"Gardeners know that you must nourish the soil if you want healthy plants. You must water the plants adequately, especially when seeds are germinating and sprouting, and they should be planted in a nutrient-rich soil. Why should nutrition matter less in the creation of young humans than it does in young plants?"
Ina May Gaskin 'Ina May's Guide to Childbirth'
Whether you are trying to conceive naturally or you are undergoing fertility treatment, the period of time before you conceive gives you a window of opportunity to evaluate your nutrition and general lifestyle.
Preconception: The window of opportunity
The 3 months prior to conception are thought to be the most influential. During this time, immature eggs, known as oocytes, mature enough to be released during ovulation and sperm cells to develop before being ready for ejaculation. You and your partner's nutrient intake greatly influence's the quality and efficiency of this process and the opportunity to create a healthy pregnancy.
Over and above providing the healthy foundation stones, dietary changes and improving nutrient stores may also help to correct factors that may be affecting your ability to conceive such as low sperm count or hormonal imbalances during the menstrual cycle.
Nutrition is the foundation for you and your baby
Studies have shown that couples who have made changes to their diet and lifestyle improved chance so healthy conception by 80% but research has shown us that the benefits extend way beyond a healthy conception and pregnancy. Indeed, your nutritional status during the preconception period is now understood to sow the seeds of health for your growing baby in infancy, such as reducing risk of atopic conditions such as asthma and eczema, as well as chronic health conditions in adulthood such as diabetes.
Nourishing your nutritional status at preconception can also influence milk production during breastfeeding and reduce the potential of post-partum depression.
Should I use supplements?
It is now medically accepted that certain vitamins and minerals can increase your chances of getting and staying pregnancy by supporting hormone balance, healthy egg and sperm development. However, increasing research is showing us that today's environment is not as fertile-friendly for both plant and human as it once was. Much of the foods we eat have been grown on exhausted soil, intensively farmed, picked before ripe and travelled many miles from source before reaching our plates. As a result, a large proportion of our food is lacking in much needed trace minerals and vitamins. Studies have shown that couples who took nutritional supplements to support a healthy diet, had quicker conception rates than those who did not.
The Folic Acid debate
Folic acid is in the 3 months before and during pregnancy is advisable to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. However recently concerns have been raised about the use of synthetic Folic acid in supplements and the body's ability to metabolise it in this form.Folate crosses the placenta only in the form of the naturally occurring isomer, not as synthetic isolated folic acid and the use of food-sourced folic acid (such as those found in Food-State Supplements) is considered favourable by many for this reason.
Other key nutrients to support pre-conception are:
B Vitamins The entire B Vitamin family is important during conception and fetal development. However Vitamin B6 has been shown to support cycle regularity and redress imbalance in hormonal conditions such as fibroids, endometriosis or PMS. Research has shown that giving B6 to women who have trouble conceiving increases fertility. Vitamin B12 has been shown to improve low sperm count and reduce blood stickiness.
Zinc Contributes to normal fertility and reproduction, cell division and protection of cells from oxidative stress. Zinc also contributes to normal DNA synthesis. Deficiency is common (especially in those with a history of the contraceptive pill) and can affect sperm and ova production.
L-Methionine All amino acids perform a vital role in the body and egg production. However L-Methionine, is an essential amino-acid that plays a role in hormone stability and therefore supports cycle regularity. It also protects cellular DNA from damage during the pre-conceptual period.
Beta-Carotene is a plant pigment that is converted to Vitamin A in the body. Conversion only occurs as and when the body needs it to and therefore avoids any concern with Vitamin A toxicity during early pregnancy. The corpus luteum has the highest concentration of beta-carotene in the body. As the corpus luteum also produces progesterone, beta-carotene can influence cycle regularity and the early stages of pregnancy.
Vitamin D The latest research has demonstrated how important sufficient vitamin D is for a healthy conception.Food-State Vitamin D has been verified by Dr Jeffrey Bland as the active food form of Vitamin D and includes a significant quantity of vitamin D metabolites including D1, 2, and D4.
Vitamin E. Another antioxidant shown to benefit fertility in both men and women, Supplementing with Vitamin E during the IVF has improved fertilization rates.
Selenium. A healthy level of this trace mineral has been to improve low sperm count and healthy sperm formation. As an antioxidant it has also been shown to reduce oxidative damage associated with chromosome breakage and miscarriage.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant shown to reduce excess histamine. Excess histamine has shown to have an influence on cervical mucus production. It also acts as a protectant against oxidative damage to sperm.
Choline. This member of the B vitamin family supports normal liver and lipid metabolism. Liver health significantly affects hormone balance in both men and women. It plays a central role in foetal brain development.
Omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fats support hormone balance, the nutrient absorption of fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin E, D and K. They also form a large part of the head of sperm and can therefore influence sperm quality and mobility.
Co-Enzyme Q10. Recent research has shown that Co-Enzyme Q10 has been shown to protect ova and sperm from oxidative damage as well as support healthy cell division in the first stages of pregnancy.
Beyond Nutrition: The influence of stress
Getting as healthy as possible during the preconception window is about nourishing your body and your mind. Stress is not the preserve of the over-worked as often thought of. In fact, under-achieving, dissatisfaction with where you are in your life, under and over exercising are all potential 'stressors' to the body.
When your body experience's stress it adopts a 'fight-or-flight' response. This triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. This affects digestion, blood pressure, circulation and brain function and over time, other areas of health such as hormone balance and nutrient levels. Supporting my clients in managing their stress levels is a primary focus with many of my clients in clinic.
If you do not have the resources to see a qualified Nutritional Therapist you may want to consider following my fertility programme. I have put together the plan to support you and your partner with the nutritional tools to nourish your fertile soil. It includes our Food-State Fertility formulation for Men and our Food-State Fertility formula for Women as well as a High Strength Omega 3 for both of you. You will also have access to a downloadable booklet with information on what, when and how to eat to build your preconception foundation as well as recipes and detail on environmental factors to be mindful of.
Steegers - Theunissen et al. (2009) Periconceptional maternal folci acid use of 400mcg per day is related to increased methylation of the IGF2 gene in the very young child. PLoS One, 4, e7845.
Haggarty P (2007) B Vitamins, genotype and disease causality. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 66, 539-47.
Casas et al (2005) Homeocysteine and stroke: evidence on a causal link from mendelian randomization. Lancet, 365, 224-32