the amino acid arginine which has been linked to an increase in sperm quality and semen volume and is also filled with antioxidants, which defend against free radicals and toxins linked to male infertility. But remember, it’s only okay to eat around a 1oz square daily and perhaps try eating it with a handful of dried fruits and nuts to boost your antioxidants even further.

Beetroot

Add some beetroot! Beetroot can have the benefit of increasing blood flow to the muscles. It also contains nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels, allowing a rich supply of oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to flow to the uterus and ovaries

Citrus fruit

The magic nutrient in citrus fruits is Vitamin C. A study in which infertile men were given 1,000mg of vitamin C twice daily (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17004914), found that their sperm count and motility (their ability to move properly towards an egg) were improved. The vitamin is also said to improve hormone balance in women.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are in season from October through to February, which luckily for us is right over the festive season, so why not try eating more of this delicious fruit. Pomegranates are an excellent source of flavonoids and polyphenols. They are also thought to contain antioxidant, anti viral and anti tumor properties.

They are a good source of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid), folic acid and they also contain vitamin A and vitamin E. Pomegranates are thought to improve and help balance oestrogen and progesterone levels in women. There are currently trials taking place by the National Institute of Health into the effect of pomegranates/juice on male infertility. Pomegranates/juice consumption may help improve sperm quality and erectile dysfunction (Journal of Urology 2005).

Eggs

Try and include some eggs into your Christmas recipes this year. Add them to salads or enjoy them poached on whole grain granary toast with avocado for breakfast. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, a very good source of iodine, selenium, molybedum, vitamin B12, vitamin B2 and biotin. They are a good source of protein, iron, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin B5. A recent study by Yale University took vitamin D measurements from 67 infertile women and found that only 7% of them had normal vitamin D levels, while the other 93% had either insufficient of clinical deficiency. They also found that none of the patients with PCOS had normal vitamin D levels.

 

Vitamin D and fertility

A systematic review: Elisabeth Lerchbaum⇓ and Barbara R Obermayer-Pietsch  http://www.eje-online.org/content/early/2012/01/24/EJE-11-0984.abstract?sid=51cb625d-faa6-4807-99f0-96562fffaf82

Replete vitamin D stores predict reproductive success following IVF

Sebiha Ozkan, MD,1 Sangita Jindal, PhD.,2 Keri Greenseid, MD,2 Jun Shu, MD,3 Gohar Zeitlian, MD,2 Cheryl Hickmon, BS,2 and Lubna Pal, MBBS, MRCOG, MSc2,4  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2888852/

 

Join in with Stoptober to improve your fertility

Stoptober is a campaign run by the NHS to encourage people to stop smoking during October, in the hope that they continue to stop smoking long term. If you do smoke, and are trying to conceive either naturally or through fertility treatment, why not join in with Stoptober to improve your fertility and  your chances of success.

It has been proven through research that smokers are more likely to have fertility problems than non-smokers. Smoking has also been found to have a significant negative effect on IVF success by affecting live birth outcome, with a higher risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy in those women that smoke (Klonoff-Cohen et el 2001; Waylen et al 2009).

How does smoking affect fertility?

A cigarette contains over 4,000 chemicals and so by smoking these chemicals are circulating round your body. In women, components of cigarette smoke may cause oxidative stress and DNA damage in the ovarian follicle. Ovarian aging is thought to be a major contributor to unexplained infertility. This can lead to fertility problems, including the following:

  • Ovulation problems
  • Damage to your reproductive organs
  • Damage to your eggs or premature menopause.
  • Increased risk of cancer and increased risk of miscarriage
  • Genetic problems

In addition, smokers that undergo fertility treatments tend to take longer to get pregnant. Smokers are also more likely to give birth to babies with health problems.

Research has shown that passive smoking is as bad as smoking a cigarette, because the smoke exposes you to poisonous chemicals which affect fertility. Passive smoking is also a known cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you do become pregnant, you and your partner must stop smoking to protect the health of your baby.

Smoking can also cause fertility problems in men. Smoking can lead to lower sperm counts and sperm motility problems, as well as contributing to erectile dysfunction and hormonal imbalances. Male smoking is also associated with decreased IVF success rates. Studies have found that sperm concentration, as well as the quality of sperm, are affected by smoking in the following ways:

  • Sperm concentration: Sperm concentration refers to the number of sperm found in a measured quantity of semen. Studies have shown a 23% decrease in sperm concentration in men who smoke.
  • Sperm motility: If sperm cannot move properly, they may have trouble reaching and fertilizing the egg. In men who smoke, researchers found a 13% decrease in sperm motility.
  • Sperm morphology: Having unusually shaped sperm may mean that they cannot swim well enough to reach and fertilize the egg.  Male smokers have fewer healthy sperm than non-smokers.
  • Sperm DNA: Some studies have found that the sperm of smokers has increased DNA fragmentation. DNA damaged sperm may lead to problems with fertilization, embryo development, embryo implantation, and increased miscarriage rates.
  • Male smokers may also have abnormal hormone levels, which can affect fertility.

 

Klonoff-Cohen, H., Marrs, R. and Yee B (2001) Effects of female and male smoking on success rates of IVF and gamete intra-Fallopian transfer. Hum. Reprod. 16 (7): pp 1382-1390.

Sharma, Harlev, Agarwal and Esteves (2016). “Cigarette Smoking and Semen Quality: A New Meta-analysis Examining the Effect of the 2010 World Health Organization Laboratory Methods for the Examination of Human Semen.” Eur Urol. 2016 Apr 21. pii: S0302-2838(16)30069-0.

Waylen, A., Metwally, M. and Jones, G. (2009) Effects of cigarette smoking upon clinical outcomes of assisted reproduction: a meta-analysis. Hum. Reprod. Update (2009) 15 (1): pp 31-44.

 

Recent Posts