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What should men eat for fertility?

December 24, 2018
male fertility diet, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto, fertility naturopath

Spoiler alert: Men can contribute to infertility. 

It’s not just a woman’s issue. And what you’re eating (or not eating), can affect your fertility success. Let’s dive into a couple of things that can help improve sperm parameters in men. 

Fatty Acids and Fertility

The sperm cell membrane high in fatty acids, and these acids are necessary for sperm function. The membrane is pretty important when it comes to fertilization – it helps with cell maturation, penetrating and fusing with the egg. 

The fatty acids that you need to do these jobs can’t be made by your body, so you need to either eat fish, supplement with fish oil, or eat nuts and seeds. Studies have shown that male fertility patients who have a higher intake of omega-3, have more normal sperm. A study looking at walnuts (which are a great source of omega 3s) have been related to higher sperm parameters – vitality, motility (how sperm move), and morphology (how sperm look). Another study showed that men’s fish intake was related to shorter time to pregnancy and a lower risk of infertility. 

It is important to pay attention to mercury levels in fish, and consider avoiding fish with high mercury levels as it may impact fertility. 

Soy and Fertility

Women aren’t the only ones cautious about soy. From my experience, men are pretty fearful too. When we look at the research on dietary soy and men’s health it’s pretty conflicting. While one study mentions that dietary isoflavone intake is associated with higher sperm count and motility, another says that soy intake is associated with lower sperm concentration. 

Here’s the thing, if you’re vegan or vegetarian and soy makes up a large part of your diet, aim for non-GMO and organic sources. 

Dairy & Meat and Fertility

Research on diary and sperm parameters is pretty mixed. One study looking at young men and dairy consumption showed that intake of dairy products (like milk) have been related to lower testosterone, FSH and LH levels. 

When it comes to meat, the same results exist. Some studies show that meat is unrelated to sperm parameters, some show that processed meat affects sperm counts. 

Something to consider though is your cardiovascular health. While that Double Big Mac might not do anything to your sperm, it might affect your heart health! Keep in mind that your body 

Fruits & Vegetables and Fertility

Unsurprisingly, fruits and vegetables are cornerstone of good health. But, many of them are sprayed with pesticides. One study showed that consumption of high-pesticide-residue fruits and vegetable was associated with poor sperm quality in men attending a fertility clinic. 

So what does this mean? Choose organic when eating foods off the Dirty Dozen list. 

Next Steps

Overall, the review that I read didn’t go into as much detail as the female version. However, it did mention that if you’re going to abide by a diet, then the Mediterranean Diet is a good bet. It’s high in seafood, vegetables and fruits, whole grains, etc. Basically you’re not eating processed and packaged foods.  

Changing a diet can be pretty difficult. I’m of the mind of taking it a week at a time, so if you’re introducing a new food or avoiding an old (but problematic) favourite, do it in weekly increments. 

When I was giving up gluten, cow dairy and eggs, I picked one and committed to that for a week, then gave up another, etc. When introducing new foods like salmon, commit to eating it once a week, find different ways to prepare it, etc. Changing your habits around food don’t need to be difficult. But like all things, it does take some work. 

For more information on how you can boost your fertility and improve your sperm parameters, consider working with a naturopathic doctor. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!

Reference

Nassan, F., Chavarro, J. and Tanrikut, C. (2018). Diet and men’s fertility: does diet affect sperm quality?. Fertility and Sterility, 110(4), pp.570-577.

What should women eat for fertility?

December 17, 2018
female fertility diet, toronto naturopath, naturopathic doctor toronto, fertility naturopath

It might come as a surprise that few people think about preconception health. And to be honest, when they do, it’s usually because of fertility struggles. Diet plays a huge role in how we feel and function, and provides the necessary building blocks to support conception.

Carbs and Fertility

Carbs might make up a significant part of your diet. When it comes to nutritional science, there’s a lot of learn about carbs, but I want to focus on 2 things: the glycemic index and glycemic load. 

The glycemic index is a value assigned to a particular food on how fast or slow it causes an increase in your blood glucose level.

The glycemic load combined quality and quantity of carbohydrates. It’s calculated by the amount of food you eat and the glycemic index of the particular food.The glycemic load is also associated with higher risks of ovulatory infertility.

In PCOS, it’s been found that women will often consume foods with a higher glycemic index. When women reduce their carb intake (or perhaps choose carbs with a lower index and load), their insulin sensitivity will improve, testosterone will decrease, and ovulation will occur (this is important, because anovulation is a key symptom in PCOS).

Fats and Fertility

Let’s clear something up. Fat isn’t bad. Yes, some are better than others and there are some you should avoid completely. But you need fat to make hormones, help your eggs mature and to get that tiny blastocyst to implant! 

Unsurprisingly, you should be avoiding trans fats. They increase insulin resistance, may prevent ovulation from happening, and decrease your chance of getting pregnant.

To get into specifics, omega 3 fatty acids are associated with progesterone production in the luteal phase (this is important!) and a reduced risk of anovulation. In women undergoing IVF, omega 3 fatty acid intake was associated with better embryo morphology. 

Protein and Fertility

You should be eating at least 1g of protein per kg of body weight (more if you’re active). Protein comes in different forms: animal and vegetable. One study showed that ovulation was negatively affected by increased animal protein. While another study showed that although fish, eggs, and processed meats didn’t have an effect on ovulation, vegetable protein intake decreased anovulation. Blastocyst formation in assisted reproductive technology decreased in patients consuming more red meat. But it was positively affected by fish consumption.

Now before you head on off to the local fish monger, you want to pay attention to fish and mercury content (as it may interfere with hormones and fertility). Fish to avoid would be bigeye tuna, king mackerel and swordfish.

Soy protein often gets a bad rap, but can actually be beneficial in women seeking fertility treatments. Soy isoflavone supplements were associated with improvement in reproductive outcomes, increased live birth after clomiphene administration, and higher endometrial thickness and ongoing pregnancy rates after IVF and ICSI. 

A couple things to consider before ordering your soy latte – choose organic, non-GMO soy. And if you have a thyroid condition, it’s best to avoid dietary soy altogether.

Next Steps

It might be obvious that a diet that leans towards fast food/processed foods and few fruits and vegetables is probably not the best. And when it comes to a diet in particular, adopting a Mediterranean diet (which basically has a foundation of vegetable and fruit, whole grains and fish) has shown to be effective in a few studies. 

Pesticides and other chemicals in our foods may also affect reproductive success, so if possible, choose organic when you can. Basically, if any of the fruits and vegetables that you eat appear on the Dirty Dozen, eat the organic version instead. 

When choosing meats, aim to get your meats from local farms if possible. And grass-fed and antibiotic-free are great options too. 

 If you found this information helpful, please sign up for my monthly newsletter called The Flow for great and informative content like this!

References

Chiu, Y., Chavarro, J. and Souter, I. (2018). Diet and female fertility: doctor, what should I eat?. Fertility and Sterility, 110(4), pp.560-569.

PCOS and Insulin Resistance

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September 17, 2018
pcos, insulin resistance, naturopathic doctor toronto, toronto naturopath

Now that you are familiar with PCOS and the four types, it’s time to talk about insulin resistance – one of the underlying causes of this syndrome.

What is insulin resistance?

Insulin resistance happens when the cells in the body do not respond normally to insulin.

Insulin, a storage hormone, is produced by the pancreas, in response to whenever we eat food. Insulin will cause the liver and muscle cells to take in glucose/amino acids/fat from the bloodstream (where they will convert it into energy), and this process will ultimately lead to lowered blood sugar and insulin.

When someone is insulin resistant, glucose has a difficult time entering the cell, so it hangs out in the blood for much longer. More insulin is released to push glucose into the cell, causing metabolic dysfunction. Typical symptoms include fatigue after eating, sweet cravings no matter how many sweets you eat, increased thirst and urination.

When someone is insulin resistant, your body needs to make more insulin to get the job done. Too much insulin can cause both inflammation and weight gain which may end up leading to metabolic syndrome – diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In women, insulin resistance may affect ovulation, cause the ovaries to make more androgens, and affect fertility – recurrent miscarriage or inflammatory implantation failure.

Specifically, insulin stimulates testosterone secretion from the ovaries and inhibits sex hormone binding globulin production (which binds to testosterone). This leads to more testosterone in the blood stream which may account for acne, facial hair, and male pattern hair loss (top of the head). 

How to test for insulin resistance?

Although not the gold standard test, using the HOMA-IR calculation can tell you if you have insulin resistance. This test can be relatively simple – you just need 2 blood tests:

  • Fasting insulin, an optimum level less than 50 pmol/L

  • Fasting glucose

Plug these two values into the HOMA-IR calculator, to figure out your score. Ideally, you want a value less than 1.  

How to reverse insulin resistance

One of the best ways to reverse insulin resistance is to balance your blood sugar! This undoubtedly begins with food. 

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a marker used to calculate how quickly a particular food (50g of it) can raise blood sugar levels (over a 2 hour period) compared to pure glucose. The higher the glycemic index, the quicker the blood sugar is raised.

  • High Glycemic Index = 70 or more

  • Low Glycemic Index = 55 or less

Something to keep in mind is that foods are not alike, and neither is the serving size. This brings us to glycemic load. 

Glycemic Load

The glycemic index changes based on the amount of carbohydrates in each food and the serving size. It’s calculated by the amount of food eaten and multiplied by the glycemic index. 

  • High = GL of 20 or more

  • Medium = GL of 11 to 19

  • Low = GL of 10 or less

For example:

  • A typical serving of watermelon may be 1 cup, which has 11 grams of carbohydrates.

    • GI of 72 x 11 gram = 792. Divide by 100 = 7.92

  • A typical serving of regular crust cheese pizza may be one slice, which has 34 grams of carbohydrates.

    • GI of 33 x 34 = 1122. Divide by 100 = 11.22

Food Insulin Index

This index assesses how much insulin the body normally releases in response to food. Certain foods require more insulin, while other foods need much less. Foods with a lower FII can help lessen the insulin demand on your pancreas. 

How to choose the best balancing foods

Keeping the glycemic index, glycemic load, and food insulin index top of mind may be difficult. Let’s talk about what should be plentiful in your diet. 

Fruits & Vegetables

If half of our plate should be made up of plants, then you know that we should be eating a lot of fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Not only are they filled with great vitamins and minerals, they also have a lot of fibre (which will keep us regular!). Focusing on leafy green vegetables is key, but you can also include broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, eggplant, mushrooms, onions and garlic (basically my entire fridge). 

But what about starchy vegetables? While these tends to have a higher glycemic index and load, you can still incorporate them in your diet, albeit in smaller amounts. Squash, sweet potatoes, beets and even white potatoes are considered starchy, but shouldn’t be eliminated from your diet. 

Fruits don’t need to be eliminated either, despite them obviously being high in fructose. You want to enjoy more fruits that have lower sugar – these include avocados, tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries (but choose organic) and lemons!

Fats

Fact: fat is good for you. But the reality is, many fats are highly processed. So which are the ones you should stick to? Avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and ghee (but choose organic, and don’t make this your primary oil).

Animal Protein

Protein (& fat) should always be part of a meal. They help to give you energy, balance blood sugar (by keeping it from spiking), and maintaining satiety. Protein is rich in amino acids which are basically the building blocks of your body. Plus, amino acids help to transport hormones and make sure your liver is detoxing properly. Fat, especially cholesterol, is essential because this is what sex hormones are made of! 

When it comes to meat, chicken is a better option than red meat (although eating it once in a while is fine). A couple of ‘labels’ to pay attention to is organic, grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free. If you can afford to purchase meat with these labels, I encourage you to do so. However, I recognize that this is not an option for everyone (as it can be quite costly), but choosing 1-2 organic options may be the way to start (especially if you eat these on a consistent basis). 

Fish is a great protein option too, but some types can be high in mercury. Nevertheless, Wild Alaskan or Sockeye salmon, mackerel, shrimp, crab, anchovies and mussels are lower in mercury. Wild is better than farmed, which is something to keep in mind especially when buying salmon. 

Eggs should also not be avoided, especially since they’re a great breakfast food (#byecereal)! Eating eggs, in most people, will not raise your cholesterol. In fact, it may raise your good (HDL) cholesterol!

Final Thoughts

If you’ve made it to the end, thanks for sticking with me! Talking about diet and the role it plays in our health can be quite tough. Many of us don’t love overhauling our diet – after all, food plays an important role in our lives. That said, because we need to eat everyday, it’s important to pay attention to what we are putting in our mouths. 

If you think that you might be struggling with PCOS, be sure to read my past articles (what is PCOS, types of PCOS) and consider getting your blood work done.

If you found this information helpful, please sign up for my monthly newsletter called The Flow for great and informative content like this!