May 20, 2024


The Healthy Technicians

Special Fertility Diet

As concluded by multiple studies, body mass index (BMI) that is either too high (> 30) or too low (< 18.5) can lead to hormonal imbalance and is thus deemed a major contributor to infertility. My BMI, however, has always been normal (roughly 20), and I believe I am generally very healthy, yet I have struggled with infertility for many years. It wasn’t until I met with a reproductive endocrinologist that I finally began to question how healthy my diet was.

I knew that too much exercise could negatively impact my ability to conceive, so for the last 10-15 years I had been careful to exercise only in moderation. I did not drink or smoke or take drugs. And I considered my diet quite healthy-lots of fiber, fruit, nuts, seeds, bran, oatmeal, lean meat (if I had decided to have any). I also ate potatoes, feta cheese, and occasionally vegetables to introduce some variations in my menu.

Though I never bought sweets and purchased bread only rarely, I have to admit that I never said no to the bagels or doughnuts my colleagues occasionally brought to work for everyone to share. I didn’t only take a bite or two either. Still, I managed to maintain my weight of 115-120 lbs by offsetting those calorie-laden splurges at work with eating nothing but fruit for dinner at home. Weight was never a problem.

Thus, I was surprised when my reproductive endocrinologist diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It was a disorder of the obese, after all. Or so I thought. I soon learned that PCOS had more to do with insulin resistance than actual weight. With my frequent consumption of sugar, no wonder I suffered from it too.

The first thing my doctor did after hearing me describe my meals for the week was to recommend a change of diet. He suggested that I stay away from sweets, rice, bread, pasta, tortillas, corn, potatoes, and fruit for at least six days a week. I could then have one day in which I could eat whatever I pleased. (He didn’t believe in the sustainability of overly restrictive diets.) Recognizing that fruit played a substantial part in my old diet, I was at a loss at what to eat from then on. My doctor assured me I had plenty of options: meat, vegetables, and legumes of any variety.

My doctor believed that my dietary habits were directly impacting my chances for a successful pregnancy and urged me to follow his diet plan conscientiously. I did. For quite a few weeks. I even lost weight without trying-simply by substituting the fruit with salads. Eventually, the cysts disappeared, and I finally was able to conceive.

While following this simple fertility diet, I did some research of my own. One of the studies I read discussed the findings of Jeffrey B. Russell, MD, from the Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine, who assessed the diets of various women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). He discovered that the majority of those whose diets consisted of less than 10% protein and more than 60% carbohydrates produced low-quality embryos. Conversely, those who consumed high amounts of protein (at least 25% of their diet) and relatively low amounts of carbohydrates (no more than 40% of their diet) had better quality eggs and embryos.

Other studies confirm that a diet low on carbohydrates is a viable treatment option for conditions such as PCOS (at least when it comes to reducing the symptoms), as it lowers insulin levels and helps normalize one’s weight. Controlling blood sugar via a healthy diet and exercise can also help treat gestational diabetes mellitus. Regardless of whether you are at risk for any of these conditions, if you want to increase your chances of getting pregnant, you might want to reconsider your diet. If you are consuming too many carbohydrates, reducing their amounts might just be the secret to jump-starting your fertility.