This month’s blog post is inspired by Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian Cancer is a malignant tumour found in one or both ovaries and is the 8th most common cancer affecting women in Australia. (1) Most often the treatment for this cancer may result in infertility. Infertility itself is not an uncommon issue amongst aspiring parents. Around 8-12% of reproductive couples around the world experience infertility. (2) Modern sciences have made great progress in assisted reproductive methods, which helps hopeful parents overcome infertility issues and becoming pregnant.
Eating the right type of food while planning your pregnancy is important. What you eat is able to influence your own health as well as your baby’s. “The first 1000 days” theory states that the nutrition during the pregnancy period and first 2 years of the child’s life is vital. (3-4) However new research has shown that health and lifestyle choices of the parents during the 6 months prior to conceiving are just as essential. (5)
Couples that are going through assisted reproductive methods, such as IVF, IUI or GIFT, tend to have the planning time before implantation, which can be useful in optimising parents’ health. While there is still growing research in this area, there are some common nutrition tips that can help to maximise your health prior to collection and implantation.
IVF & CURRENT HEALTHY EATING RECOMMENDATIONS
The best guide to achieving your required food intake is by following the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. (6) Generally, the advice given is to maintain healthy weight, eating a wide variety of foods from each food group and reducing ‘sometimes’ foods. Diet plays a big role in impacting your egg health and is no different for women undergoing IVF treatment. (3)
Eating a variety of foods with important nutrients can help to reduce oxidative stress which can impact the outcome of the treatment. A combination of exercise and diet is recommended to help increase chances of implantation. Some of the dietary components to focus on, when you are undergoing IVF treatment are: Folate, Omega-3, Iron and Zinc.
IMPORTANT VITAMINS & MINERALS TO CONSIDER
FOLATE – Also known as Vitamin B9 or folic acid, folate is found in foods such as vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, peas), cereals, kidney beans and liver. (7-8) Folate is important in forming your red blood cells and reducing risk of birth defects, such as neural tube defect. (7) In 2009, the Australian New Zealand Food Standards code implemented fortification of breads with folic acid to reduce incidence of birth defects. (9) Having a good amount of folate in your diet is especially important if you are planning for pregnancy. This is not only to help avoid any issues at birth, but it can also help the mother to feel more energetic
OMEGA 3 – Commonly found in seafood (mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines), nuts & seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts) and oils (canola, soy, flaxseed). (11) Research has shown that Omega-3 has reduced incidence of heart disease and is important for overall health. (12) For women who are planning for pregnancy, especially IVF, omega-3 can be beneficial for egg health. (12-13) Omega-3 is able to improve fertility, even in IVF, reduce stress on reproductive organs and minimise damage to eggs. (13) Omega-3 has shown to prolong reproductive function even in advanced maternal age.
IRON: Iron is important in many body functions, including transporting oxygen, providing energy and maintaining a good immune system. (14) During pregnancy there is an increased need for iron, and it is best to optimise your levels prior to implantation. (15) The reason for this being, there is a high incidence of pregnancy related anemia which can be difficult to deal with during pregnancy. The best sources for iron are meats (beef, kangaroo, chicken, fish) and even vegetarian sources such as green leafy vegetables, beans, lentils, cereals and whole grains. (14) There are even ways to help increase iron absorption in the body, by having foods rich in Vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, avoiding overconsumption of tea, coffee and alcohol.
ZINC – Another mineral that is important in helping to improve egg health is zinc. Recent research has shown that an increase in zinc consumption has helped to improve implantation and progression towards pregnancy. (16) Zinc is known to be part of your basic building blocks for new cells, therefore would be needed for conception. Higher zinc levels have shown to be effective in IVF outcomes. Good food sources of zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, cereals and dairy products. (17)
OTHER DIETARY CONSIDERATIONS
FOODS TO AVOID – It is important to try and avoid foods that might reduce the effectiveness of IVF and increase foods that support the treatment, yourself and encourage implantation. As preconception time is considered to be a critical period, it is best to avoid foods that can cause any nutritional concerns. (3) Some of these foods include alcohol, caffeine, trans fat and refined carbs.
As mentioned previously, alcohol and caffeine both impact on the absorption of iron. (14) This also applies to the other vitamins and minerals that are important in increasing egg health, such as folate, zinc and omega-3. Regular alcohol consumption may lead to adverse results during IVF treatment and does not have any benefit to egg health. (18) The same is seen with caffeine intake, however this does not mean you need to stop drinking your favourite morning brew. As long as you are having your coffee or tea in moderation, around 3 cups a day, there is no reason to stop drinking. (19)
Junk foods such as your soda drinks, candies, crisps should be considered as ‘sometimes’ foods. Just like your coffee, you are still allowed to indulge in having these foods occasionally. The issue with these foods is that they contain trans fats which can increase inflammation, stress on the organs and risk of heart conditions and diabetes. (20) Some research has also shown a reduction in IVF fertilisation rate if there is over consumption of these sometimes foods.
VEGETARIAN & VEGAN DIETS
For women who are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it might be difficult to obtain some of the important vitamins and minerals to improve egg health. Sources of folate, omega-3, iron and zinc typically are meat sources. However, there are some vegetable and grain sources that also have these nutrients. (7-8,11-12,14,17,21-22) Iron, for example, have other methods of increasing absorption from vegetable sources, by having citrus fruits which contain Vitamin C. (14) Zinc can also be found in plant based dairy products, however, in small amounts. People following vegan diets can also have other soy products such as tofu and tempeh and lentils to increase zinc in their diet. (23)
ENJOY YOUR MEALS!
While it may feel there are a lot of considerations that need to be done prior to egg collection, which may be overwhelming, only small dietary changes need to be made in order to improve your egg health. The main takeaway message should be to include a wide variety of healthy foods in your diet to help improve the outcome of the IVF treatment.
As mentioned, including foods with good sources of folate, omega-3, iron and zinc can help to improve your fertility and your own health. Avoiding foods that don’t have much nutritional contribution and that may reduce the absorption of helpful nutrients will also be helpful in reducing stress on reproductive organs and risk of any conditions. All in all, have fun while eating your meals and take care of your health during these exciting times. Talk to one of our Accredited Practicing Dietitians for more information regarding your nutrition.