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Nutrition for Fertility

diet and fertility.jpg

a blog by Traci Shahan, RN, WHNP-BC, Doctor of Nursing, Albrecht Women’s Care: A Center for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, May 24, 2011

I went to the optometrist last week for what I thought would be my rite-of-passage appointment for bifocal lenses. When my vision started “turning south” a few months ago, I sighed and rued how quickly life is passing, but figured that I was overdue for the diagnosis of presbyopia: “middle-aged eyes.”

I was wrong.

The Eyes that Changed Because of Diet

Dr. Gillette completed his exam, fiddling with this and that lens, while we traded gossip about family and laughed at the colorful public characters who aspire to be president. He finished and said, “Your eyes aren’t ‘worse,’ they are better. Since your last exam nine months ago, your eyesight has improved a half-diopter in each eye.”

I have been a card-carrying myopic since I was in my teens, switching between contacts and glasses, so I wasn’t sure what to make of this diagnosis: improved vision in middle age? No way. I have lumbered my way through life, blind as a bat without correction. Dr. Gillette didn’t know what to make of it either. He literally scratched his head.

    “Did you lose weight?”

    “No, I’ve weighed the same for 20 years.”

    “Are you taking any new medicine?”


    “Hmm, I have only seen this in patients who lose a lot of weight, like 100 pounds.”

He looked at me like I look at the coyotes I spot pretty regularly on my morning runs — with a little wonder, maybe suspicion.

    “Did you change your diet?”

    “No, I always eat a lot ... Wait! I got diagnosed with gluten allergy and I don’t eat white anything anymore ... well, I guess I stopped eating very much sugar because it usually travels with white flour, which I can’t eat ...”

    He smiled. “That’s it. What you did was change the osmosis occurring in your lenses, which has made your nearsightedness improve, so your vision has been overcorrected during the last few months.”

We went on to chat about the physiology behind saccharides and fluid in the lens, marveling all along how I unwittingly improved my vision by consuming a less industrial diet.

Can Fertility Change Because of Diet?

My experience with my eyes has made me consider the role of diet and nutrition as it relates to fertility.

First, I have to say that we have a long way to go as a discipline to thoroughly understand and recommend changes in patients’ nutrition, partly because each person has unique eating patterns, nutritional history and dietary needs. For instance, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) patients have a different metabolism than patients who have diminished ovarian reserve. Adding to the mix is that everyone has different preferences and shopping habits, as well as budget considerations. Cultural, religious and seasonal influences affect food buying, preparation and consumption.

It can certainly be a confusing potpourri, but not one to take lightly. You mom’s country idioms, such as "You are what you eat," were right. We are.

An interesting parallel for me is that right before my eye exam, I began reading a book titled “Real Food.” I scoffed when my friend suggested it, thinking that I have spent a lot of years studying nutrition and making healthy food choices. Reading this book has not only supported many of my choices, but has also challenged me to dig deeper into the research to understand some counterintuitive ideas.

For example, PCOS patients should consume whole-fat dairy. What? Well, here’s the deal: we have observational data that correlate improved ovarian function with intake of whole-fat dairy. Perhaps it is the increased conjugated linoleic acid or CLA content of whole dairy versus low fat, or perhaps it is something we have yet to identify.

The bottom line is that we are learning that diet may have a role in some facets of fertility. Certainly almost all of us can enhance our health and well-being by shying away from industrial food. Shopping at farmers’ markets, natural grocers and maybe even planting our gardens could not only help us individually, but can improve the health of planet by decreasing fuel consumption to get our groceries from long distances to our tables.

In sum, I wish to offer the following nutrition bytes for all fertility patients:

  • Be intentional with your food. Think before your put food in your mouth: is this going to enhance my health?
  • Make shopping and cooking fun! Now is the season to land some great deals and have fun in the party-feel that most farmers’ markets exude. (Wear sunscreen though!)
  • Make eating simple: Your plate should contain 50 percent vegetable, 25 percent lean protein and 25 percent complex carbohydrates.
  • Make a food buddy on online. Check out the threads of FertilityAuthority and find someone like you.
  • Industrial food should be avoided. Examples of what not to consume include: soda pop of any type, candy, cookies, chips, sweets and foods like white bread that contain little nutrition.
  • Keep a food diary for a week and notice your eating habits.
  • Avoid foods that contain difficult-to-pronounce ingredients.
  • Drink six to eight glasses of water everyday.
  • Avoid alcohol. Yep, I said it. Not only is alcohol a depressant, there is absolutely no known amount of alcohol safe during pregnancy. Plus women who regularly drink alcohol are at increased risk of breast cancer.
  • Eat to live. Do not live to eat. Your food should be considered fuel, not solace or an emotional pick-me-up.
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