Fertility & Lifestyle
Many couples wonder whether their lifestyle, their job, their diet or the environment affect adversely their chances of having a healthy pregnancy.
Diet and fertility
There is no particular diet or vitamin scientifically proven to boost fertility in men or women. However, there are several small-scale studies which indicate that diet can influence fertility. Overweight men or women often suffer from hormonal imbalance that may affect sperm production or ovulation, respectively. Vitamins and anti-oxidants such as folic acid, vitamins A, C and E and zinc are believed to boost sperm production and quality.
Nutrition experts usually suggest that a ‘fertility diet’ should include the following:
• Vitamin A: carotenoid found in carrots and in yellow and orange fruits such as sweet potatoes, red peppers, dried apricots and spinach. Vitamin A is thought to increase sperm production, but if received in large amounts by a pregnant woman, problems to the embryo might be caused. This is quite rare but women who are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant should avoid high doses of Vitamin A.
• Vitamin C: Vitamin C – rich foods include oranges, lemons, grapefruits, papayas and green vegetables, such as broccoli or Brussels sprouts.
• Vitamin E: High doses of vitamin E can be found in cereals, shrimps, almonds and other nuts. Most people find it easier to take vitamins in food supplements. In that case, one needs to make sure that the maximum suggested daily dose is not exceeded.
It is also important to follow a low-fat diet. It is well known that a diet rich in fat can cause not only heart diseases, but even some types of cancer. Nutrition experts suggest that we eat 5 portions of fruit or vegetables every day. One should also limit the intake of dairy foods (such as cheese) and meat, so as to control cholesterol levels.
Fitness and fertility
Some people might think that exercise boosts fertility. This assumption has not been proven, however exercise does not harm fertility. Moreover, exercise helps you feel better and also enhances the libido, which in turn helps you get pregnant more quickly.
Men and women who exercise excessively (e.g. long-distance runners or cyclists) might suffer from fertility problems (low sperm count or ovulation problems, respectively). This might be due to the fact that deficient body fat or excessive muscle tissue can cause hormonal problems.
Smoking and fertility
Smoking is not good for the testicles, the ovaries or any other body part. It has been shown that women smokers go into menopause 2-3 years earlier than non-smokers. Menopause is the natural stop of a woman’s cycle at the age of 51-52. At menopause, a woman’s period stops and she cannot get pregnant anymore. However, the first signs of menopause usually start 10 years earlier and the woman has irregular periods.
As for men, several studies have shown that smoking often affects sperm count, motility and morphology. Some men are more vulnerable to the effects of tobacco. Those among them who have low sperm count, motility or morphology, may benefit if they quit smoking.
Alcohol and fertility
It has been proven that alcohol may harm fertility in men and women, especially if they are chronic drinkers. Alcohol abuse may harm the liver, which causes problems in the reproductive system.Women who drink too much have a higher miscarriage rate. However, sensible alcohol consumption does not cause fertility problems. A woman is allowed to consume up to 14 and a man up to 21 alcohol units per week. One alcohol unit is equivalent to a glass of wine or a shot of whisky, vodka etc.A lot of couples are worried about alcohol consumption during their fertility treatment, thinking it might be dangerous. Maybe these couples should be reminded that many pregnancies occur naturally after a couple of drinks! Sensible alcohol consumption does not harm the chances of achieving pregnancy.Let’s not forget that red wine is rich in anti-oxidants and several studies suggest that it has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Also, a glass of red wine every now and then might help you relax and feel less stressed.
Caffeine consumption and fertility
Similarly to alcohol, it has been shown that too much caffeine (more than 3-4 cups of coffee a day) may affect the male and, mainly, the female reproductive system. One or two cups of coffee do not harm one’s fertility though. Caffeine can be found not only in coffee but also in tea, chocolate and cola drinks.
Drugs and fertility
Many studies suggest that the daily use of marijuana might affect sperm production negatively. The use of opioids such as cocaine depresses the libido and might affect sperm. However, it has been very difficult to carry out reliable studies on drug users, thus data are not sufficient. Studies in mice have shown that cocaine has a negative impact on sperm production. It is suggested that couples trying to conceive should stop using drugs.
Anabolic steroids and fertility
Anabolic steroids are hormones similar to testosterone. Some athletes use them because they help them build up their muscles and maximise their performance.
A man’s body produces small amounts of testosterone, which is essential for sperm production. High doses of testosterone down-regulate the production of sperm, which can be permanent if a man receives high doses of testosterone for a long time.
Medication that affects fertility
Certain types of medicines, such as those used in chemotherapy or radiotherapy, may suppress the production of sperm or eggs in men and women, respectively, as a side-effect. This effect might be permanent and irreversible.
Stress and fertility
In theory, increased stress levels can cause fertility problems due to the hormonal dysfunction triggered by stress. When starting a fertility treatment, every couple feels stressed. Two separate studies about the effect of stress on sperm production have shown that there is no connection between stress levels and sperm analysis results.
In another study, women with less stress and more positive thoughts during treatment had a better outcome. So, always try to be optimistic and think positive!
Environment and fertility
Several environmental factors may affect a couple’s chance of achieving a pregnancy, contributing to low sperm count.
Environmental pollution may harm sperm quality. European studies (in France, Belgium and the UK) have revealed that sperm quality has deteriorated since World War II. Several pollutants have an estrogen-like effect on sperm production. Some chemicals, such as widely-used pesticides, have been shown to negatively affect fertility in men. Therefore it is important to wash all vegetables and fruits before consumption.
The use of fertilisers, hormones, such as growth hormone, and estrogens also affects sperm production because they are passed to humans through the food chain. This has led to organic foods, either fruits and vegetables or meat. Organic produce are grown without the use of fertilisers, pesticides etc.