The Mediterranean diet (a mouthwatering mix of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish) is rich in antioxidants. According to a research team from Harokopio University of Athens, high levels of antioxidants can improve the fertility of a woman's eggs and protect the vulnerable lining of the womb.
Furthermore, the diet only has a slight smattering of red meat, which has been found to reduce the chances of pregnancy. Instead, it is rich in whole grains, which can improve the chances that an embryo will develop and survive.
Thanks to these healthy bonuses, a woman on a Mediterranean diet can expect a 70 percent success rate when she has an in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment.
“Women attempting fertility treatment should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, because this may help increase the chances of successful pregnancy,” said Dr. Nikos Yiannakouris, the co-author of the study. “Our results suggest that the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet could be through increasing embryo survival.”
According to the study, the boosts were especially potent for women under 35 years of age, especially if they practiced a Mediterranean diet for half a year before taking fertility treatment.
The study covered 244 childless women whose ages ranged from 22 to 41 years. None of them were obese.
The scientists scrutinized their diets through a battery of 79 questions. Participants were interviewed about the frequency of their consumption of fruits, vegetables, cereals, fish and meat. They were also asked about their eating habits in the six months before their attempt to have a baby through IVF.
Each participant was ranked according to how close she adhered to a Mediterranean diet. Higher ranks went to those who consumed olive oil, whole grains, fish and other foods found in that diet.
The results showed that fully half of the women in the highest ranked group became pregnant. They also enjoyed a 48.4 percent live birth rate. In comparison, less than a third of the lowest ranking group grew pregnant and only 26.6 percent of those embryos were live births.
The researchers calculated that there was a 65 to 68 percent greater likelihood of successful pregnancy for women who followed a diet similar to a Mediterranean diet.
Dr. Yiannakouris and his co-authors admitted the limited scope of the findings. Since their study only covered women who underwent in vitro fertilization, it cannot be applied to all women in general.
Still, the study has found support among the scientific community.
“A Mediterranean diet has long been thought of as a healthy approach to eating,” explained Dr. Jane Stewart, chairman of the British Fertility Society. “For good reproductive health, an appropriate well-balanced diet should be recommended, and it is perhaps not surprising that there is some benefit seen from following this example.”
“This study supports the increasing recognition of the impact of dietary factors on reproduction,” said Dr. Richard Kennedy, president of the International Federation of Fertility Societies. “Taken with the known effects of lifestyle and environmental factors, the opportunities to improve reproductive outcomes are clear.”
While there is much more to be gleaned, it is clear that the health benefits offered by a Mediterranean diet may make it easier for a woman to conceive via IVF.