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Mediterranean diet linked to fertility

Women who closely adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, vegetable oils and fish have a higher chance of becoming pregnant after infertility treatment.

Mediterranean diet linked to fertility

Women who closely adhere to a Mediterranean-style diet rich in vegetables, vegetable oils and fish have a higher chance of becoming pregnant after infertility treatment.

To investigate associations between preconception dietary patterns and infertility treatment outcomes, researchers followed 161 couples in Netherlands undergoing fertility treatment. Two-thirds underwent in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), while the rest underwent intracytoplasmic sperm injection, or ICSI. The latter is typically used when the man has a low sperm count or poor sperm quality. It involves isolating a single sperm from the man and injecting it into the woman's egg; if fertilisation is successful, the resulting embryo is transferred to the woman's uterus.

Before treatment, the couples completed detailed questionnaires on their eating habits over the past month. When the researchers analysed the data, they identified two common diet patterns among the women: the Mediterranean diet, defined as high in vegetables, vegetable oils, fish and beans, but low in snack foods; and the "health-conscious" diet, which was high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and fish, and low in meat and snack foods.

It was found that the one-third of women who scored highest in adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a pregnancy rate of 30 percent following IVF or ICSI. The pregnancy rate was 25 percent in the one-third of women with the least Mediterranean-like eating habits. When the researchers considered several other factors - including the women's age, body weight, and drinking and smoking habits - there was no relationship between the so-called health-conscious diet and rates of pregnancy. In contrast, the group that most closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet was 40 percent more likely to become pregnant than their counterparts whose diets were unlike the Mediterranean pattern.

The researchers did not assess pregnancy outcomes, so the diet's relationship to the ultimate success of fertility treatment is not clear. The Mediterranean and health-conscious diets had many similarities, but there are a few potential reasons why the former might affect fertility treatment success. One is the high intake of vegetable oils in the Mediterranean diet. The omega-6 fatty acids in these oils, the researchers note, are precursors to hormone-like substances in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins, in turn, are involved in the menstrual cycle, ovulation and pregnancy maintenance. In addition, the study found that women who most closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet had higher levels of vitamin B6 - higher than both women whose diets were least Mediterranean-like and those who scored high on the health-conscious diet.

The study does not prove that the diet itself boosts the success of fertility treatment since it was an observational study and did not look into cause and effect. However, the findings point to a possible role for diet in fertility treatment success. The researchers recommended couples considering fertility treatment to eat a balanced diet that includes healthy doses of vegetable oil, vegetables, beans and fish.
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