Roasted red peppers, mini crab cakes and Brazil nuts can all help to increase fertility. They will all feature in a special Fertility Buffet, laid on by Dr Margaret Rayman, Director of the MSc Course in Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, on 3 July 2003.
A good, balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables (at least five portions a day) and protein sources such as meat, poultry and fish, is necessary to optimise fertility.
Meat is a good source of animal protein and important minerals such as iron and zinc, the latter being especially important for fertility. “Oysters are by far the best source of zinc, but they are not included in this meal, as they are out of season,” Dr Rayman explained. “Fatty fish is a very good source of n-3 fatty acids, which are important in the development of the fetus’ brain and vision.”
To give yourself the best chance of conceiving, alcohol and smoking should be avoided. This applies to both men and women, as there is evidence that sperm damage through smoking can predispose to cancer in the offspring.
All the dishes on the buffet were carefully selected by Vicky Chudleigh, State Registered Dietician from Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.
“The sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seed bread contains vitamin E, which is claimed to be an aphrodisiac because of its effects on boosting circulation. It is also an antioxidant and needed for fertility,” Vicky explained.
“Brazil nuts and mini crab cakes are both excellent sources of selenium and required for sperm motility. Without adequate selenium, sperm tails kink and break off. Selenium also minimises the risk of miscarriages.”
Roasted red peppers, tomatoes, pesto (containing basil) and of course, chocolate mousse, were all selected for their reputed aphrodisiac qualities.
Spinach, together with other dark green leafy vegetables, provide the folate required to reduce the risk of neural tube defect in the developing baby. The cheese platter not only contains calcium and zinc, but also vitamin A, which aids the production of sex hormones. They are all needed for healthy reproduction and libido.
The fertility buffet will not only be a gastronomic experience, but also forms part of the module, Pregnancy, Infancy & Childbirth in the Nutritional Medicine course, aimed at doctors. But there will be no retiring to the drawing room after dinner, as the doctors on the course will need to complete an assignment on dietary advice to give to their patients.
As little as 20 minutes of moderate exercise three times per week during pregnancy enhances the newborn child’s brain development, according to researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine children’s hospital.
This head-start could have an impact on the child’s entire life. “Our research indicates that exercise during pregnancy enhances the newborn child’s brain development,” explained Professor Dave Ellemberg, who led the study. “While animal studies have shown similar results, this is the first randomized controlled trial in humans to objectively measure the impact of exercise during pregnancy directly on the newborn’s brain.
We hope these results will guide public health interventions and research on brain plasticity. Most of all, we are optimistic that this will encourage women to change their health habits, given that the simple act of exercising during pregnancy could make a difference for their child’s future.” Ellemberg and his colleagues Professor Daniel Curnier and PhD candidate Élise Labonté-LeMoyne presented their findings today at the Neuroscience 2013 congress in San Diego.
“Our results show that the babies born from the mothers who were physically active have a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly.”
Not so long ago, obstetricians would tell women to take it easy and rest during their pregnancy. Recently, the tides have turned and it is now commonly accepted that inactivity is actually a health concern. “While being sedentary increases the risks of suffering complications during pregnancy, being active can ease post-partum recovery, make pregnancy more comfortable and reduce the risk of obesity in the children,” Curier explained. “Given that exercise has been demonstrated to be beneficial for the adult’s brain, we hypothesized that it could also be beneficial for the unborn child through the mother’s actions.”
To verify this, starting at the beginning of their second trimester, women were randomly assigned to an exercise group or a sedentary group. Women in the exercise group had to perform at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times per week at a moderate intensity, which should lead to at least a slight shortness of breath.
Women in the sedentary group did not exercise. The brain activity of the newborns was assessed between the ages of 8 to 12 days, by means of electroencephalography, which enables the recording of the electrical activity of the brain. “We used 124 soft electrodes placed on the infant’s head and waited for the child to fall asleep on his or her mother’s lap. We then measured auditory memory by means of the brain’s unconscious response to repeated and novel sounds,” Labonté-LeMoyne said. “Our results show that the babies born from the mothers who were physically active have a more mature cerebral activation, suggesting that their brains developed more rapidly.”
The researchers are now in the process of evaluating the children’s cognitive, motor and language development at age 1 to verify if these differences are maintained.
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Binge Drinking During Pregnancy Linked to Negative Emotions
Researchers in Norway found that negative affectivity is linked to light alcohol use and binge drinking during pregnancy. Results published in Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, a journal of the Nordic Federation of Societies of Obstetrics and Gynecology, show 16% of women had light alcohol use in the first trimester and 10% in the second trimester.
Binge drinking occurred in 12% of women during their first trimester and 0.5% in the second trimester.
Experts describe negative affectivity as the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety and depression.
Individuals with negative affectivity tend to have an unfavorable view of themselves and the world in general. Previous studies have associated negative affectivity with greater vulnerability to stress, intense emotional reactions to daily life, and inclination to use intoxicants in response to stress.
Mothers who use alcohol while pregnant place their unborn child at risk for premature birth, low birth weight, fetal alcohol syndrome and even fetal death. These serious health risks have led health experts around the world to recommend that women abstain from alcohol while trying to conceive and during pregnancy.
Yet prior evidence indicates that 25% to 50% of women report drinking alcohol while pregnant, with low income level, partner’s drinking behavior, and mother’s pre-pregnancy alcohol use all contributing risk factors.
The present population-based study, led by Dr. Kim Stene-Larsen from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, Norway, used data from 66,111 pregnant women and their partners who were part of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa). Mothers filled out surveys related to alcohol use at 17 and 30 weeks of gestation.
The Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) was used in the present study to measure
- light alcohol use (0.5 to 2 units, 1-4 times per month) and
- binge drinking (intake of 5 alcohol units or more in a single drinking episode).
In Norway one unit of alcohol is equivalent to
- one glass (1/3 liter or ≈11 oz) of beer,
- one sherry glass of fortified wine, or
- one snaps (shot) glass of spirit or liqueur.”
Negative affectivity was assessed in gestational weeks 17 and 30 using the Hopkins Symptom Checklist, which measures anxiety and depression. Medical evidence has established that measures of anxiety and depression symptoms are comparable to negative affectivity measures.
Findings indicate that with each unit increase in maternal negative affectivity, the odds for light alcohol increased in the first and second trimester, 27% and 28%, respectively.
The odds for binge drinking were much higher at 55% in the first trimester and 114% in the second trimester for each unit increase of negative affectivity in the mother.
“Our findings clearly show a link between a mother’s negative emotions, such as depression and anxiety, and light alcohol use and binge drinking during pregnancy,” concludes Dr. Stene-Larsen. “Further study is needed to understand why women continue to drink alcohol while pregnant despite health warnings.”
“Our findings clearly show a link between a mother’s negative emotions,
such as depression and anxiety, and light alcohol use and binge drinking during pregnancy”
New evidence is emerging for how important it is for pregnant women to eat good, nutritious food. Expecting mothers who eat vegetables every day seem to have children who are less likely to develop type 1 diabetes, is revealed in a new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
The study was performed in collaboration with Linköping University, which is conducting a population study called ABIS (All Babies in Southeast Sweden). The results have been published in the journal Pediatric Diabetes.
“This is the first study to show a link between vegetable intake during pregnancy and the risk of the child subsequently developing type 1 diabetes, but more studies of various kinds will be needed before we can say anything definitive,” says researcher and clinical nutritionist Hilde Brekke from the Sahlgrenska Academy.
Blood samples from almost 6,000 five year-olds were analyzed in the study. In type 1 diabetes, certain cells in the pancreas gradually get worse at producing insulin, leading to insulin deficiency. Children at risk of developing type 1 diabetes have antibodies in their blood which attack these insulin-producing cells.
Of the 6,000 children tested, three per cent had either elevated levels of these antibodies or fully developed type 1 diabetes at the age of five. These risk markers were up to twice as common in children whose mothers rarely ate vegetables during pregnancy. The risk was lowest among children whose mothers stated that they ate vegetables every day.
“We cannot say with certainty on the basis of this study that it’s the vegetables themselves that have this protective effect, but other factors related to vegetable intake, such as the mother’s standard of education, do not seem to explain the link,” says Brekke. “Nor can this protection be explained by other measured dietary factors or other known risk factors.”.
The term “Vegetables “in this study included all vegetables except for root vegetables.
Type 1 Diabetes
Around 50,000 Swedes have type 1 diabetes, a chronic disease which normally emerges before the age of 35. It is not yet known what causes type 1 diabetes, but some of the factors believed to play a role are:
- various immunological mechanisms,
- environmental toxins and
- genetic variations.
Type 1 diabetes is found throughout the world but is most common in Finland and Sweden.
RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Pregnant women regularly consume food and beverages containing toxins believed to pose potential risks to developing fetuses, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside, suggesting that health care providers must do more to counsel their patients about the dangers of hidden toxins in the food supply.
In a peer-reviewed study published in the July issue of Nutrition Journal — “Consumption habits of pregnant women and implications for developmental biology: a survey of predominantly Hispanic women in California” — a team of psychologists from UC Riverside and UC San Diego found that the diets of pregnant Hispanic women included tuna, salmon, canned foods, tap water, caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications that contain substances known to cause birth defects.
The study is unique in that it highlights the unseen dangers of consuming toxins in food and beverages that are not typically thought of as unhealthy for a fetus, said Sarah Santiago, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UCR. It also contributes to the body of literature aimed at assessing dietary habits of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic pregnant women.
“Unlike alcohol and nicotine, which carry a certain stigma along with surgeon general warnings on the packaging, tuna, canned foods, caffeine, and a handful of other foods and beverages with associated developmental effects are not typically thought of as unsafe,” Santiago explained. “Hopefully, this study will encourage health care providers to keep pregnant women well informed as to the possible dangers of unhealthy consumption habits.”
The research team — Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside and the paper’s senior author; Santiago; and UCSD undergraduate student Grace Park — surveyed 200 pregnant or recently pregnant women at a private medical group in Downey, Calif., between December 2011 and December 2012. The women ranged in age from 18 to about 40, with Hispanic women accounting for 87 percent of the group. Nearly all had a high school degree, and about one-fourth had a college or post-graduate degree. More than two-thirds had an annual income of $50,000 or less.
Using a food questionnaire, participants reported how often and when during their pregnancy they ate certain foods, drank certain beverages, and ingested prescription and over-the-counter medications. Nearly all of the women reported eating meat while pregnant, with about three-quarters of them eating fish, typically tuna, tilapia and salmon.
All reported eating fresh fruit, but fewer than one-third ate the recommended amount of more than one serving a day. Three-fourths ate canned goods, particularly fruits, vegetables and soup. Most reported drinking water, with 12 percent consuming tap water. Eighty percent consumed caffeinated beverages, and about 6 percent reported drinking alcohol sometime during their pregnancy. Most reported taking prenatal vitamins. Nearly half reported taking an over-the-counter medication — primarily acetaminophen — at least once and most reported taking prescription medications at least once.
The results are concerning, the researchers said.
“Consumption of tuna, salmon, canned goods, sugary desserts, fast foods, and drinking of tap water, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic beverages during pregnancy have been deemed unhealthy due to the appearance of environmental toxins found to have harmful effects in the developing offspring,” the researchers wrote.
Tuna contains methylmercury, and prenatal exposure has been associated with numerous developmental deficits involving attention, verbal learning, motor function and delayed performance. “Staggering” levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in farmed salmon. Prenatal exposure to PCBs has been linked to lower birth weights, smaller head circumferences, and abnormal reflex abilities in newborns and to mental impairment in older children. Metal food cans are lined with a plastic that contains Bisphenol A (BPA), which leaches from the lining in cans into the food. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been associated in animal studies with hyperactivity, aggression and reproductive problems.
“This study has found that income is inversely correlated with canned food consumption, suggesting that women of low socio-economic status in particular may be especially at risk,” the UC Riverside psychologists found.
Tap water also contains prenatal toxins. In Downey, eight pollutants found in drinking water exceed the health guidelines set by federal and state agencies. Some of those contaminants are known to result in central nervous system defects, oral cleft defects, neural tube defects, low birth weight and risk of fetal death, the researchers said. Pregnant women should be encouraged to drink filtered or bottled water in areas where contamination levels are high, they advised.
Also problematic was the level of caffeine consumption, the research team found. Caffeine consumed during pregnancy is associated with fetal mortality, birth defects and decreased birth weights. Animal studies have found developmental delays, abnormal neuromotor activity, and neurochemical disruptions.
A handful of women in the study — 5.8 percent — reported drinking alcohol at some time during their pregnancy, less than the national estimate of 7.6 percent. Maternal drinking rates are highest among white women ages 35 to 44.
“We do not know whether this is something unique to Hispanic women, or ubiquitous among women of multiple ethnicities,” the researchers wrote. “The implications of this research are twofold: Women of childbearing age hoping to conceive should be advised to eliminate all alcohol consumption, as effects of maternal drinking have dire consequences in the first trimester when the mother may not know she is pregnant. … It is also clear that prenatal medical professionals should discourage the consumption of dangerous foods, beverages and medications that women commonly report consuming during pregnancy.”
Not enough research has been conducted on certain substances to merit fail-proof labels of teratogenicity — that is, whether a substance causes developmental malformations. “Because regulation of prenatal consumption demands a very high level of evidence of teratogenicity, little-researched substances often go unregulated and health care professionals assume they are healthy,” Santiago explained. “The problem could also lie in reduced access to health care, or time constraints in prenatal consultations. Perhaps health care providers are informed, but fail to pass the information on to their clients for lack of time or because they assume the clients are already informed.”
Teratogenic substances often have subtle, though serious, effects that manifest later in development. “Research suggesting that a given substance does not cause physical abnormalities at birth may be misinterpreted as a green light for consumption — a grave mistake, considering that other research may exist demonstrating the long-term neural or behavioral abnormalities that result from consuming that substance during pregnancy,” Santiago added.
The research team continues to collect data on beliefs and attitudes about consumption of these substances during pregnancy in a search for clues as to why women continue to eat these substances, and where in the system interventions would be most appropriate.