There is much information and misinformation about what constitutes a good preconception diet. From a Chinese medicine point of view the middle road is usually the healthiest where moderation of some foods is recommended and a good balance of healthy and fresh fruits and vegetables with adequate protein is encouraged. A TCM practitioner takes into account the different constitution and situation of each individual before dietary advice is given.
A properly functioning digestive system is an important focus of treatment, so that nutrients are absorbed and utilised well. In the clinic we will ask you about digestive issues such as bloating, bowel disorders, reflux, cravings or low appetite.
Diet and lifestyle to prepare your body for pregnancy;
Optimal nutrition helps to provide an ideal ovarian environment for the eggs during the critical maturation process. It also contributes to an optimal environment in the uterus for implantation of the embryo and development of a healthy baby. 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 are better avoided and same applies to processed foods. Your Chinese medicine practitioner will tell you if there are particular foods you should avoid or increase according to your constitution.
Supplements: In keeping with maximizing nutrition available to the developing eggs and ensuring you are in good shape for pregnancy, it is advisable to take supplements which include the appropriate form of Folate and other B vitamins, Vitamins C and D, omega 3 fatty acids, NMN, antioxidants such as CoQ10 and minerals such as zinc, iron and iodine. Please speak to your practitioner about dosage.
Caffeine: It is generally advised to limit your intake of caffeine.
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 a programme that includes diet advice and acupuncture may assist with appetite and metabolism. If you are underweight increase your intake of calorie dense protein and low GI carbohydrates.
Smoking: Smoking delays conception and can cause 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! Please ask us about what supports we can provide to help you stop smoking.
Exercise: Doing regular exercise, something you enjoy, is beneficial. It increases energy, lifts mood, helps you sleep and helps to control weight. However exercising excessively has been shown to reduce IVF success rates. During the first part of pregnancy you may need to pull back on exercise a little so take the opportunity now to increase your fitness.
Stress: Increased stress may be associated with reduced fertility. Many patients find that acupuncture is helpful in reducing stress and relieving anxiety.
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. Please ask us about what Chinese medicine can contribute if you are having difficulty with sleeping.
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: Doctors in China have been supporting women attempting to conceive over many hundreds of years as have TCM doctors in the west more recently. Speak to one of our practitioners about an appropriate treatment plan for your circumstances.
More information on Diet and Supplements
Some researchers think that our diets may directly affect the environment of the pre-implantation uterus. 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 pregnancy rates 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 mono-unsaturated fats. Women with the highest fertility exercised more and took a multivitamin mineral supplement.
Summarising these 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 – conception rates were 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 ideally 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 can’t really have too many!) which have been grown locally.
Good oils 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 add to salads or vegetables.
High quality dairy – if you tolerate dairy products consider including 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 higher pregnancy rates.
Some readily available pre-conception supplements are MyGen Health “Fertility Formula”, Bioceuticals “In Natal” or Blackmores “Conceive Well”.
Eat organic where possible. 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.