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.
Vitamins offer significant benefits to a spectrum of brain-related functions and conditions, including reducing risk of depression, autism and stroke. And the medical community has long advocated vitamin supplementation—especially with B vitamins—for prenatal health.
Folate supports crucial mechanisms in brain health; the vitamin is responsible for DNA and RNA formation, while building neurotransmitters connected to mental health such as serotonin and dopamine. When combined with vitamins B12 and B6, folate helps metabolize methionine to avoid dangerous homocysteine buildup.
A study published in a 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association reported mothers who took prenatal folic acid supplements were less likely to give birth to autistic children. Folic acid supplementation at time of conception reduces neural tube deficiencies in children, research has shown. The large-scale Norwegian cohort study found maternal supplementation offered a 39-percent lower risk of developing autistic spectrum disorders.
However, B vitamins’ benefits reach across the aging spectrum. Older adults with elevated psychological distress improved cognitive functioning including memory performance after two years of folic acid and B12 supplementation.2 The Australian National University randomized controlled trial (RCT) tested 400 mcg/d of folic acid plus 100 mcg of vitamin B12 versus placebo in adults aged 60 to 74 years. Supplementation increased telephone interview for Cognitive Status-Modified (TICS-M) total scores (P0 .032), immediate (P=0.046) and delayed recall (P=0.013), compared to placebo.
In a randomized, multicenter study by Harvard Medical Center, schizophrenia patients taking folate and vitamin B12 significantly reduced severe depressive symptoms of the condition, which are often difficult to treat.3
Citicoline also plays a paramount role in brain function by maintaining cell membranes and neurotransmitter synthesis. A 2012 study published in Food and Nutrition Sciences found healthy, middle-aged woman improved attention focus and inhibition after four weeks of 250 and 500 mg/d citicoline supplementation (as Cognizin from Kyowa Hakko). While previous studies have established the brain nutrient’s success in boosting attention in those with cognitive defects, the University of Utah trial supported application in healthy subjects.
B vitamins aren’t the only ones slated for brain health. A 2011 study published in Neurology found higher intakes of omega-3s and vitamins C, D, E and B were less likely to have brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease; the nutrients were also associated with higher scores on cognitive tests.5
Long established as a safe and effective nutrient, vitamin C may help boost mood for those with deficiencies. In a double blind clinical trial, researchers from McGill University noted 500 and 1,000 mg twice daily reduced mood disturbance by 34 percent in hospitalized patients after just 10 days.6
Vitamin E , specifically d-alpha-tocotrienol, provides unique protection from brain cell toxicity and stroke-induced neurodegeneration. In an Ohio State University study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), low-concentrate alpha-tocotrienol prevented toxicity that induces brain cell death, which occurs during a stroke, while supporting the recovery of dying neurons.7
A recently completed trial from the University of Science Malaysia analyzed the effects of mixed-tocotrienols (containing Tocomin SupraBio from Carotech) on white matter lesions, brain damage associated with full-blown stroke. Subjects took 400 mg/d or placebo for two years. Results for the study—the largest on tocotrienols—will be published soon, according to said Bryan See, regional product manager, Carotech.
“The results of this clinical study are extremely encouraging,” See said. “Regression of white matter lesions in terms of numbers and size in the brain were observed after one to two years of supplementation.”
In a 12 month study of 780 children in Australia and Indonesia, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers assessed the effects of adding a specific vitamin and mineral mix to a daily drink.
In Australia, children that received the daily drink with the added vitamin and mineral mix performed significantly better on mental performance tests than children in a control group that received the drink without added nutrients. In Indonesia a similar trend was observed, but only in the girls.
This study confirms that nutrition can positively influence cognitive development in schoolchildren, even in western children who are well-fed.
The scientists studied 396 well-nourished children in Australia and 384 poorly nourished children in Indonesia. In each country, the children were randomly allocated to one of four groups, receiving a drink with either a mix of micronutrients (iron, zinc, folate and vitamins A, B-6, B-12 and C) or with fish-oil (DHA and EPA), or with both added, or with nothing added (placebo).
After twelve months, children in Australia who received the drink with the nutrient mix showed higher blood levels of these micronutrients, which means that their bodies were taking up the nutrients. In addition, they performed significantly better on tests measuring their learning and memory capabilities compared to children in the other groups. A similar trend was observed in Indonesia, but only in the girls. The addition of fish oil to the fortified drink did not conclusively show any additional effects on cognition.
This study adds to the mounting evidence that nutrition plays an important role in mental development in children. Previously, deficiencies in iron and iodine have been linked to impaired cognitive development in young children; there is also emerging evidence that deficiencies in zinc, folate and vitamin B12 compromise mental development in children. More recently, fish oils (EPA, DHA) have also been linked to child cognitive development.
Most studies to date have focused on deficiencies in single nutrients in young age groups. Yet the brain continues to grow and develop during childhood and adolescence. Little is known about the role of nutrition for mental development after the age of 2, nor have many studies looked at the effect of offering a mix of nutrients. Until this study, there were very few randomized controlled intervention studies assessing the impact of a multiple-micronutrient intervention on cognitive function in schoolchildren.
This study confirms that nutrition can positively influence cognitive development in schoolchildren, even in children who are well-fed. The researchers suggest that this finding could be relevant across the western world.
The investigators recommend further research to investigate the exact role of DHA and EPA in healthy school-aged children. Another research focus is the further optimization of cognitive development tests with respect to their validity and sensitivity across cultures. The scientists suggest that the smaller effects of the vitamins and minerals in Indonesia could be a result of a lower sensitivity of the cognitive tests in that country.
This study was performed by the NEMO study group (Nutrition Enhancement for Mental Optimization), which consists of the Unilever Food and Health Research Institute (Vlaardingen, The Netherlands); CSIRO, Human Nutrition (Adelaide, Australia) and the SEAMEO-TROPMED Regional Center for Community Nutrition, University of Indonesia (Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia).