Eating a Mediterranean diet may significantly increase some women’s chances of becoming pregnant through IVF and giving birth to a live baby, according to a small study.
Greek researchers say their findings apply to women who ate healthily in the 6 months before treatment began and only among those aged under 35.
One expert tells us that a healthy diet in general could be a key to getting pregnant and having a healthy baby.
Vegetables, Fruit, and Wholegrains
A Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, beans, wholegrains, olive oil and oily fish, and low in meat and dairy foods.
These foods, typical of those enjoyed in Mediterranean countries such as France, Italy and Greece, have previously been linked to healthier hearts and longer life.
Researchers at Harokopio University assessed the diets of 244 non-obese women aged 22 to 41 when they enrolled for a first cycle of IVF treatment in Athens.
The women completed questionnaires that asked them how often they had eaten certain groups of foods in the last 6 months.
Participants were scored between 0 and 55, with higher scores indicating that they were more likely to eat a Mediterranean diet. They were then divided into 3 groups.
Pregnancies and Live Births
The study, published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that 50% of women in the highest scoring groups became pregnant compared with only 29% of those in the lowest scoring group.
A similar picture emerged when the researchers looked at the outcome of pregnancies. The live birth rate in the highest scoring group was 48.8% compared to 26.6% in the lowest scoring group.
Among women under 35, a 5-point improvement in their score was linked with an approximately 2.7 times higher likelihood of achieving a successful pregnancy and live birth, the study found.
Although diet and the chances of successful pregnancies and live birth did not appear to be linked among the over-35s, the researchers suggest that hormonal changes and fewer available eggs may have masked the effect of diet.
The authors suggest that the boost to fertility could be linked to high levels of antioxidants found in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
They conclude: “More research and intervention studies are warranted to investigate the role of diet quality in assisted reproductive performance, to reveal underlying Mediterranean diet and IVF outcome mechanisms, and for developing nutritional guidelines for women to further improve fertility treatment and success rates.”
“Follow a Healthy Diet”
Commenting on the findings in a statement, Professor Nick Macklon, medical director of the London Women’s Clinic, says in a statement: “This study adds further to a growing body of data from similar studies that have suggested an association between a Mediterranean diet and IVF outcomes.
“The findings replicate those of previous similar studies of similar size and in that sense does not provide significant new insights. However, as the authors rightly state, it again highlights the likely benefits of elements of the Mediterranean diet to general health which is likely in turn to improve fertility.
“There is a pressing need for well-designed intervention studies to confirm whether the diet itself is improving outcomes, or whether it is simply a marker of a healthier lifestyle and better health.”
Dr Jane Stewart, chair of the British Fertility Society, says in an emailed statement: “A Mediterranean diet – one rich in vegetables, fish, legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, and vegetable oils – has long been thought of as a healthy approach to eating.
“For good reproductive health, an appropriate well balanced diet should be recommended and it is perhaps not surprising then that there is some benefit seen from following this example.
“The authors quite clearly describe the limitations of their study and are making no greater recommendations than to follow a healthy diet.”