Infertility is defined as the inability of a couple to procreate after a standardised time of 12 months of attempts. This issue is a very topical issue, which concerns different couples and various factors can influence it. Some are unchangeable, above all the age and any pathologies: in men the quality of the semen begins to decrease from 35 years onwards, and in women the situation is even more complex, in fact, as is known, the fertile period goes from puberty to menopause and with age the risk of genomic abnormalities and spontaneous abortions also increases.
The good news is that many other factors are modifiable and among them is the lifestyle: physical activity, weight control, stress and different habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption, are all behaviours which we can control.
To date, there are several studies that correlate diet and fertility. Nutrition plays an important role in the success of fertilisation, thanks to the impact it has on every cell in the body and the environment in which the fertilised egg begins to develop. For this reason, an appropriate dietary regimen must begin at least two or three months before the start of procreation attempts. In the case of women, this period is aimed at supporting the formation and growth of new eggs and favouring the thickening of the endometrium; in humans, each sperm needs about 85 days to mature and this represents the ideal window of time to improve its quality.
The typical Western diet, rich in fats and sugars, represents a risk factor for the increase in infertility problems. “Our” luck lies in the fact that the recommendations relating to a correct eating style, always in terms of fertility, coincide in every way with what we know as the “Mediterranean diet” and are codified in the “Guidelines for healthy Italian food “.
The first important factor to consider when it comes to fertility is the mental factor. It is no coincidence that conviviality is at the base of the famous food pyramid. Depression and stress can reduce testosterone levels in humans and the chances of success of any assisted reproductive techniques. For these reasons, dedicating 30 minutes a day to activities such as meditation, yoga or visualisation improves stress management and, more generally, the quality of life.
In some cases, supplementation in micronutrients may also be useful. Low levels of B-complex vitamins, in particular vitamins B1 (thiamine), B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12, have been linked to depression and mood decay. Zinc is essential for the production of neurotransmitters. Omega3 fatty acids play a role in the synthesis of serotonin, or “the good mood hormone”. Vitamin D insufficiency can also contribute to general depression.
OK, but what about the everyday diet? Here are some practical tips:
- minimise very refined foods and drinks because they provide “empty” calories (i.e. non-nutritious) and their abuse is correlated with the incidence of obesity and metabolic diseases typical of the Western world, which represent risk factors for the onset of infertility problems
- increase the consumption of green leafy vegetables, berries and citrus fruits: several studies associate their consumption with lower risks for the loss of brain functions, in the long term … and we have already mentioned how important the health of the nervous system is in problems of infertility.
- include proteins at every meal, especially from vegetables, fish and eggs, avoid red meat and preserved meats: proteins are the bricks with which our body is built, it affects our health “in general”, furthermore in this case the sources from which they come are particularly important; the abuse of red meat typical of Western diets is mainly associated with the introduction of saturated fats and the onset of chronic inflammatory conditions.
- do not eliminate fats completely: it is typical of those who want to try to eat healthy and rely on a bad and incomplete conception of this nutrient. In fact, fats are necessary to build cell walls, for the absorption of vitamins and nutrients, to stabilise the levels of hormones and sugars, as well as being the “material” for the construction of many hormones, including sexual ones.
- decrease the consumption of alcoholic beverages because alcohol consumption is correlated, in men, with a reduction in the number and motility of spermatozoa. In women, however, it is associated with an increase in spontaneous abortions and intrauterine death of the foetus.
Combattere l’infertilità è un percorso lungo e talvolta tortuoso, però possiamo fare del nostro meglio per dare al nostro corpo il giusto nutrimento e avere la miglior possibilità di avere una gravidanza.
Dr Giulia Vincenzo, Fighting infertility is a long and sometimes tortuous path, but we can do our best to give our bodies the right nourishment and have the best chance of becoming pregnant.
Dr Giulia Vincenzo, Freelance Nutritionist Biologist and lecturer at the II level Master in Dietetics and Nutrition at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome and Master in Food Behaviour at the Nicolò Cusano University.
Consultant of MarieClaire.it, Vanityfair.it and Radio Lattemiele, author for Il Pensiero Scientifico Editore and the Universe Publishing Company, member of the scientific committee of the Peristorie per Strade Onlus project and collaborating partner of the association of psychologists and nutritionists MInD-MettersiInDiscussione.
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