January 12, 2012

Diet and Lifestyle Issues While Attempting to Conceive

Caffeine and Fertility

Although a healthy lifestyle, including exercise and proper diet, is important for general health, it is not necessary to abstain completely from caffeine and alcohol while trying to conceive. On the other hand, extremes of weight and cigarette smoking have been shown to be detrimental to people trying to conceive. Here are common diet and lifestyle issues while attempting to conceive:

Caffeine
Studies have shown that small amounts of caffeine are not necessarily detrimental to conceiving. Caffeine intake of up to one-to two cups of coffee per day has not been shown to decrease fertility. However, caffeine consumption greater than five cups of coffee per day has been associated with decreased fertility up to 50%. Also, consumption of 2-3 cups of coffee per day has been associated with an increased likelihood of miscarriage but does not affect risk of congenital anomalies. In summary, women who consume 1-1.5 cups of coffee per day, before and during pregnancy, should experience no adverse effects on fertility or pregnancy outcome.

Alcohol
Small amounts of alcohol prior to conception, up to 3-4 glasses per week, have also not been shown to decrease a woman’s fertility. Greater than two alcoholic drinks per day has been shown to decrease fertility in women. Certainly, once a woman believes she may be pregnant, she should, without question, abstain from all alcohol intake.

Patients who consume more than the above recommended amount of caffeine or alcohol should decrease their intake. However, it not necessary to bring intake of caffeine and alcohol down to zero.

Diet and Weight
Women who are significantly underweight (BMI<19) and women who are significantly overweight (BMI>35) will experience a 2-4 fold increase in time to conception. However, there is little evidence that specific dietary variations, such as low-fat diets, or vegetarianism, affect fertility. Women attempting to conceive should take 400 micrograms of folic acid. This is to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the fetus. To calculate your own BMI, go to this link: http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/.

Smoking
Smoking (even small amounts) has substantial negative effects on fertility. Women who smoke cigarettes have a 60% increased risk of infertility, as well as an increased risk of miscarriage. Additionally, women who smoke cigarettes go through menopause an average of 1-4 years earlier compared with women who do not smoke.  Smoking cigarettes appears to cause increased loss of healthy eggs. Smoking marijuana seems to have similar negative effects on fertility.

Men
When it comes to men attempting to conceive, small amounts of alcohol and caffeine use do not appear to adversely effect sperm parameters (density, motility, and abnormalities in morphology). However, cigarette smoking and marijuana use have been shown to decrease all sperm parameters. Severly overwight men also have decreased sperm parameters and decreased fertility.

In Sum
As Aristotle¬† wrote 2,500 years ago, “Everything in Moderation”: there is no need to be an ascetic while trying to conceive.

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Robert M. Weiss, M.D.

Robert M. Weiss, M.D. Board-Certified Reproductive Endocrinologist