Preparing to Conceive
Did you know that it takes four and a half months from the time the follicle in your ovary starts to develop to the moment where the egg it contains is mature enough for ovulation? There’s a lot you can do during this time, which will influence the development of that egg.
Diet: Optimal nutrition provides an optimal ovarian environment for the eggs during the critical maturation process. Chinese medicine recommends having a wide variety of tasty fresh foods in season eaten in a relaxed manner. It is also important to heed more pragmatic advice such as, eat plenty of protein, especially vegetable protein, and fresh fruit and vegetables – organic where possible. Meat, poultry or fish that has been farmed with the use of growth promoters and hormones should be avoided as should processed foods. Your Chinese medicine practitioner will tell you if there are particular foods you should avoid or increase according to your constitution. Please see below for a more detailed discussion on diet and sourcing organic foods.
Supplements: In keeping with maximising nutrition available to the developing eggs and ensuring you are in good shape for pregnancy, it is advisable to take supplements which include Folic acid and other B vitamins, Vitamins C and D, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as CoQ10 and minerals such as zinc, iron and iodine. Please speak to your practitioner about dosage.
Caffeine: High caffeine intake is associated with infertility and increased miscarriage rates. Even moderate coffee drinking (1 – 3 per day) can reduce fertility. Try to limit your intake to no more than 1 tea/day and 1 or 2 coffees/week.
Alcohol: Women metabolise alcohol much less efficiently than men and there is evidence to suggest that even moderate drinking (5 or fewer glasses a week) can delay conception. Try to save alcohol for those special occasions and then have one glass savoured slowly!
Dairy: For women who have no difficulty digesting dairy products, regular rather than low fat products have been shown to benefit fertility.
Weight: A BMI of 20 – 25 is associated with higher pregnancy and lower miscarriage rates than those above or below this range. If you are overweight losing a few kilos now could make a big difference to your ability to conceive naturally or with IVF. Talk to us about how diet, acupuncture and herbs can help to control your appetite and improve your metabolism. If you are underweight increase your intake of calorie dense protein and low GI carbohydrates.
Smoking: delays conception and causes early menopause. It reduces live birth rates in IVF cycles and makes the uterus less receptive to embryo implantation. Marijuana is toxic to the developing egg and can interfere with ovulation. So you need to stop now! Acupuncture can help you with withdrawal symptoms.
Exercise: Doing regular exercise, something you enjoy, is beneficial. It increases energy, lifts mood, helps you sleep and helps to control weight. However exercising too much (4+ hours/wk) has been shown to reduce IVF success rates. During the first part of pregnancy you need to exercise with care so take the opportunity now to increase your fitness.
Stress: Increased stress is associated with reduced numbers of follicles and poorer outcomes in IVF cycles. And even minor stressors can cause ovulation failure. Regular acupuncture can help to reduce stress hormones, relieving anxiety and depression and regulating ovulation.
Sleep: More than 40% of adults get less than 7 hours sleep a night and this has adverse effects on metabolism and weight control. Getting enough sleep is essential to maintain optimal hormonal regulation.
Fumes and toxic chemicals: Chemicals in the environment like pesticides, insecticides, household cleaners and industry by-products have been shown to reduce egg viability, deplete follicle numbers and reduce IVF success rates. As much as possible reduce your exposure to fumes and chemicals.
Chinese Medicine: Acupuncture and Chinese herbs have a proven record with improving fertility, both in China over many hundreds of years and more recently in the west. Speak to one of our practitioners about an appropriate treatment plan for your circumstances.
More information on Diet and Supplements
The most comprehensive study to date looking at diet and fertility is the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study which followed over 18,000 women in a long-term research project looking at the effects of diet and other factors on the development of chronic disease. This study also examined the relationship between diet and fertility. It found a six fold increase in fertility in women who ate in a certain way and maintained a certain lifestyle. Specifically, the study found that women who had the highest fertility ate a low GI, whole food diet incorporating vegetable protein, full fat dairy and monounsaturated fats. Women with the highest fertility exercised more and took a multivitamin mineral supplement.
Summarising their findings we can make the following recommendations.
Whole foods provide maximum nutrients, fibre, enzymes, antioxidants and taste without added artificial flavours, colours, preservatives, sweeteners or trans fats. Follow the guidelines below and avoid processed foods (ie those with additives and which usually come out of a packet).
Carbohydrates – fertility was highest in the nurses study in those with a diet based on at least 60% of calories from slow release carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Consumption of processed and high GI foods (especially flour and sweetened products like cakes, biscuits or packaged snacks) reduced fertility.
Protein in the form of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy, or legumes should constitute about 25% of your calorie intake. Try to eat more protein from plants (beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds) even if you are not vegetarian, and check your animal protein comes from sources which have not used hormones or growth promoters.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide carbohydrates, vitamins and anti oxidants. Herbs and spices also provide anti oxidants to combat cellular inflammation which can be associated with decreased fertility. Organic produce has been shown to be higher in antioxidants.
Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables (you cant really have too many!) which have been grown locally.
Good oils that are those that are pressed at low temperature, free of chemical solvents from whole plant foods (coconuts, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives) and found in wild, deep sea, short-lived fish. Healthy fats combat cellular inflammation, and improve hormonal sensitivity. Include these in your cooking, or added to salads or vegetables.
High quality dairy – if you tolerate dairy products include a daily serve of full fat dairy such as live culture plain yogurt and kefir, and high quality artisan (naturally fermented) organic cheese – as these are associated with increased fertility.
Vitamins and Minerals – good quality fresh food is always the best source of nutrients..
However the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who took a multivitamin mineral supplement at least six days a week had superior fertility.
We recommend a general pre conception supplement such as Bioceuticals “in Natal” or Blackmores “Conceive Well”. Some of you may be advised to take additional Folic acid.
For men’s supplements see Male Factor info sheet.
Eat organic. Its not as difficult or as expensive as you might think. Free deliveries of boxes of organic produce in season to many locations make it doable.
For chicken and meat that have been raised with good feed, and in free range conditions try your local farmers markets.