Fertility and Fats:
Fats to eat and fats to avoid when you’re trying to conceive.
You’ve probably read recent news reports about fats and fertility. I know my patients have and many of them are asking me for help in deciding which fats to eat and what to cut out.
One recent study said that women who eat low-fat dairy foods may have a higher risk of infertility than those who treat themselves to full-fat ice cream or cheese. Another found that getting just 2% of total calories from trans fats instead of healthier mono-unsaturated fats was associated with a doubled risk of infertility.
So what are all these fats and what should we be doing about them?
Here in New York City trans fats have been in the news since city health officials have tried to outlaw them in restaurants. The first thing to understand is that there are two types of trans fat. One is found naturally in very small amounts in animal products and one is made artificially. It is the latter one that we should be avoiding. Food manufacturers make these trans fats by adding hydrogen to oil so that it remains solid at room temperature. They don’t do this so that foods taste better. They do it so that food will last longer on the shelves. Because these trans fats raise your LDL, which is your bad cholesterol, and lower your HDL, which is your good cholesterol, there isn’t much reason to eat them. Add to that the Harvard study that found that women with ovulation-related fertility problems tended to eat more trans fats than fertile women and you can see why at the Yinova Center we tell our patients to cut them out altogether.
You can avoid trans fats if you cut out factory produced fried foods, baked goods and stick margarines. If you see the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on a food label consider it a trans fat red flag.
So far, so good. The fact that trans fats are a no-no is an open and shut case. Not so with saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as fatty cuts of meat, whole milk, cream, butter and lard. They are known to raise LDL, bad cholesterol, and many of us have made the switch to low fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat for the sake of our hearts and our figures. The American Heart Association recommends that just 7% of your daily calories comes from saturated fat.
All this seemed like good advice until a recent study published in the journal, Human Reproduction, found that eating low fat dairy food every day can reduce a woman’s fertility by affecting ovulation. The study showed that women who ate more than two portions a day of low fat dairy foods were 85 per cent more likely to be infertile due to ovulatory disorders than those who only ate it less than once a week.
Conversely they found that women who ate full-fat dairy foods, including ice cream, more than once per day had a 25 per cent reduced risk of infertility due to ovulatory disorders compared to those who ate full-fat dairy foods only once a week.
Previous studies have suggested that dairy foods can interfere with ovulation, but few of them have been on humans and they are inconsistent.
So what to do? At the Yinova Center we thought about this long and hard before we decided what advice to give our patients. On the one hand we want them to have the fertility benefits of full fat dairy products but on the other hand obesity also lowers fertility so we didn’t want to give them carte blanche to hit the Haagen Daz with a vengeance. We settled for telling them to have one full fat dairy product a day – such as a full fat yogurt or a small glass of whole milk. In a nutshell our advice is go easy on the saturated fats but don’t cut them out altogether.
These are “good fats”. They help reduce blood cholesterol and some of them such as omega 3 fatty acids have a host of benefits such as reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure. They have also been shown to improve mood and at the Yinova Center we prescribe omega 3 supplements to people who are depressed or anxious.
This category of fats is where the essential fatty acids that you read so much about fit in. They are called essential because we can’t make them ourselves and have to consume them. EFAs are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linolenic, linoleic, and oleic acids. There are two types of EFAs: Omega-3 and Omega-6. Omega-9 is necessary but it isn’t classified as an essential fatty acid because our body’s can manufacture it if we have enough of the other two essential fatty acids.
Essential fatty acids are a vital component of every human cell and the body needs them to balance hormones, insulate nerve cells, keep the skin and arteries supple, and keep itself warm. They are important to women who are trying to conceive for their ability to balance hormones and resource follicles. They are equally important once you are pregnant to nourish a developing embryo. In fact a British study found that many pregnant women had been discouraged from eating fish because of fears about mercury contamination but that children of women with low omega 3 intake in pregnancy were more likely to have a low IQ and suffer from social problems in childhood.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel and also in walnuts and flax seeds. Eggs also contain omega 3 especially the ones that you can now buy that are from chickens that have been fed greens rather than corn. Grass-fed, as opposed to, grain-fed beef also contains omega 3 fatty acids as do dairy products from grass fed cows.
Omega 6 fatty acids are found in flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, hempseed oil, hempseeds, grapeseed oil, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds (raw), olive oil, olives, evening primrose oil, black currant seed oil and chicken.
Omega 9 is found in olive oil (extra virgin or virgin), olives, avocados, almonds, peanuts, sesame oil, pecans, pistachio nuts, cashews, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts.
Heating essential fatty acids destroys their nutritional benefits so try to use raw nuts rather than roasted and don’t cook with flax seed oil but use it as a salad dressing or sprinkle ground flax seeds on your morning cereal. Whole flax seeds are hard to digest and tend to pass through your digestive system whole, which means that you don’t get much benefit from them.
At the Yinova Center we suggest that women trying to conceive take an essential fatty acid supplement and we have one available in the office for you. If you buy your EFA supplement from a health food store check that it has been tested for mercury and other contaminants.
These also help lower blood cholesterol levels. You can find them in olives, olive oil, avocados and canola oil. They are a healthy choice and should be eaten in moderation.
So here are our recommendations for our patients who are trying to have a baby:
- Two thirds of the fat you eat should be either polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated.
- Special attention should be paid to essential fatty acids and you should consider taking a supplement that contains omega 3 and omega 6 from a reputable company.
- We should all lay off the trans fats…completely.
- Anyone trying to get pregnant should limit but not cut out their saturated fat.