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.