A study has found that women undergoing infertility treatments who eat a diet recommended by the American Heart Association as being good for heart health can reduce their chances of having a miscarriage. The findings are good news for the millions of people experiencing infertility.
A healthy heart diet is an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean vegetable or animal protein, preferably fish. While this kind of diet is known for its cardiovascular benefits, a new study has found that it may provide other benefits, particularly to women who want to conceive.
Worldwide, around 48.5 million couples experience infertility. While fertility in women and men is affected by a number of lifestyle factors, recent studies have pointed to the importance of diet. Research led by the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain examined eight common diets originally designed to improve heart health and other chronic conditions to see how they affected infertility treatment outcomes.
The researchers recruited 612 women aged 18 to 45 who completed a total of 1,572 infertility treatment cycles, including 302 who completed 804 intrauterine insemination cycles and 450 who completed 768 IVF cycles. The participants completed questionnaires regarding lifestyle factors (e.g., smoking), medical history, physical activity and reproductive health. The researchers also assessed the participants’ adherence to eight defined dietary patterns before undertaking treatment.
The dietary patterns they compared were the Trichopoulou Mediterranean diet (TMD), alternate Mediterranean diet (AMD), Panagiotakos Mediterranean diet (PMD), Healthy Eating Index (HEI), Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), American Heart Association (AHA) 2020 dietary goals index, Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) index, and plant-based diet (PBD), which encourages the consumption of plant-based foods at the expense of animal products. Although these diets differ slightly, they all encourage the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, and olive oil or monounsaturated fats, while discouraging the intake of red meats.
The researchers found no association between dietary pattern and the probability of having a live birth following IVF or intrauterine insemination. However, they did find that women who most followed the AHA dietary pattern before pregnancy were 13% to 15% less likely to have a miscarriage than those who didn’t. The AHA diet emphasizes the high consumption of fish, whole grains, omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid.
“It is a varied diet, with no restrictions on any food group,” said Albert Salas-Huetos, lead author of the study. “The study has confirmed that regularly ingesting these nutrients and foods is associated with a lower risk of suffering a miscarriage during assisted reproductive cycles, so they are essential for human reproduction.”
While the effect was strongest for the AHA diet, a similar pattern was seen in all other dietary patterns except the plant-based diet.
“In this case, the difference between the heart-healthy diet recommended by the AHA and the vegetarian diet is the absence of foods such as fish and meat, foods that contain vitamin B12 or omega-3 [fatty acids],” Salas-Huetos said.
The researchers recognize that because theirs was a single-center study, the generalizability of the results is limited. Further, they only assessed diet at baseline and did not assess changes in diet over the study period. And, given the sample group, they cannot say how these results apply to couples trying to get pregnant without medical assistance.
Nonetheless, they say their study provides useful information that might inform future studies to test the effects of nutrition on fertility.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Source: Universitat Rovira i Virgili