Yes there are!
The groundbreaking study on fertility and diet, done by the Harvard School of Public Health, revealed five critical lifestyle and diet behaviors that impact both fertility and aging. The data comes from the Nurses’ Health Study. With the help of more than 18,000 women, this long-term project is designed to look at the effects of diet and lifestyle on overall health and wellness.
Over the last 30 years the dynamics of American life have changed. It used to be common for young couples to marry early and start families in their 20s. Today, job and career goals have taken greater precedence, so marriage and families are starting at a later stage in life. Combined with certain lifestyle and dietary changes over the last 30 years, fertility challenges are at an all time high. Less than 10 percent of women in their early 20s have infertility issues; unfortunately, 30 percent of women in their early 40s experience infertility issues.
The Nurses’ Health Study compared the diets, exercise habits and lifestyle choices of the participants. Their choices made a significant difference in their health and wellness. As I’ve pointed out in several of my articles:
The beauty of the Nurses’ Health Study is that it also confirms this statement. You and your choices are the single biggest factor in determining your biological age, health and wellness. Let’s see what the researchers found and then apply this to your goal to slow down the aging process.
Five Critical Lifestyle and Diet Behaviors
The Harvard School researchers found that fertility problems affect one in six couples. Ovulation disorders have been identified in up to 30 percent of infertility issues. The women who followed these five critical lifestyle and diet behaviors were approximately 80 percent less likely to have infertility from ovulation disorders than women who followed none of the behaviors.
According to Jorge Chavarro, one of the lead authors of this study:
“We analyzed what happens if you follow one, two, three, four, or more different factors. What we found was that, as women started following more of these recommendations, their risk of infertility dropped substantially for every one of the dietary and lifestyle strategies undertaken. In fact, we found a sixfold difference in ovulatory infertility risk between women following five or more low-risk dietary and lifestyle habits and those following none.”
Here are the five critical lifestyle and diet behaviors that had the greatest impact on fertility issues.
Carbohydrates: Slow verses Fast!
Twenty years ago the U.S. government’s food pyramid was built on carbohydrates. With the advent of the Atkins and South Beach diets, carbohydrates were thrown out the window and replaced by protein. At least by the general public! This focus on carbohydrates verses protein triggered new research into the role carbohydrates play in a healthy diet.
The new research shows that carbohydrates have a major impact on heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and digestive health. The Nurses’ Health Study shows that the type of carbohydrate impacts fertility. Eating easily digested carbohydrates (simple carbohydrates or what is now referred to as fast carbs) increases the chance of ovulatory infertility. Choosing slowly digested carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates or what is now referred to as slow carbs) that are rich in fiber can improve fertility.
Additional research has shown that a diet rich in slow carbs and fiber prior to pregnancy helps to prevent gestational diabetes; a common problem for pregnant women and their babies. Why? Because carbohydrates are the main nutrient that determines your blood sugar and insulin levels! When they rise too high they disrupt the finely tuned balance of hormones necessary for reproduction.
The absorption speed of carbohydrates has given rise to the Glycemic Index. This index is a measurement of how quickly carbohydrates are turned into blood sugar. The higher the index the faster they’re turned into blood sugar. Combine this with your total carbohydrate intake and you have the Glycemic Load. The researchers found that women with the highest glycemic load were 92 percent more likely to have ovulatory infertility. This means that eating more slow carbs with fiber improves fertility.
KEY OBSERVATION: Since fast carbs disrupt the finely tuned balance of hormones needed for reproduction, just think how they may affect other hormonal issues!
Fats – Natural verses Artificial!
It has long been know by midwives, doctors, and fertility researchers that body fat and energy stores affect reproduction. Women who don’t have enough stored energy (code word for fat) have trouble ovulating or may even stop menstruating altogether. Women with too much stored fat also have difficulty conceiving. What the researchers wanted to find out was whether dietary fats had an influence on ovulation and reproduction.
Two important pieces of information emerged from the Nurses’ Health Study. The intake of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and cholesterol wasn’t connected with ovulatory infertility. The study suggested fat intake may actually improve the menstrual cycle. However, trans fats were a completely different story.
Trans fats were shown to be a powerful deterrent to both ovulation and conception. Trans fats are artificial fats. The study clearly showed that the greater the trans fat intake, the greater the likelihood of developing ovulatory infertility. The effect showed up even when the trans fat intake was as low as four grams per day. Four grams of trans fat would be the equivalent of two tablespoons of stick margarine, one medium order of french fries or one doughnut.
KEY OBSERVATION: There has been a big push to eliminate trans fats from both processed and fast foods. Your elimination of trans fats from your diet and replacing them with natural fats will go a long way to improving your overall health and wellness!
Protein – Animal or Plant!
Americans like their protein. Beef is still the first choice followed by chicken, pork and then fish. Beans are a distant fifth. Too bad! Beans are an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. According to the Nurses’ Health Study, the women who got their protein from plant sources rather then from animals took a big step toward improved fertility. The following will show you how significant this was:
KEY OBSERVATION: Animal protein doesn’t just adversely affect fertility. Current research shows that it has a direct influence on cancer!
Body Weight – Your BMI!
Like it or not your weight has an impact on fertility. Weighing too little or weighing too much can interfere with ovulation. Additionally, the dangers of being overweight or underweight can also extend to the woman’s baby. The Nurses’ Health Study showed a strong connection between weight and fertility. To help quantify this, the researchers used Body Mass Indexes (BMI) to help provide some guidelines.
Women with BMIs that ranged from 20 to 24 improved their chances for fertility. In fact, the authors of this study call this range the Fertility Zone. If you are not in the Fertility Zone don’t fret. For those who are too lean, then gaining 5 to 10 pounds can help improve your fertility. For those overweight, losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight can also improve your fertility. It is what I call “The 10% Solution” and it can be found in my article, “Healthy Weight Management Suggestions!”
KEY OBSERVATION: Weight doesn’t just affect women. Overweight men aren’t as fertile as normal weight men. Excess weight lowers testosterone levels and hinders sperm production!
Exercise – Is It Important?
The answer is YES! Inactivity saps the body of its ability to respond to insulin and makes you less efficient in absorbing blood sugar. Physical activity and exercise work to improve the body’s use of insulin. It also helps you become more efficient in absorbing blood sugar and then utilizing it rather than storing it as fat. The Nurses’ Health Study showed that exercise can be a boon for fertility.
It’s always important to check with your physician or health care provider before you start an exercise program. Once you have the OK, then it’s important to get at least 30 minutes per day. Your exercise program should include aerobic activities, strength training and stretching. If at all possible try to incorporate your exercise into daily living such as:
KEY OBSERVATION: Exercise not only improves fertility but also improves how you look and feel about yourself. This translates to improved health and wellness and will reduce your biological age!
Walter Willett, the senior author of the Harvard School of Public Health study had this to say:
“The key message of this paper is that making the right dietary choices and including the right amount of physical activity in your daily life may make a large difference in your probability of becoming fertile if you are experiencing problems with ovulation.”
The same could also be said if you are experiencing health and wellness problems. Taking the information gleaned from the Nurses’ Health Study and applying them to the aging process, you have the following key points:
The recommendations of The Fertility Diet will improve a women’s fertility and positively impact a person’s overall health and wellness. The enjoyable side benefit is that they also improve the sexual health of men and women.
Until next time, may we both age youthfully!
P.S. The following articles will provide you with additional information on sexual health:
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