By Professor Nick Macklon, Medical Director at leading fertility clinic The London Women’s Clinic
Excess over the festive period means come January and February, many women start making resolutions to overhaul their lifestyle lose weight, tone up and start their 2018 in a ‘healthier’ way.
There’s a whole host of diets out there to choose from, but with many programmes advocating the idea of cutting out whole food groups, and others encouraging drastically reducing your calorie intake, it could be that some of these diets can cause more harm than good. At this time of year many women are left misinformed and unaware of the long term negative consequences this can have on their bodies, and their fertility.
To set the record straight, Professor Nick Macklon, Medical Director, at one of the UK’s leading fertility clinics, The London Women’s Clinic (www.londonwomensclinic.co.uk), reveals the biggest fad dieting dangers which can affect a woman’s fertility. Professor Macklon outlines the positive lifestyle and dietary changes you can make as an alternative, which are safe and can provide many health benefits if you’re wanting to conceive or considering underdoing IVF treatment.
“Juice cleanses are typically associated with ‘detoxifying’ and ‘purifying’ the body, and as a result are a very common and attractive option for a lot of women looking to revitalise themselves at the start of the year. Another attractive element of the diet is the rapid weight loss you can achieve by following a ‘juice cleanse’ or ‘juice detox’. However, many people are unaware that these strict programmes can alter your metabolism and cause your BMI to plummet to an unhealthy level which may hinder your chances of falling pregnant. Studies of very low-calorie diets before IVF treatment have shown them to be harmful to embryo development.
“It is extremely important to limit losing, and gaining, weight quickly, as this causes a big impact on your fertility. If you are underweight or overweight, this can impact your chances of successfully conceiving during your treatment, and there could be an increased chance of complications during pregnancy. Ideally you should aim for a BMI that is between 18.5 and 30, and you can check your BMI online for free using specialised calculator tools.”
‘Veganuary’ / The Raw Vegan Diet
“’Veganuary is becoming an increasingly popular diet craze for those looking to undo an overindulgence of rich red meat and dairy products that were consumed over the festive season. However, by switching to a vegan diet, which is entirely plant based, can mean that women can miss out on key nutrients such as iron, folate and B vitamins. Previous studies have shown that those women who are lacking these nutrients may suffer from poor egg health which can reduce their chance of conceiving. It is therefore important that vegans trying to conceive ensure they are getting sufficient iron, B vitamins and folic acid by supplementation if necessary.
“My advice would be to consult a dietician, nutritionist or your GP before undergoing any drastic dietary changes, and if you are committed to moving towards a vegan diet, then it’s always worth enlisting the help of a qualified dietician or nutritionist to ensure you’re not compromising on your health by radically cutting out or reducing your intake of essential vitamins, minerals or nutrients.”
Meal replacement shakes
“Using meal replacement shakes is perceived as being a successful way to control calorie intake, and therefore a way to drop a dress size quickly. However, living only on these shakes can have a negative effect on your health, and particularly if you are planning to conceive or undergo fertility treatment.
“Meal replacement shakes can have a high sugar content with little protein. If you are using these shakes, it is important to ensure that these important elements of your diet remain in balance.”
The Ketogenic diet
“The Ketogenic or ‘keto’ diet is a low carbohydrate diet which focuses on getting the body to a state of ‘ketosis’ where the level of ketones in the liver are increased to burn fat at a higher rate. This diet is based on you consuming certain fats and proteins, with otherwise healthy food groups discouraged altogether. Ketogenic diets have been shown to be detrimental to embryo quality in women undergoing IVF treatment.
“From a medical perspective, having a healthy balanced diet, based on a variety of foods in the right proportions*, should be the overall goal to ensure you are absorbing the correct minerals and nutrients. Like with a vegan diet, I would again advise enlisting the help of a qualified professional to first check you’re consuming the right types of foods, and to ensure you aren’t compromising on your health by cutting out carbohydrates.
“Healthy fats are highly encouraged in everybody’s diet, for example avocado, mixed nuts and oily fish such as salmon. There is evidence that a diet rich in these elements (sometimes called a ‘Mediterranean diet’) can enhance fertility in both men and women. We advise our patients who are trying to conceive or are due to undergo fertility treatment to try and cut down on their consumption of artificial ‘trans fats’. These are also known as hydrogenated fats and are most commonly found in packaged snacks, fried food, cakes and other types of processed food items.
Caffeinated Diet Pills and drinks
“Thousands of women across the globe now enlist the help of caffeinated diet pills which promise extreme weight loss with minimal effort. However, these highly endorsed and at times extremely inexpensive pills are very dangerous for all who take them, as the stimulants within them have been known to increase the chances of heart attack and strokes. As a result, these diet pills should be highly discouraged.
“The main reason these pills are highly advised against is the extreme levels of caffeine present within the capsules which is much higher than that in tea and coffee or some fizzy drinks. It is generally advised not to drink more than 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day if you are trying to conceive. Heavier caffeine consumption, commonly associated with these pills hinders your ability to absorb iron, which is essential for creating extra haemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells) which allows the body to effectively transport oxygen to your baby.” A recent American study has shown that a high intake of sugared fizzy drinks is associated with a reduced the chance of success after IVF, and that tells us something about their effect on fertility in general.
*In summary, if you are looking to pursue a healthier lifestyle, for the sake of your long-term health and fertility, you should avoid ‘crash diets’ and ensure you are undertaking a balanced diet alongside regular exercise. A healthy balanced diet is based on consuming the correct amounts of starchy foods, dairy or dairy alternatives, proteins, unsaturated oils or spreads, as well as intaking a sufficient amount of fluids, and aiming for at least 5 pieces of fruit and vegetables a day.
In addition, if you’re considering completely overhauling your eating habits, then you should always consult the professional opinion of a qualified GP, dietician or nutritionist. This way you can ensure you’re not depleting your body of any essential nutrients which may prove detrimental to your health.