Trying for a baby? If you've been disappointed with negative results, it may be time to address your diet and see if you can boost your chances by improving your health. Emma Cannon, fertility expert and author of Fertility to Family, recognises that diet plays a crucial role in when trying for a baby.
“Unfortunately, without realising, many women subscribe to diets that are detrimental to fertility, cutting out grains or fats that are essential to our hormonal balance," explains Emma. "A disconnect has grown between the idea of being thin while also hoping to be pregnant. For so many, this creates a yo-yo pattern between detoxing and then retoxing.”
As well as focusing on what you eat, you must also maintain a healthy and relaxed lifestyle. Emma says, “You can have the best diet in the world but if you are stressed to the max then you will never be properly nourished.”
In addition to regular tips (remember to chew, drink water outside of meal times, choose fresh ingredients), Emma has a host of advice on what can be done to increase our hormones for pregnancy. Here are her top tips...
Are there particular foods that can increase the right hormones for pregnancy?
I focus on encouraging women to eat certain foods at different times of the cycle in order to optimise fertility.
The first phase of the cycle is the follicular phase, in which oestrogen dominates. There is plenty of growth happening at this time as the endometrium thickens and follicles grow into maturity, so foods which help support this are advised. Foods high in protein, blood-nourishing foods, such as bone broths and leafy green vegetables, and root vegetables like beetroots, are all helpful. I also advise drinking nettle tea after the period and take supplements such as chlorella and spirulina along with other super greens.
During the luteal phase, in which progesterone dominates, the body needs warmth to keep the endometrium at the right thickness by a good blood flow. Eat mainly cooked foods yams, pumpkins and soups, and add warming spices such as cinnamon and ginger, which warms and incubates the body. Also drink warming teas such a chia and ginger.
You recommend that women have an early dinner so that there is a 10-12-hour period overnight without food. Why do you suggest this and how would it increase chances of fertility?
I suggest that women eat their last meal no later than 7.30pm and that they do not eat raw food in the evening. This is because the body needs a chance to rest and repair overnight and if we eat late or eat food that is hard to digest, the food sits in the intestines and ferments, causing general inflammation in the pelvic cavity. I see great improvement in ovarian function and conditions such as endometriosis when women follow these suggestions. After all, breakfast literally means break the fast!
Raw food has become popular as it's said it has higher nutritional value. Why should we have no raw foods in the evening?
Unfortunately this is not the case, and although raw food looks like it is a good option on paper, the body cannot easily take up the nutrients in raw food. Lately health fads encouraging drinking juices and eating raw food have become fashionable but most of these diets come from California, which is a desert. Fruit and salads are delicious and have a place in a healthy and varied diet and, of course, the odd juice is fine but we live in England, which is a cold and damp country, and we need to eat warm, cooked foods if we want to look after our health.
You also suggest boiling bones of food to make broth. What does this do?
Boiling bones to make broth liberates minerals from the bones, making them more easily assimilated by the body. Some of these minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon and trace minerals, which are all extremely important to female health and fertility. Chicken broth made from bones, slices of ginger and rice wine should be used after the period as a female tonic to strengthen and optimise female fertility.
What foods do you suggest to optimise fertility?
I advocate eating from a wide range of foods and try to not eliminate food groups. Foods high in antioxidants are helpful for inflammatory conditions such as fibroids or endometriosis, vegetables, grains, foods high in proteins such as eggs, fish, chicken (organic) and meat, as well as vegetable sources of protein. Vitamin D is also essential for fertility, both from food and from sunshine.
I also recommend consuming foods high in omega 3, essential fatty acids, linseeds, hemp and fatty fish, such as sardines and mackerel. It is important to balance blood sugar levels, particularly if you have PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome); as well by eating regularly, eating a good breakfast and not skipping meals.
What should women avoid?
Processed foods, sugars and BPAs, which is plastic used in food packaging, may disrupt the hormonal system. Burnt food is also carcinogenic and can cause DNA damage, so be careful when barbecuing food.
What else can women do to preserve and optimise their fertility?
Weight is also very important and a high BMI or a low BMI can have a negative impact on fertility, so make sure you are a healthy weight and that you have regular periods.
Not smoking is vital. It is thought that smoking is responsible for 13% of all the world's infertility, as it thins the endometrium, causes oxidative stress, effects tubal function and increases the risk of miscarriage.
Additionally, alcohol consumption needs to be limited to a couple of units per week. Complete abstinence may increase stress, which has been shown to impact on fertility. So consume alcohol in moderation. Cut out coffee and replace with herbal teas but make sure these are from a good source and free-from heavy metals, as these are sometimes present in some commercial herbal teas.
Although food is essential to health and fertility, my approach is to always work hand-in-hand with the patient's medical provider. In terms of available research, the best ways to optimise and preserve fertility are; quit smoking and coffee, consume alcohol moderately, get regular checks for sexually transmitted diseases and stay within a moderate weight range. You should always aim to eat a balanced diet low in free radicals and high in protein, rich in omega 3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants and minimise stress by having regular acupuncture.
Emma will be speaking at The Fertility Show this Sunday 2 November, as part of National Fertility Awareness Week. Her fourth book ‘Fertility to Family’ is available as an e-book on Amazon or at www.emmacannon.co.uk from 31st October.