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Can A Mediterranean Diet Boost Fertility?

March 21, 2010

A new study suggests that women who stick to a diet consisting of vegetables, vegetable oils and fish could have a much better chance of becoming pregnant after fertility treatments.

Reuters reports that research of 161 couples undergoing fertility treatment in the Netherlands showed that women whose eating habits were much like the traditional Mediterranean diet were 40 percent more likely to become pregnant than those who did not follow the diet closely.

The study does not prove that the diet itself boosts the success of fertility treatments. Researchers separated couples into groups based on diet patterns and then followed their outcomes after fertility treatment. The study was strictly “observational”.

The findings point to a possible role the diet plays in the success of fertility treatment, according to the researchers. Dr. Regine P.M. Steegers-Theunissen of Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, who led the study, suggested that couples considering fertility treatments eat a balanced diet that includes vegetables, beans and fish, she said in an email to Reuters Health.

Before the treatment, the couples filled out detailed questionnaires on their eating habits over the previous month. When the data was compiled, researchers discovered there were two common diet patterns among women: the aforementioned Mediterranean diet and the “health-conscious” diet, which included fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and fish, and low in meats and snack foods.

When the researchers considered factors along with diet — including women’s age, body weight, and drinking and smoking habits — there was no relationship between the health-conscious diet and pregnancy rates.

The study showed that those who followed the Mediterranean diet very closely were 40 percent more likely to become pregnant. Although, pregnancy outcomes were not assessed, so the diet’s relationship to actual childbirth is not clear.

The two diets were very similar, but there are potential reasons why the health-conscious diet might affect the success of fertility treatments.

Vegetable oils, which contain omega-6 fatty acids, are precursors to hormone-like substance in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are involved in the menstrual cycle, ovulation and pregnancy maintenance. The study found that women who adhered to the Mediterranean diet also benefited from higher levels of vitamin B6, which researchers found increase the chances of conception.

Still, the study could not account for all factors that might explain the connection between the Mediterranean diet and pregnancy rates. Proving that the diet itself offers the most benefits would require a clinical trial where women are randomly assigned to follow either one diet or the other. Unfortunately, according to Steegers-Theunissen, “this will be hardly feasible.”

Reults of the study we published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

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