Nutrition & Fertility
Can Nutrition Affect Fertility?
You are not terribly overweight, you exercise - but not to excess, you don’t have any known medical problems…what you eat couldn’t possibly affect your fertility that much, right?
Wrong! What you eat, in combination with your personal metabolism, can have a profound affect on your fertility. One of the most common reasons that a young woman does not ovulate is because of her diet.
Ovulation is the process by which an egg becomes available for fertilization in the female. It is a very complex and delicate process. Many things can interrupt ovulation such as stress, travel over time zones, severe illness, some medications, aging, heavy substance abuse, etc. Hormonal changes can alter the complex process of ovulation. Most women are familiar with hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and testosterone—all of which are important in ovulation. There is another very important hormone that often gets no respect from patients—and even many doctors. That hormone is insulin. Insulin’s most familiar purpose involves regulating blood sugar. The loss of insulin, as in Type I Diabetes (juvenile onset), can result in dangerously high blood sugar levels and is fatal if left untreated. Insulin is necessary for human life. Like so many things in life, however too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
High insulin levels are usually the result of a carbohydrate-dominant diet. With the industrial revolution, our ability to have as much pure white starch and sugar as we crave has had a serious fallout on the health of Americans. Our pancreas readily sends out insulin to handle the onslaught of 21st century sugar, yet insulin has many other effects on the human body. Insulin is a potent growth hormone. High levels of this hormone sends signals to the body to store fat, especially in the belly. Another effect is an increase in triglycerides and LDLs (undesirable lipids) that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. After years of high insulin levels, the body becomes resistant to the sugar control and Type II Diabetes may result, now strongly associated with rapid aging and possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
What about insulin and fertility? Insulin excess interferes with ovulation. The maturation of the female egg or follicle is often incomplete with insulin excess, prohibiting ovulation and increasing ovarian cyst formation. Many experts describe the most extreme example of this as PCO, or Polycystic Ovarian disease. The real culprit is not the ovary; it is insulin excess.
How can a woman improve her metabolism and increase her chances of ovulating regularly? The answer is balance. Not every woman is sensitive to carbohydrate excess, but it is still an important rule of thumb to not allow any of the major food groups to dominate a diet. An easy rule to remember is to avoid the white stuff. Most natural food substances are not white. If it’s white, it is probably processed to the point of readily hitting the bloodstream with sugar (yes, white flour, white potatoes, white bread, white rice). If a food is not a fat, not a protein, not water…it is a carbohydrate. Meals and snacks should not be “carb dominant.” This can be a challenge for the busy woman always in a hurry. Always be careful with breakfast, (Americans love sugar in the morning). A whole wheat English muffin with low sugar peanut butter or low fat cheese is a better choice than cereal alone. Skipping meals can result in an insulin surge when a woman finally does eat, again sending the wrong signals to her ovaries. Watch the beverages!! One of the most common causes of sugar excess in our society is regular intake of sodas and sports drinks. Water and low fat milk make a better choice. We suggest Splenda as a sweetener, as it appears safe and is a better choice than sugar for fertility. Regular exercise is a very effective way to lower insulin, and has been proven to enhance fertility.
Finally, fertility is a complex condition…but Mother Nature is usually on its side. Remember, nature loves balance, so strive to achieve that in your diet.