The chance of conception occurring in a single cycle of IVF treatment is 25 percent on average with marked variations based on the female partner’s age. It would, therefore, be prudent to do whatever one can to improve the chances of a positive outcome. The importance of a good diet and exercise as part of a daily routine cannot be overestimated. Good exercise and diet habits are an integral part of any lifestyle but have also been found to be beneficial for both men and women trying to conceive.
Studies have shown that women who are overweight often have problems with ovulation, menstruation and conception. Obese women have also been found not to respond as well as their slimmer counterparts to the fertility injections. On the other hand women who are underweight may have anovulatory (no ovulation and no menstruation) cycles which in themselves present other problems.
Thus, attaining and maintaining the ideal weight will improve the chances of achieving a pregnancy.
According to Dr Richardson Ajayi, Medical Director, The Bridge Clinic, a healthy and balanced diet can be defined as a diet in which nutrient intake (carbohydrates, protein, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins) is maintained, and cholesterol, salt, sugar and fats is reduced. The idea of a healthy diet is often used to ensure that people are well protected against common illnesses, as well as conditions which stem from poor diet; to which many problems such as headaches, lethargy, reduced. libido, heart disease, alcohol poisoning, and obesity may be attributed. In addition to this, a well balanced diet is essential to any form of exercise, as without a good diet, the body will not have the fuel to recover from the stress of exercise.
“Following a healthy fertility diet is not about deprivation, nor is it about loading up on so-called miracle foods” that are reported to increase fertility. It is about giving the body what it needs, in the right amounts. The key ingredient is balance. Women going through fertility treatment are advised to cut back on fats.
“However it is well known that fat is necessary for proper body functioning. Without it, the body’s systems will not operate normally. Some sources of fat are better than others and too much fat has adverse effects on the body. The same holds true for carbohydrates and protein. A balanced fertility diet will incorporate each of these in the appropriate amounts, along with other key nutrients. Because even the healthiest and most diverse diet won’t necessarily provide all of the vitamins and minerals that the body needs, a multivitamin is recommended as well.
“Women who are overweight tend to have more fat in their bodies and, because 30 percent of oestrogen comes from fat cells, this means they usually have more oestrogen. This can affect ovulation, menstruation and conception negatively. Women who are overweight also tend to be more resistant to insulin. Insulin resistance can force the body to produce excess levels of insulin, which can inhibit ovulation.
“For obese women who have underlying fertility problems, weight loss can improve the chances of success because excess body fat makes patients resistant to the effects of fertility medications and increases the risk of complications during treatment with assisted reproductive technologies (ART). By following a fertility diet and exercise plan for a period of time prior to undergoing treatment, most women can significantly improve their chances of conceiving.
“Obese women are at risk for miscarriage, gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, preterm delivery, macrosomia, low birth weight, stillbirth, delivery via operative route, and postoperative complications. Underweight women are also at risk for miscarriage, low birth weight, preterm delivery, and stillbirth. It is therefore important to have and maintain the right body weight before and during IYF treatment to optimize the chances of conceiving and delivering a healthy baby.
“Advice for a healthy fertility diet would be to eat foods that are as natural .as possible. Avoid chocolate, sugary foods, salty snacks, processed foods, coffee, tea, and cola. Fizzy drinks and alcohol add to the bloated feeling many women complain about during ovarian stimulation. Drinking a minimum of 2 litres of water a day is highly recommended.
“PCOS, also known as Anovulation Androgen Excess (AAE), is a key cause of obesity in women undergoing fertility treatment. It is a condition in which women have high levels of male hormones (androgens). These hormones playa role in blocking the release of the egg from the follicle and in the overproduction of the female hormone, oestrogen. As a result the ovaries fill with cysts or create immature follicles that are unable to generate eggs.
“Insulin seems to be a key factor in PCOS. Many women with PCOS have increased insulin resistance. High levels of insulin in the blood lead to the ovaries producing too much androgen. Excess insulin also leads to excess glucose in the blood, and sets the conditions for prediabetes, and weight gain. If untreated, PCOS can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.
“Clinically, if you have two out of three of the following symptoms you will most likely be diagnosed with PCOS. irregular, few, or absent menstrual periods, androgen excess – clinical or biochemical (excessive body hair, acne, loss of head hair, increased testosterone in the blood) and polycystic ovaries (ovaries with 10 or more follicles)
“Insulin is a hormone that regulates the change of sugar, starches, and other food into energy for the body’s use or for storage. Excess insulin causes a rise in male hormones, which can lead to acne, excessive hair growth, weight gain, and ovulation problems.
“Insulin insensitivity contributes to weight gain, especially around the abdomen and makes it harder to lose the weight. This excess fat sets up a negative feed back system where high blood levels of the fat derived hormone, leptin, increases the appetite and inhibits the production of female fertility hormones.
Continuing, he said, just losing 5 to 10 percentage of your body weight can be enough to bring on monthly ovulatory cycles. A combination of weight loss, diet, exercise, and mind body techniques can be extremely effective in eliminating peas symptoms, getting ovulation on track, and reversing the negative effects of stress.
“The benefits of exercise are numerous and enhance the overall health status of the individual. Studies have shown that regular exercise: improves the chances of living longer improves quality of life, reduces the risk of heart disease helps lower high blood pressure, helps prevent or control type 2 diabete, reduces the risk of arthritis and alleviates associated symptoms, alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety
“By exercising on a regular basis, women can help reduce their body fat and oestrogen levels. Low impact exercises are best. Some examples of these include walking, swimming, cycling and yoga. These exercises have low impact on the muscles and the joints and are good cardiovascular workouts. Gradually increase the exercise to 30minutes, 3 to 4 times a week so as not to cause any injuries.
“Men can also make adjustments to maximize their reproductive potential and ensure a happy, healthy baby. Proper diet, exercise, reduced stress and a healthy lifestyle not only improve personal wellbeing but can boost reproductive success as well!
“Do not start any new exercise, sport or event training within 3 months of starting IVF and ensure that jogging is kept below 20 miles per week. Over exercise can affect male fertility by causing the internal temperature of a man’s testicles to rise, which kills sperm cells.
“Another issue couples getting ready for IVF treatment face is stress. The stress of taking daily injections, the side effects the drugs cause, the stress of having been without a child for so long, and stress from family and in-laws. The distress caused by stress can really take its toll on fertility. Stress can make it difficult to be intimate with your partner. Stress can also trigger a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular problems and depression. Stress can also interfere with ovulation and menstruation, as well as sperm health and motility.
“One of the single biggest stumbling blocks that fertility patients face when trying to lose weight is relying on food to cope with stress and other emotional issues. Struggling with infertility can be a very intense experience and, in order to have success with a fertility diet and exercise program, it is necessary to acknowledge and address the impulse to eat in response to emotional upheaval.
“Exercise can also help to relieve stress. Deep meditation exercises go a long way in releasing stress and tension. Yoga and pilates are particularly effective,” he said.