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You are what you eat, health nuts often say. Indeed, your diet affects all aspects of your being – physical as well as mental health. This also includes reproductive health. The correlation between nutrition and fertility has been established by several researchers over the years.
“A correct balance of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, antioxidant and folate in the daily diet provides essential benefits for an optimal female reproductive health and reduces the risk of infertility,” concluded a 2019 study undertaken by researchers at the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Human Oncology, University of Bari Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy.
Another study, which was conducted by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the USA, went a step ahead by connecting the dietary habits of expectant parents with public health nutrition. It recommended improving the nutritional interventions undertaken by the government aimed at the reproductive age populations, with special focus on at-risk groups.
Since either of the partners can be responsible for the inability to conceive a child, it is important to understand the implications of their nutritional state on the reproductive capabilities of both men and women. Let’s start with a few general dietary and lifestyle habits that can boost fertility in both genders before getting more specific.
Every individual has a healthy weight and BMI. When this healthy threshold is crossed, it results in an imbalance of several hormones, many of which play an essential part in the reproductive system. Even a moderate amount of physical activity per week has shown to help in dropping off excess weight as well as in restoring the hormonal balance in people who were struggling with fertility issues. It also helps that exercise also releases endorphins that make you happy and help reduce stress.
Fruits, vegetables and nuts
Fruits and vegetables are a good source of fiber, antioxidants and several other nutrients. Fiber helps men flush out excess oestrogen while for women fiber-rich food helps regulate ovulation by balancing the blood sugar levels. Antioxidants, meanwhile, help to destroy free radicals that severely harm cells, including those in the reproductive system. Not to forget, they are rich in vitamins and minerals that are also good for fertility. Nuts, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids like walnuts, are also known to be beneficial in improving fertility.
Vitamins and minerals
Throughout the pandemic, we have heard about the immunity boosting properties of vitamin C. But did you know it also boosts fertility? It helps women by increasing the production of progesterone thereby improving the quality of the eggs, and also protects them from endometriosis. It has also been found to improve sperm count and quality. Vitamin E, D, folic acid (vitamin B9), zinc, iron and selenium are some other vital nutrients that have been proven to have positive effects on human fertility.
Of course, saturated fats are bad for health in general. However, instead of eliminating fats from one’s diet altogether, it is always advisable to get the requisite amount of fats from saturated sources like seafood and nuts. Trans fats, found in packaged and processed food, should be avoided by people trying to reproduce as well. When it comes to dairy though, while women’s fertility is benefitted by high fat dairy products men get more benefits from the low-fat variety.
Stay off processed meats
While juicy steaks and bacon may be considered masculine meats, they aren’t exactly good for a man’s virility. Processed red meats are known to have adverse effects on sperm count as well as quality. A better choice would be white meats like chicken, fish and lean meats.
While the effects of alcohol on female reproductive health is widely discussed, excessive drinking is not good for male fertility either. In fact, a 2013 study concluded that alcohol consumption deteriorates sperm quality such that it is only partially reversible even after discounting drinking alcohol.
Several traditional herbs that were considered good for male fertility were actually found to be beneficial through scientific research. These include fenugreek, ancient Indian herb ashwagandha (Indian ginseng) known in traditional Chinese medicine as ShiuQie, the Peruvian maca roots and several other natural supplements.
Say no to refined carbohydrates
Women who face problems in ovulating due to conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are often recommended to cut down their carbohydrates intake to less than 45% of their calorie consumption. Simple or refined carbs negatively impact the insulin balance of the body, so it’s advisable to consume more complex carbohydrates like in whole grains.
Source your proteins from plants
Most animal based sources of proteins have been associated with ovulatory infertility. Therefore, women who are planning a family are advised to consume plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, tempeh, edamame as much as possible.
Breakfast like a king
The old adage about having breakfast like a king and dining like a pauper may actually serve women in the reproductive age group well. Again, this helps overcome the harmful effects of PCOS especially as it helps regulate the insulin levels in the body.
These are only a few guidelines based on various researches undertaken by experts all over the world. Every individual’s problems and their solutions differ from the others. It is prudent to consult a dietitian or fertility expert before making any changes in your diet. Also, please do not opt for any fad diets.
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A lot is said and discussed about the effect of the age of the mother at the time of conception on the health of the child. It was widely believed that men can father healthy children at any age. However, recent studies have shown that the health and age of the father may alsopose certain health risks to the child. With changing social and economic environments over the last couple of decades, men are also opting to start their families at a much later age than ever before. This makes it much more important to assess the risk factors, =and find out ways to overcome the associated challenges.
Just as in the case of mothers, men over 35 years of age may hamper the chances of conception. Additionally, their advanced age and overall well-being were found to directly cause issues including congenital birth defects and increased risk of several diseases.
With age, the quality and motility of sperms often decreases. While the number of sperms usually doesn’t decline with age but often other health conditions that are common as one ages may hamper the production of sperms and release of semen. Certain medications and lifestyle factors like excessive use of alcohol or smoking have also proven to have a detrimental effect on sperm quality. In fact, one study found that men over 45 years of age took five times longer to impregnate their partners as compared to those under 25.
Several studies have linked olderage of fathers with risks like premature birth, low birth weight and seizures as well as malformation of certain body parts like cleft palate. In fact, this study by doctors from Stanford University School of Medicine says that older fathers can also adversely affect the health of the mother.
The age of the father being over 40 at the time of conception has been associated with the child having the likelihood of developing several diseases. These range from congenital heart diseases to cancer. Since aging causes some mutations in the genes, the kids are often at a higher risk of genetic or chromosomal anomalies as well.
Children fathered by older men are found to be at an increased risk of mental health disorders like bipolar disease, schizophrenia, depression and others. In fact, older age of the father could triple the chances of a kid having any of those conditions as per a 2015 study. Other researchers have found this factor to be linked with intellectual development of the child, including autism.
Risk of miscarriage and stillbirth is found to be associated with increased age of conception for both parents. A recent meta-analysis of several studies on the topic concluded that though the risk of miscarriage increases as the father advances in age, the chances of miscarriage during the first trimester increases threefold for fathers aged above 45.
These studies all point out to the fact that men have a biological clock, too. Most of the research on the topic has found the actual likelihood of these adverse outcomes to be very small. As delaying childbearing until one becomes financially independent is becoming more of a norm, it makes sense for older couples to know the risks associated.
However small the likelihood of the condition may be, one can get the risk assessment done through genetic counseling, and some tests if needed. There’s also an advanced technique called whole exome sequencing (WES) which helps to identify even rare genetic diseases.
You can also mitigate many of the health risks for the baby by opting to bank its cord blood and cord tissue at the time of birth with a family cord blood bank. This provides the baby a form of insurance for the future, should the need ever arise. Hopefully such a need never arises, but it is best to be prepared, isn’t it?