Dietary patterns may influence fertility treatment success

April 1, 2010

Women who stick with a Mediterranean-type diet that includes ample amounts of vegetables, vegetable oils, and fish may better their chances of pregnancy following infertility treatment, new research indicates.

Women who stick with a Mediterranean-type diet that includes ample amounts of vegetables, vegetable oils, and fish may better their chances of pregnancy after infertility treatment, according to a new study published online March 2 in Fertility and Sterility.

Of 161 couples in the Netherlands who were having fertility treatment at a local center, women whose diets most closely reflected the traditional Mediterranean food choices had a 40% greater chance of becoming pregnant than those who consumed foods that least reflected a Mediterranean diet. Of all couples having fertility treatment at the university, approximately two-thirds underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF), while the rest had intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Study authors note that the findings from the observational study do not necessarily indicate that the diet itself enhances the success of fertility treatment. However, diet may play a beneficial role in the success of fertility treatments.

Couples filled out detailed questionnaires regarding their eating habits. Of the women who ranked highest in following a Mediterranean diet, one-third had a pregnancy rate of 30% after IVF or ICSI. There was a 25% pregnancy rate among the one-third of women with the least Mediterranean-type eating habits. Excluding other factors such as age, body weight, and drinking and smoking habits, no link was found between the health-conscious diet and pregnancy rates.

Pregnancy outcomes were not measured in this study, so researchers were not able to determine the diet’s link to overall success of fertility treatment.

Researchers speculated on why the Mediterranean diet may have a greater effect on fertility treatment. The Mediterranean diet includes a significant consumption of vegetable oils, which contain omega-6 fatty acids. This nutrient is a forerunner to prostaglandins, which influence menstrual cycles, ovulation, and pregnancy. Also, those following a Mediterranean diet also had higher levels of vitamin B6 than those on the health-conscious diet or women whose diets least resembled the Mediterranean diet.