Hatching healthy eggs
Unlike men – who produce a regular supply of fresh sperm after puberty – women are born with all their eggs (or ova) in place. Your ovaries contain about two million eggs at birth, but as you age, they gradually disintegrate. By puberty, there’s about 750,000 left, and by age 45, only 10,000 can be left. Your fertility is dependent on the health of these eggs and your reproductive organs, plus your body’s ability to produce the right balance of hormones to ‘mature’ your eggs ready for ovulation with each monthly cycle. Getting the right mix of supporting nutrients is key to this. In this section, we identify specific vitamins, minerals and fats that can make you more fertile. However, no nutrient works in isolation. Eating a well balanced diet enhanced with supplements that boost levels of all essential nutrients is the best route to achieving good health and maximising your fertility.
Tune up your sex hormones
The mineral zinc is absolutely vital for reproductive health. Infertility, low sex drive and period problems have all been linked to inadequate levels. Together with vitamin B6, zinc affects every part of the female sexual cycle. Working in partnership, these two nutrients ensure that adequate levels of sex hormones are produced. For example, one hormone called LHRH (luteinising hormone releasing hormone) causes your pituitary gland to stimulate the development of an egg (or ovum) that causes ovulation. A deficiency in either zinc or B6 causes a deficiency in LHRH, so your fertility decreases. Adequate levels of zinc and B6 also increase your desire for sex (which is why zinc-rich oysters are called an aphrodisiac) and alleviate pre-menstrual problems – women who suffer from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) are often zinc deficient (1).
After conception, zinc and B6 ease pregnancy sickness and post natal depression, as well as increasing the chances of having a healthy baby. Oysters, lamb, nuts, egg yolks, rye and oats are all rich in zinc, while B6 is found in cauliflower, watercress, bananas and broccoli. The optimum intake is 20mg of zinc and 60mg of B6, which you can achieve with a diet that includes these foods plus a good multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Why the right fats are essential
Fat is an essential part of our diet. But while the wrong kinds of saturated fats – found in processed foods, meat and dairy products – are rich in most people’s diets, the right kinds of fats are normally lacking. Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon are rich sources of one kind of essential fat called Omega 3. Nuts and seeds are rich in the other kind – Omega 6. Like zinc and B6, Omega 3 and 6 fats are needed for healthy hormone functioning, so a deficiency is likely to effect your menstrual cycle and therefore your fertility.
To make sure you get enough essential fats, aim to have a portion of oily fish two to three times a week and eat a handful of fresh, unsalted seeds every day. Seeds are also rich sources of minerals (including zinc) and protein, so they make a perfect snack. But because of their fat content, they are prone to damage when they come into contact with oxygen (a process called oxidation – see below). For best results, follow our magic formula: keep a mixture (50 per cent flax and 50 per cent pumpkin, sunflower and sesame) in a screw-top jar in the fridge, then grind a heaped tablespoon in a coffee or food grinder each day to sprinkle on cereals, yoghurt or soups. Grinding releases their oils and makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
Limit the impact of ageing
Although oxygen is essential to life, it also causes damage – and reproductive organs are particularly sensitive. When oxygen is broken down in our bodies, highly reactive molecules called free radicals are formed, and these harm, or oxidise, other molecules which can start a chain reaction of damage. For example when an apple is cut and comes into contact with oxygen in the air, it gradually turns brown on the outside then begins to rot. The same would happen inside our bodies were it not for a complex repair system that minimises damage. However, this system is dependent on a good source of ‘anti-oxidant’ nutrients from our diet. If these are lacking, then we age faster, are more prone to developing disease and can become less fertile.
So to keep your body young, you need a good intake of antioxidants. The main antioxidant nutrients are vitamins A (both the animal form retinol and the plant form beta-carotene), C, and E, plus the minerals zinc and selenium. Phytonutrients are a recently discovered class of antioxidants – bioflavonoids and lypocene are two you may have heard of. These enhance our absorption and utilisation of other antioxidant nutrients as well as having protective qualities themselves, and are often responsible for giving a plant its colour, which is why eating a ‘rainbow’ selection of fruit and vegetables ensures you get a good variety of phytonutrients. Essentially, they all work together to project your body and especially your reproductive organs. Studies have shown that both vitamin C and vitamin E boost fertility in women and men (2), while vitamin A is needed for your ova to grow and develop before ovulation. However, a word of caution. While the betacarotene version of vitamin A is perfectly safe, too much of the animal form, retinol (found in fish and animal liver), can cause problems, so get the lion’s share of your intake from vegetable sources.
Protect yourself from ‘anti’ nutrients
Anti-nutrients are substances that deplete your body of vital resources while contributing nothing nutritionally themselves. Refined sugar can be classed as such because ......
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