Proper nutrition is a ticket to fertility

Infertility is the inability to have children and is currently one of the major problems for couples. How much does nutrition affect fertility? What should we include and what should we exclude from our daily nutrition, in order to improve our fertility? Mrs. Maria Kokkinou, Dietitian - Nutritionist, Head of the Nutrition Department of Interbalkan Medical Centre, give us all the answers.
Modern lifestyle, stress and poor nutrition, combined with other factors, lead more and more couples at the door of a specialist, prompting  them inevitably to treatments, so as to solve infertility issues and -many  times-to  In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Mrs. Maria Kokkinou, Nutritionist - Dietitian and Head of Nutrition Department of Interbalkan Medical Centre, gives answers to the most common questions of men and women related to nutrition and fertility.

How are nutrition and fertility related?

"A healthy and balanced diet with a variety of food ensures all the necessary nutrients for the woman to conceive as well as to carry out a pregnancy or for a man to enhance the quality and quantity of his sperm, which is necessary for the conception", notes Mrs. Kokkinou.
Are there certain nutrients that can boost fertility and ingredients that are harmful and should be avoided? The answer is positive.
"More specifically, women should prefer full fat dairy products (milk, yogurt), as they protect them from ovulation problems, paying attention though to the quantity consumed, in order to avoid gain weight. The exact opposite is the case for men: they should prefer lean or low fat dairy products, since it has been found that full-fat products affect the morphology and motility of sperm.
The consumption of fruit and vegetables (eg. strawberries, citrus, pomegranate, dark green vegetables, spinach, cabbage, etc.) from the couple that wants to have a child is very important. Vitamins, minerals and trace elements contained in food and their antioxidant properties play a very important role when dealing with infertility. It is also preferable to consume fresh fruits and vegetables, as the cooking process may reduce their nutrients.

Also, the consumption of whole grains (brown bread, brown rice, wholegrain pasta, etc.) and avoiding eating processed grains (white bread, white pasta, etc.) contribute to strengthening fertility. Finally, fish consumption two times a week, is important in enhancing fertility, thanks to their high content in fatty acids, as zinc, selenium, vitamin B12 and vitamin D. Ηowever, one should be careful when eating fish that contain high amounts of mercury, such as sea bream and swordfish", explains Mrs. Kokkinou.

As for the food that affects fertility negatively and should be avoided, Mrs. Kokkinou recommends :
• reduce the consumption of sugar and products containing sugar (eg. prepared fruit juices, soft drinks, etc.), foods rich in fat, bakery products (eg croissants), fried and processed foods.
• moderate consumption of coffee (two coffees daily) and alcohol. Excessive coffee consumption increases free radicals affecting negatively sperm’s quality and alcohol abuse leads to decreased libido, improper synthesis of testosterone, decreased concentration, motility and sperm production.
• avoid soya and products containing soya (soya milk, soya burgers, etc.) because it disrupts hormonal balance

Which is the role of weight in fertility?
"Body weight plays an important role during the conception process for both men and women", the expert says.
"Maintaining a normal weight is crucial to the success of the conception. It is known that obesity contributes to anovulation and menstrual disorders. Body weight seems to affect even the success of assisted reproduction. Studies have shown that women with 2nd and 3rd degree obesity (morbid obesity), are 60 % less likely to conceive with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) compared to normal weighted women. Therefore, an integral part of the infertility treatment should also be the existence of a healthy body weight.
It must be noted that the percentage of body’s fat tissue has greater importance than the body weight itself. There are for example cases of women with normal weight, but body fat percentage below the permitted limits, who have menstrual disorders or even amenorrhea", Mrs. Kokkinou notes.
"Eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, also affect fertility. They cause several biochemical imbalances that affect the hormonal system and sexual maturation (menstruation for women and erection for men). It becomes, therefore, necessary before prospective parents begin their efforts to conceive, to visit a specialist in order to treat these disorders", explains the expert.

Obesity affects men's fertility?

"It has been found that obesity has a negative impact on male fertility as it reduces both quality and quantity of sperm. However, there are studies indicating that over-weight or obese men do not have big problems having a child and that a small percentage of obese men experience fertility problems.  What is for sure is that obesity rates increase more and more and health problems and malfunctions caused by them, proliferate. That is why a balanced diet is a very significant factor for the overall health of both men and women", explains the expert.

Are there food supplements that can help fertility?
"There are studies showing that a regular use of a multivitamin supplement can reduce the risk of infertility coming from ovulation disorders. Of course, the use of food supplements is advised to be prudent and always in combination with a proper and balanced diet. Nutrients that are good to be included in such a supplement are folic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium, selenium, iron ", adds Mrs. Kokkinou.

Nutritional tips for couples who want to enhance their fertility
• Consume raw and fresh fruits and vegetables
• Prefer whole grains

• Eat fish 2 times a week
• Do not forget to drink water for good hydration
• Attention to alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to reduced libido

• Consume coffee in moderation
• Avoid sugar and foods rich in sugar
• Replace standardized fruit juices with sugar with freshly squeezed juices
• Avoid eating soya and soya products

who is who 
Maria Kokkinou
Dietitian - Nutritionist
Maria Kokkinou was born and lives in Thessaloniki. She is a graduate of the Department of Nutrition of ATEI of Thessaloniki. She has attended the post graduate programme specialising in Eating Disorders (Master Practitioner Programme in Eating Disorders and Obesity) of the Education and Treatment Centre for Eating Disorders (KEADD).
Since 2007 she is Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Interbalkan Centre and owner of a dietician office in Thessaloniki.
In 2011 Mrs. Kokikinou provided nutritional monitoring in male handball team PAOK. At the same season she cooperated and provided food services to the Football College of PAOK.
She did her intership at the General Hospital "G. Genimatas", Section of Nutrition, in which she was graded “excellent”.
During 2003-2005 she worked in the private sector, to a known nutritional counseling centre. From 2005-2007 she collaborated with the Municipality of Thessaloniki, providing food and nutrition services to local residents.

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