Nutrition plays a role in reproductive health

December 2006

At the 62nd Annual Meeting of the ASRM several new studies were highlighted for the impact nutrition has on the reproductive system

Dian Shepperson Mills presented how nutritional therapy provides an effective method of improving fertility rates and reducing abdominal pain in women with endometriosis. She promotes an integrated medical approach to improve health looks for underlying factors in the diet that may cause or perpetuate a condition.

Shepperson Mills claims that nutritional therapy highlights possible triggers in pain mechanisms that affect endometriosis. Thus, immune reactions to certain foods may affect the way in which the body’s immune system is able to deal with endometriosis. Foods affect the digestive system and the right type of fibre enables the body the excrete excess oestrogens by forming anti-oestrogen compunds (enterolactone and enterodiol), which are protective.

Shepperson Mills treated 180 women with endometriosis over a period of six months with nutritional therapy. 86% of the women showed an improvement in their symptoms. Fertility rates of 29.5% were observed in the 68 women presenting with infertility [1].

Previous studies have suggested that the use of multivitamins can improve a female patient’s infertility. A team from Harvard set out to examine this relationship further. The investigators examined a group of nearly 20,000 married pre-menopausal women with no history of infertility who had become pregnant in the 1990’s.The discovered that women who reported taking multivitamins were less likely to have ovulatory infertility [2].

The impact of soy isoflavones on the reproductive system has been the topic of much research in recent years. Researchers from the University of Rochester set out to examine if antioxidants might prevent damage to sperm DNA. The team studied 48 men with abnormal semen parameters whose partners had been attempting to conceive. Levels of antioxidants in the blood were measured and diet histories were taken. Analysis showed a significant correlation between dietary phytoestrogens and semen parameters, including DNA integrity of the sperm [3].

Finally, a recent study out of Rochester New York suggests there is an association between diet and semen quality. Forty-eight men with abnormal semen analyses and 10 normal controls took a questionnaire to characterise their diets. 83% of the infertile men had low dietary intakes of fruits and vegetables versus 40% of the controls.

Even though similar percentages of both groups took vitamin supplements, the daily intake of vitamin C was significantly lower among the infertile men. In general, the men who had the lowest intake of dietary antioxidants had the lowest sperm motility [4].

Steven Ory, MD, ASRM President-elect, concluded: “Nutrition and nutritional supplements are of growing importance in reproductive medicine. This kind of research will help us better understand the impact of nutrition on reproductive health.”

  1. Shepperson Mills D. Nutritional therapy provides an effective method of improving fertility rates and reducing abdominal pain in women with endometriosis. Fertil Steril 2006;86(Suppl 2):S270.
  2. Chavarro JE, et al. A prospective study of use of multivitamins and ovulatory infertility. Fertil Steril 2006;86(Suppl2):S18.
  3. Song G, et al. Beneficial effects of dietary intake of plant phytoestrogens on semen parameters and sperm DNA integrity in infertile men. Fertil Steril 2006;86(Suppl 2):S49.
  4. Lewis V, et al. Dietary antioxidants and sperm quality in infertile men. Fertil Steril 2006;86(Suppl 2):S364.


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