Study Results Show Diet’s Fertility Role

August 10, 2018

Q: I recently read that fast food interferes with a woman’s chances of conceiving. What’s the connection? A: Fast food would seem to be an easy fall guy for our current health status: The United States ranks first in the amount of money we spend on health care, but 31st in overall longevity. But as much as we’d like to blame a specific industry for our unhealthy habits, the situation is much more complex than that. The study you mentioned looks at different foods and the role they play in pregnancy and fertility. In it, 5,628 pregnant women from New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom were given dietary questionnaires 15 weeks into their pregnancy. The questions had to do with the consumption of fruits, green leafy vegetables, fish and fast food in the month preceding conception. A midwife researcher also asked questions about the time it took for the women to become pregnant. A timespan greater than 12 months was defined as infertility. The study did not find an association between green leafy vegetables or fish and time to pregnancy (TTP). But it did find an association between fruit intake and TTP. Compared to women who ate fruit three times per day, those who ate fruit only one to three times per month had a 19 percent longer TTP and a 29 percent increased rate of infertility. Fast food, which included burgers, french fries, pizza and fried chicken, had an even greater association with TTP delay and infertility. Compared to women who ate fast food four times or more per week, those who ate fast food two to four times per week had an 11 percent shorter TTP and an 18 percent lower infertility rate; and those who ate it less than twice a week had a 21 percent quicker TTP and a 34 percent lower infertility rate. Women who reported no fast food intake had a 24 percent quicker TTP and a 41 percent lower infertility rate, compared to the women who ate it four times or more per week. Among the study’s problems: It was based on dietary recall and thus subject to recall bias. For example, a woman who had difficulty conceiving may have overestimated a factor she believed could have caused a delay in her conception. Further, 90 percent of study participants identified themselves as Caucasian, so the results may not be applicable in a multiracial society. That said, the results are concerning and point to the importance of diet in fertility. Many fast food restaurants have healthier options, and while these are intermixed with unhealthy food, they at least give women a choice. Of course, a better option is going to the market, selecting healthy food and taking the time to prepare it well. ASK THE DOCTORS is written by Robert Ashley, M.D., Eve Glazier, M.D., and Elizabeth Ko, M.D. Send questions to askthedoctors@ mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o Media Relations, UCLA Health, 924 Westwood Blvd., Suite 350, Los Angeles, CA, 90095.

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