Can a 'fertility diet' really help you conceive? In some cases, yes

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 3/13/2019, 11:50 a.m.
When it comes to diets, there are many varieties from which to choose: weight loss, plans to lower cholesterol and ...
When it comes to diets, there are many varieties from which to choose: weight loss, plans to lower cholesterol and manage diabetes, and foods to fuel endurance athletes. Now, there's a diet that claims it can boost a woman's chances of having a baby.

By Lisa Drayer, CNN

(CNN) -- When it comes to diets, there are many varieties from which to choose: weight loss, plans to lower cholesterol and manage diabetes, and foods to fuel endurance athletes. Now, there's a diet that claims it can boost a woman's chances of having a baby.

The diet was developed by Drs. Jorge Chavarro and Walter Willett, both of the Harvard School of Public Health, based on their extensive data analysis of the Nurses' Health Study, one of the largest and longest-running studies of women's health in America.

After reviewing the diets of more than 18,000 women who did not have a history of infertility but who were trying to get pregnant, they found that the quality of your diet, along with how active you are and whether you smoke, can stack the reproductive deck in your favor.

For those having trouble conceiving, "high-tech medicine isn't the only answer," Chavarro and Willett wrote in their book, "The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals Natural Ways to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant."

What other experts say

Other experts say Chavarro and Willett's diet may be helpful to improve fertility for women with ovulatory disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome, often called PCOS. "It is an overall healthy way of eating and can help women improve their intake of key nutrients for conception and pregnancy," said Vandana Sheth, registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Dr. Marie Menke, assistant professor and director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, agreed: "If you are going to be searching for a fertility diet, this is a good place to start. Research shows an association between this dietary pattern and a reduced risk of infertility in some women."

Experts agree that the diet has positive attributes, but some question whether the real benefit comes from losing weight rather than the quality of one's diet.

Carrying excess pounds can affect egg quality, explained Dr. Amanda Kallen, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale Fertility Center. Also, women who are overweight or obese are more likely to have imbalances in insulin levels, in testosterone levels and in levels of FSH and LSH, and these hormones drive the growth of follicles and ovulation, Kallen explained.

"There's definitely data to suggest that coming back to normal weight can help those problems and promote ovulation, but there is not enough data to conclude definitively that one diet helps more than another."

Martha McKittrick, a registered dietitian and PCOS expert, said, "I've had many women who lost weight and got pregnant. The question is, did they get pregnant because they lost weight, or because they followed the other recommendations from the fertility diet?

"If a woman is overweight and trying to conceive, I try to help them lose weight. That, to me, is number one," McKittrick said. "Losing 10% of your weight (or 20 pounds if you weigh 200) improves insulin sensitivity and helps women with PCOS ovulate."