Daily Mail

Planning a family, or already expecting? What the experts recommend


COUPLES planning to start a family often go to great lengths to ensure their home is in good order — but they should be concentrat­ing on getting their body in order first, say experts.

A growing wealth of scientific evidence suggests that having the right balance of vitamins and minerals not only boosts the likelihood of a successful pregnancy, but can even affect the lifelong health of the child, says Grace Dugdale, a reproducti­ve biologist and co-author of The Fertility Book, along with the former chair of the British Fertility Society, Professor Adam Balen.

‘It’s incredibly important to be taking on the right nutrients,’ she says. ‘It can make a huge difference to your fertility,’ — and your child’s future health.

Indeed, a Dutch study, published in the journal Human reproducti­on in 2012, showed that when men and women undergoing IVF treatment were told to eat recommende­d daily amounts of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and wholewheat products, it led to an impressive 65 per cent increase in their chances of a successful pregnancy.

‘Yet studies have also highlighte­d the fact that many women enter pregnancy with low levels of key nutrients,’ adds Grace Dugdale.

For many struggling to conceive, it can be difficult to obtain all the nutrients needed from their diet, and taking key supplement­s may be an important backup to healthy eating.

research by the university of Surrey, which looked at couples with a history of infertilit­y, found that making changes to their lifestyles and taking nutritiona­l supplement­s led to an 80 per cent conception success rate. This is important also for those planning to try to conceive in the near future.

Grace Dugdale warns that women who have had low nutrient intake for many years — perhaps because of restricted eating habits — will usually need to take supplement­s in the short term to get their bodies ready for conception.

‘ You should start planning about a year before trying to conceive,’ she says. ‘ The immature follicles that contain eggs at the earliest stage of developmen­t take about nine months to reach maturity. You should try to create a healthy environmen­t during that developmen­t period.’

So what are key supplement­s for couples wanting to start a family

— and for pregnant women?


WOMEN who are pregnant or trying to conceive are advised to take 400mcg of folic acid a day — or up to 500mcg if they have a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Grace Dugdale adds: ‘Folic acid supplement­s are also associated with reduced levels of infertilit­y and miscarriag­e, and improved chances of conceiving with IVF.’


STUDIES have also found that women deficient in the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ can struggle to conceive.

A 2017 study in the journal Fertility And Sterility, involving 132 women, found those who got the recommende­d daily amount of 10mcg of vitamin D were more than twice as likely to have a successful pregnancy than those whose intake was below this.


GRACE DUGDALE and Professor Balen point out that anyone taking vitamin D supplement­s should also be taking vitamin K.

This is because the body needs vitamin D to help it properly absorb calcium, but also vitamin K to ensure the calcium is absorbed by the bones (rather than soft tissues, such as blood vessels, where it can do harm by narrowing arteries).

‘You get vitamin K from foods such as butter, egg yolks and cheese,’ they advise in their book. ‘So vegetarian­s and those on low-fat diets may be at risk of deficiency of it.’


IODINE, a mineral found in foods such as canned tuna, dairy products, eggs and chicken, is needed to make thyroid hormones that control metabolism and other key functions. During pregnancy, these hormones also contribute to the baby’s bone and brain developmen­t. But testing for iodine levels is not routinely available on the nHS.

‘The standard advice is to take 150mcg daily for at least three months prior to conception,’ say Grace Dugdale and Professor Balen. ‘During pregnancy, this rises to 200mcg daily.’


FOUND in foods such as meat, shellfish, cheese and bread, zinc is essential for helping the body to make healthy new cells, process carbohydra­tes, fat and protein from foods and promote wound healing.

The World Health organisati­on estimates that nearly one in five people across the world is deficient in the mineral.

And a 2018 study from Pennsylvan­ia State university in the u.S., presented at the experiment­al Biology conference in San Diego, california, revealed zinc deficiency could be a major factor behind female infertilit­y.

experts studied egg cells from mice and found those deprived of zinc during the crucial developmen­t stage produced smaller eggs and impaired their ability to divide — a necessary step before fertilisat­ion by sperm can occur.

researcher­s said those who might benefit from zinc supplement­s included women who are vegetarian and vegan, or who do not get enough zinc in their diet.


SOME studies support the potential benefits of certain supplement­s to improve semen quality. However, research results are mixed and there is currently ‘insufficie­nt evidence’ to make specific recommenda­tions for what men should possibly take.

Grace Dugdale says: ‘It’s much better to start with diet and lifestyle — rather than take excessive amounts of supplement­s that may not be needed.’

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