By Xantha Leatham Deputy Science Editor
13:27 20 Dec 2023, updated 13:54 20 Dec 2023
- Fertility expert Professor Roger Hart said the Med diet helps embryos develop
- All women attempting to conceive should be taking folate supplements, he said
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When it comes to trying for a baby, there are plenty of tips and tricks that promise to boost the chances of conceiving.
But rather than turning to supplements, women going through IVF should adopt the Mediterranean diet to improve their chances of having a baby, according to an expert.
Professor Roger Hart, a fertility specialist at the University of Western Australia, reviewed all the evidence for popular nutritional supplements and diets thought to improve IVF success.
Supplements included the likes of Vitamin D, Omega-3, melatonin and Chinese herbs, while he also looked at several diets, including those that promoted weight loss.
He found that the Med diet – plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil – has the best evidence of benefit for women going through IVF.
There have been several well-designed clinical trials showing benefits in both embryo development and pregnancy outcome, he said, adding: ‘These diets are high in B-vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3 poly-unsaturated fatty acids and fiber and are low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium.’
While there is some evidence to suggest that Omega-3 ‘may be beneficial’ in improving IVF success, a major review of a range of popular supplements described them as of low quality and was unable to demonstrate any benefit in terms of live birth rate, he explained.
‘Nutritional supplements are usually not prescribed but bought online or over-the-counter,’ Professor Hart added.
‘They’re self-medicated and solid data on usage is impossible to determine. Our information is largely anecdotal but it’s quite clear from online IVF discussion forums that they are widely used and of great public interest.’
Some studies did appear to show some benefits for DHEA – a hormonal supplement – and COQ10, a substance that helps convert food into energy.
There was also some evidence of benefit from melatonin, commonly used to help treat sleep disorders, but it was unclear which specific patients could benefit, nor at which dose.
He advised that a simple nutritional approach to assist conception via IVF would be the adoption of the Med diet, while supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids may also yield some benefit.
Meanwhile, all women attempting to conceive should be taking folate supplements, he said.
The research, published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, reads: ‘We, as compassionate healthcare professionals, will seek to find the ‘silver bullet’ that will help women conceive.
‘In trying to draw conclusions from the literature to facilitate moving forward with possible therapeutic strategies to assist women undertaking IVF treatment, one relatively straightforward approach would be to adopt a Mediterranean diet whilst undergoing IVF treatment.’
Previous research has found that after having a baby through IVF, one in five women may go on to get pregnant naturally.
Around 55,000 people a year in the UK have fertility treatment to try to have a baby and many, who have tried unsuccessfully to conceive for more than a year, are told they are ‘subfertile’, indicating that getting pregnant naturally is impossible.
But a scientific review of 11 studies, including almost 5,200 women and spanning more than 40 years, has concluded that at least one in five women who have a child through fertility treatment will go on to conceive naturally afterwards.
It may be that they simply needed to keep trying for longer, or, some experts believe, they were helped to get pregnant again by the fertility treatment itself.
Sarah Carter is a health and wellness expert residing in the UK. With a background in healthcare, she offers evidence-based advice on fitness, nutrition, and mental well-being, promoting healthier living for readers.