Friday, August 14, 2009

The Infertility Cure by Randine Lewis

The following is an excerpt from The Infertility Cure: How Nutrition Makes a Difference. My diet is already pretty close to this as I've been on a "clean eating" plan for over two years (with a few exceptions for social functions), but there are some modifications I'll be making over the next few months. I thought this might be helpful to others gearing up for IVF or just battling IF in general.

The goal of every dietary prescription is to bring the body back into balance. Here are some general dietary recommendations I make to my patients who are trying to get pregnant.

1. Eat alkaline rather than acidic foods. Many contemporary sources advocate eating alkaline foods like noncitrus fruits, vegetables, sprouts, cereal grasses (wheatgrass, barley grass), and herbs like black cohosh and valerian root to help provide the entire reproductive system with the right pH for conception and implantation. Acidic foods (like meat, dairy products, and most grains) produce acidic environments. Acidic cervical mucus may become hostile to sperm, which requires an alkaline environment to survive. Since saliva can have an alkalizing effect, it is also recommended that you chew your food thoroughly and refrain from drinking liquids with your meal. Let your own salivary enzymes digest the food, rather than washing it down with fluids. I don't advocate strict vegan diets, but you should make sure the bulk of your diet comes from organic plant sources. Bioflavonoids, found in many fruits and vegetables, also help in the formation of healthy blood vessels, helping the uterus prepare for implantation and prevent miscarriage.

2. Get plenty of essential fatty acids, preferably from unprocessed plant sources and deep-sea fish. The essential fatty acids linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid are essential to every living cell in the body. They are also key in ovulation, specifically in the process of follicular rupture (releasing the egg) and collapse (allowing the development of the corpus luteum). Good sources of essential fatty acids are fish, fish oil, nonhydrogenated cold-pressed oils such as flaxseed and pumpkin-seed oils, eggs, soy products, raw nuts and seeds, and dark-green and winter vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, beets, carrots, kale, collards, cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, and Brussels sprouts.

Be aware, however, that with long-term exposure to heat and light, essential fatty acids found in vegetable oils may become trans fatty acids, which are toxic. Trans fatty acids can impair the proper functioning of the immune and reproductive systems. Other sources of trans fatty acids are shortening, margarine, lard and animal fat, and hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are found in many processed foods. Do your best to stay away from trans fatty acids in your diet. Store oil in a cool, dry place, and once it's open, use the oil within a couple of months.

Another key fatty acid, omega-3, is found in deep-sea fish oil. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to clean the blood of fat deposits, reduce clotting, and encourage blood flow to the tissues, including the uterus. Omega-3 fatty acids also boost the immune system and have been found to reduce certain immune cells (NK, or natural killer, cells) which prevent the embryo's implantation in the uterus. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docohexaenoic acid (DHA) are also essential in fetal brain development.

NOTE: Be aware that elevated levels of mercury can be found in many deep-sea fish. Some companies do ensure purity standards for their fish, guaranteeing low or no toxic metals.

3. Eat organic foods and hormone-free meats whenever possible. In natural-food circles, organic foods are touted as necessary for optimum hormonal functioning because many of the pesticides, chemicals, and hormones used to treat produce and animal products contain synthetic estrogenlike substances, which occupy estrogen receptor sites and have negative effects on our organ and endocrine systems. However, Chinese medicine provides an additional reason for choosing organic food: food loses its Essence and Qi as it moves away from its source. We all have experienced the truth of this: we know fruit off a tree tastes much fresher than fruit from a grocery bag, and vine-ripened tomatoes taste much better than those ripened on the counter.

The processing most food undergoes eliminates much of the natural nutrition present in the original fruits, grains, and vegetables. When we eat refined pasta and white bread, we are consuming mostly processed leftovers; little of the original substance of the wheat is left. Processed fruit juices consist of mostly sugar, and sugar damages the Spleen, which controls digestion. Frozen meals are packed with sodium, which depletes the Kidneys. Most of the canned, prepared foods that form the basis of the typical American diet contain preservatives and minuscule original food value.

Overall improvements to dietary health can be made by consuming more of a macrobiotic diet, including mostly fresh, organic produce supplemented with small amounts of hormone-free meat and animal products. The typical Asian diet is macrobiotic -- meals consist mostly of fresh, lightly sautéed vegetables, rice, and small amounts of meat for flavoring.

You also might want to consider how you prepare your foods. Traditional Chinese cuisine advocates chopping vegetables and meat to allow for the release of more energy when they are eaten, and lightly cooking vegetables rather than eating them raw to make them more easily digestible. It's also a good idea to stay away from the microwave. Microwaving food affects its structure and, according to some, decreases the Qi energy available in the food. Cooking on top of the stove or in the oven is preferable.

4. Add more cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower to your diet. Cruciferous vegetables contain di-indolylmethane (DIM), a compound that stimulates more efficient use of estrogen by increasing the metabolism of estradiol (one form of estrogen produced by the body). Excess estradiol is associated with breast pain, weight gain, breast and uterine cancer, moodiness, and low libido. Adding DIM sources to your diet allows the estradiol to break down into the beneficial 2-hydroxy estrogens, which don't have estradiol's negative effects.

5. Supplement your diet with a natural, high-potency multivitamin and mineral complex with iron, folic acid, and B vitamins. The vitamins and minerals important for reproductive health (vitamins A, C, E, B complex, zinc, and selenium) enhance fertility yet are lacking in the usual Western, highly processed diet. If these nutrients were adequately supplied through the diet, many fertility problems could be avoided. Other supplements you might wish to try include the following:

Bee pollen and/or royal jelly is regenerative and tonifying. Bogdan Tekavcic, M.D., a Yugoslavian gynecologist, conducted a study in which the majority of women who were given bee pollen with royal jelly showed improvement or disappearance of their menstrual problems, while there was no change in the placebo group. Another study showed bee pollen significantly improved sperm production in men. Bee pollen, which is worker bee food, is rich in vitamins, minerals, nucleic acids, and steroid hormones, and improves health, endurance, and immunity. Royal jelly is modified pollen fed only to the reproducing queen bee, whose job it is to produce more infant bees. This nutritive tonic might be considered the bee equivalent of fertility drugs. Rich in amino acids, vitamins, and enzymes, royal jelly helps the queen lay millions of eggs and live longer than the worker bee.

Blue-green algae is the origin of life-giving nourishment on this planet. Microalgae contains chlorophyll, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and steroid building blocks. Chlorella is freshwater green algae; spirulina is saltwater blue-green algae. Chlorella and spirulina nourish the endocrine, nervous, and immune systems; tonify Qi, Blood, and Essence; regulate metabolism; and repair tissue.

Wheatgrass is tonifying and curative. It nourishes Qi, Blood, and Essence, enhances immunity, and restores hormonal functioning. Other cereal grasses like barley grass function the same way.

Vitamin B6 helps the body metabolize excess estrogen, produce adequate progesterone, and lower elevated prolactin levels. A Harvard study treated women with galactorrhea (lactation not associated with childbirth or nursing)/amenorrhea syndrome with 200 to 600 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily. Within three months all the women in the study had normal menstrual cycles and had stopped lactating.

Coenzyme Q-10 assists mitochondrial function, the powerhouse of each cell.

Folic acid is extremely important in cellular division. I am a proponent of supplementing your diet with folic acid for months before you conceive and throughout pregnancy. You should be aware that the adult daily minimum requirement for folic acid advocated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is well below the amount we actually should take. If you have a history of abnormal cell division, such as cervical dysplasia, you should eat foods with high folic acid content, like dark-green leafy vegetables and natural orange foods -- oranges, cantaloupe, yams, and sweet potatoes -- in addition to your folic acid supplement.

6. Eliminate caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. Caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants should be avoided, especially if you have Yin, Blood, or Heart deficiency with heat symptoms. The American Journal of Epidemiology reports nicotine is ten times more concentrated in the uterine fluid than it is in plasma. Nicotine ages the ovaries and makes the eggs resistant to fertilization. Alcohol is particularly damaging if you fall into the damp, heat, or Liver Qi categories of disharmony. One study reported that any alcohol consumed during an IVF cycle reduced its chance of success by 50 percent.

Tea, especially green tea, is not as problematic as coffee. It contains about 20 percent less caffeine, and fewer volatile oils. Coffee constricts vessels while tea opens them. Green tea (and, to a lesser extent, black tea) has an antioxidant benefit coffee does not share. If you require assistance "revving up" in the morning, use green tea.

7. If at all possible, avoid unnecessary medications and drugs, including over-the-counter preparations. Even non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can block the synthesis of prostaglandins and therefore inhibit ovulation.

If you have scanty cervical mucus, you should avoid decongestants, antihistamines, and excess supplemental vitamin C. You may, however, use guaifenesin, an expectorant that thins all mucus secretions, including cervical fluid that is too thick. (While guaifenesin can be found in over-the-counter cough medicines like Robitussin, I prefer using natural sources such as beech wood, which you can buy at the health-food store and which contain no additives.) Avoid vaginal lubricants other than egg whites.

8. Avoid junk food, excessive stress, too little sleep, too much exercise, or anything taxing to the immune system. In general, you should give your body every chance to be at its strongest and healthiest so that it can nourish your child. Late hours, bad food, or excessive stress of any kind means your body has to dedicate its precious resources to keeping you healthy instead of making a baby. Live healthfully until you conceive and carry your child to term.

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR MEN: Men who are having fertility problems should make similar dietary adjustments. Avoid environmental estrogens and dietary sources of free radicals including saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, and trans fatty acids. Stop or reduce all unnecessary medications, especially antihypertensives, antineoplastics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, which can impair sperm production.

Increase consumption of legumes and soy (which is high in phytoestrogens and phytosterols), and include vitamins C, E, and B12, beta-carotene, folic acid, and zinc, and herbs such as ginseng, which increases production of testosterone and helps with sperm production. Supplement with the amino acids L-arginine and L-carnitine, which are especially associated with enhancing sperm production. (Chinese medicine classifies arginine as a Kidney Yang tonic, while carnitine nourishes the Yin and Blood.)* This regimen will improve not only sperm but overall health.

* It is possible that arginine and carnitine also can be helpful for increasing a woman's fertility. An article in the July 1999 Human Reproduction Journal described an Italian study in which numerous women classified as "poor responders" to ovarian stimulation were given oral L-arginine, an amino acid and dietary supplement that tonifies the Kidneys. In the L-arginine-treated group, a lower cancellation rate and an increased number of eggs collected and embryos transferred were observed. The study concluded that "oral L-arginine supplementation in poor responder patients may improve ovarian response, endometrial receptivity and pregnancy rates."

Copyright 2004 by Dr. Randine Lewis

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