It is estimated that one in six UK couples experience difficulty in conceiving, with poor diet, stress, maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle issues such as smoking and drinking considered major contributory factors.
There is lots of helpful information on the NHS website (links below) and as they note “For some, adopting a healthier lifestyle through simple lifestyle changes, or staying up to date with regular health checks and tests, may help to prevent infertility. ”
Preconception is an important time, during which both prospective parents can prepare their bodies by ensuring a healthy diet and good nutrition to assist fertility and conception. A nutritionally replete diet and healthy lifestyle can assist in sustaining a healthy pregnancy and providing your baby with as healthy a start as possible.
Forward planning is the optimal approach for conception and pregnancy as baby’s development is well underway once pregnancy has been confirmed. So planning for a healthy baby needs to begin as soon as possible, ideally 6 months before conception, or at least 3 months, as it is during this time that the sperm and ova commence their maturation process. Both are extremely vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies and toxins at this stage.
When Planning ahead for a healthy pregnancy should include a review of:
Weight: Those who are significantly under or over weight may find increased difficulty in conceiving. It has been found that women of a healthy weight for their height frequently find it easier to conceive. Women who are underweight or overweight ovulate (release an egg) less regularly, or sometimes not at all, compared to women of a healthy weight.
You should not be attempting to conceive and be dieting at the same time, particularly any form of crash dieting, severe exclusion diets or detoxification diets.
Diet: Now is the time to review your diet, if you do not already follow a healthy eating regime. Your diet should include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, organic if possible, and provide a balanced diet including a good variety of foods providing protein, whole grains and essential fats. Avoid where possible processed and packaged foods. You can eat wild salmon, herring, sardines and trout beneficially 2-3 times a week, but avoid marlin, swordfish and shark as the mercury toxicity is the highest levels in these fish. Limit fresh tuna to no more than 2 steaks per week or 4 medium-sized cans a week.
If you are not a great fish or shellfish eater to ensure adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids we would recommend that you consider a suitable fish oils supplement; they come in a liquid or capsule form (make sure it is derived from a sustainable source and free from heavy metals and other contaminants). Vegetarians and vegans Omega 3 supplements are also available such as Flaxseed Oil (in liquid or capsules).
It is important that anyone taking blood thinning medication such as Warfarin or Heparin should discuss the taking of ‘essential fatty acid’ oils (e.g. Omega 3 and 6 supplements) with their medical consultant prior to starting any such supplements.
Cigarettes: If either of you or both of you smoke, now is a good time for you and your partner to give up.
Caffeine: An excessive consumption of caffeine is not desirable. Review your intake of tea, coffee and caffeine-based drinks: remember cola (for example) contains large amounts of caffeine, sugar and/ or sweeteners.
Alcohol: Reduce your alcohol intake now: it will be easier to follow an alcohol-free pregnancy if you reduce your levels now. Although there is no conclusive evidence that smoking and alcohol affects sperm production and motility in men most professionals would advise dads-to-be to keep their intake to a minimum.
Contraceptives: Try to give up hormonal contraceptives in advance of planned conception. The contraceptive pill and coil tend to result in nutritional imbalances. Consider barrier methods of contraception until your body is clear of the artificial hormones.
Medication: Review any herbal supplements and non-prescription medication you are taking. These may not be safe to take during early pregnancy, and some may affect your ability to conceive: check the manufacturer’s instructions on all medications. Even a regular ‘pain killer’ may have a manufacturer’s warning to avoid in pregnancy. For all prescription drugs, ensure that you discuss their suitability during conception and pregnancy with your GP.
Exercise: Keeping fit and healthy is important: however, excessive exercising can reduce your ability to conceive. Future fathers should be aware that for those who cycle regularly over long distances or periods of time this can potentially reduce their fertility.
Visit your dentist: Although dental treatment is free during pregnancy*, this is not the time to need amalgam fillings to be removed or added due to the presence of mercury. Better to ensure that your teeth and gums are healthy and any fillings are replaced before pregnancy.
Gingivitis which causes gum inflammation and bleeding is common during pregnancy due to hormone balance changes. Make sure you maintain good dental hygiene and get your teeth regularly cleaned.
*You’re entitled to free NHS dental treatment if you’re pregnant and for 12 months after the baby’s birth when you’re accepted for the course of treatment. Link below for full details.
Dads To Be: Nutrition has a direct impact on the potency of your sperm. Research shows that poor eating habits and regular consumption of alcohol, for instance, can lower the quality of your sperm, making conception more difficult and influence the birth weight of your baby.
We would suggest that you consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure that you include all the important nutrients. Some of the most important nutrients at this time for men to ensure a healthy and plentiful supply of sperm are folic acid, zinc, selenium, vitamin C and additional antioxidants (full details below).
Water: We would advocate a good intake of fresh, clean water for everybody and certainly when planning pregnancy and during pregnancy when fluid needs are high.
Some people question the intake of large amounts of tap water when pregnant due to the inclusion of chemicals and fluoride. You can of course check with your local water authority as to what chemicals are added to the water supply in your area.
Supplements: A number of nutrients are known to be essential for both conception and a healthy pregnancy, and supplementing with a multivitamin and mineral can ensure that levels are elevated to optimal or near optimal levels, dependent on diet. Ensure that any supplements are suitable for conception and pregnancy: supplementing with high dose individual nutrients is not recommended.
The most common vitamins and minerals relating to preconception are:
Folic Acid: Folate is derived from the term ‘foliage’ which indicates where this vitamin is predominately found – in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Folate is part of the water-soluble ‘B-Complex’ vitamins and Folate is necessary for proper brain function as it is concentrated in the spinal and extra cellular fluids. Folic acid plays an important role toward the production of RNA and DNA as it helps in the formation of red blood cells and nucleic acids. Folic acid is vital for the baby during early pregnancy not only is it needed by the baby for the development of the neural tubes, but also by the mother.
The Department of Health have stated: “Women who are planning a pregnancy or might become pregnant, or who are already pregnant, should also take folic acid supplement and vitamin D supplements”
As Methylfolate is the most natural, stable, safe and bioeffective form of Folate (Folic Acid) it is ideal as a supplement for pregnant women and women planning pregnancy and the form we would recommend.
Some studies also give some evidence of a link between folate intake and sperm abnormalities and hence a suitable intake of Methylfolate for dads to be may be appropriate.
Selenium: Selenium is a mineral that plays an important role in our immune system’s function and in reproduction. Good food sources of selenium include brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs.
Selenium is a natural antioxidant that protects against free radicals and the mineral is necessary for the production of ‘prostaglandins’ and as such plays an important role in maintaining thyroid functions and male fertility and reproductive functions.
Selenium has a number of approved health claims and this includes “Selenium contributes to normal spermatogenesis” so we can see its importance for dads to be and male preconception planning.
Zinc: Zinc is the second most abundant trace mineral in the body, being present in all tissues. Zinc has a wide variety of functions including growth and human development, the healthy functioning of the immune system, and the maintenance of healthy skin, hair, nails and bone.
Soil exhaustion and the processing of food adversely affect the zinc value of the food we eat. Diets high in protein, whole-grain products, brewer’s yeast, wheat bran, wheat germ, herring and pumpkin and squash seeds are usually high in zinc. approved health claims for zinc include:
- Zinc Contributes to the maintenance of normal serum testosterone concentrations
- Zinc Contributes to normal fertility and reproduction
B-Complex Vitamins: Are necessary for the normal functioning of the nervous system and may be the single most important factor in the maintenance of the nerves. The water solubility of the B-Complex vitamins means that any excess is excreted and not stored; therefore they must be continually replaced. Stress and excess alcohol rapidly deplete our b-complex vitamin levels.
We have already discussed the B-Complex vitamin Folic Acid and B-Vitamins typically feature in multivitamin and mineral supplements specifically formulated for preconception planning. The B-Vitamins bestow a wide range of health benefits for preconception and pregnancy; for example the B6 Vitamin Pyridoxine (or Pyridoxal) contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity.
Amino acids: L-Arginine, an amino acid found in many foods, is essential for sperm production. We would recommend including foods rich in L-Arginine to your diet before choosing to supplement. Food sources include meat, fish, dairy, nuts and grains – particularly oats and wheat germ.
For those who wish to include an L-Arginine supplement, we would recommend that you consult your doctor or a qualified practitioner as this may not be suitable for all, particularly those who are susceptible to herpes (cold sores or genital herpes) and those taking certain prescribed medication.
L-Carnitine, an amino acid, is essential for the normal functioning of sperm cells.
Food sources include meat, poultry, fish and dairy.
We would reiterate that if you are looking at taking supplements supplementing with high dose individual nutrients is not recommended. There are multivitamin and mineral supplements specifically formulated for preconception planning, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
If you have any questions regarding this article, preconception or pregnancy planning or any other health matters please do contact me (Amanda) by phone or email at any time.