Meet the Zita West IVF Doctors

Does Vitamin D affect my fertility?

This article from Dr Gillian Lockwood, Medical Director, CARE Fertility Tamworth, gives a great insight into the importance of Vitamin D for your fertility, and especially if the time of year makes a difference to your IVF cycle success.

Can the time of your IVF treatment influence the outcome – what can we do to boost rates all year round

Dr Gillian Lockwood, Medical Director, CARE Fertility Tamworth

Lambs, foals and fawns are born in the Spring because resources are better for their survival.  But what about human babies?  In fact there is quite marked birth seasonality in humans with peaks occurring earlier in the year the further north you get from the equator.  Finland’s birth peak is in late April while Jamaica’s is in November.  Research shows that the seasonality of births correlates with changes in local temperature and day length.

So what has this to do with IVF treatment?  I remember telling an Australian colleague that our pregnancy rates always seemed to be a little better during the summer holidays and he replied that their best rates were at Christmas time! So can the time you have your IVF treatment really influence the outcome and, if so, what can we do to boost rates all year round?

What affects fertilisation rates, implantation rates and pregnancy rates?

Several studies have found that fertilisation rates, implantation rates and pregnancy rates seemed to be associated with increased numbers of sunlight hours and one Belgian  study that looked at nearly 10,000 treatment cycles found that the weather the month before an IVF cycle seemed to affect the outcome, with more sun and less rain being associated with more pregnancies! Some studies didn’t find a correlation between seasons and IVF outcomes, but they were done in countries like Israel that have lots of sunshine all year round.

The link between sunshine and successful pregnancies may lie with Vitamin D.

How does Vitamin D affect fertility?

Your body needs Vitamin D to help absorb calcium which is critical for forming your bones and keeping them strong and healthy.  The two main kinds of vitamin D – D2 and D3 are found in foods like salmon, tuna and egg yolks and they are added to ‘fortify ‘ foods like milk and cereal.  When exposed to sunlight, your skin can manufacture its own Vitamin D.  After it’s absorbed through the skin or acquired from food or supplements, it gets stored in the body’s fat cells.  All types and sources of Vitamin D are equally good and since skin cancer (malignant melanoma associated with excess UVB exposure and sunburn) can be so devastating, it is safer to wear sunblock, cover up in strong sunlight and take a Vitamin D supplement.

Do levels of Vitamin D in my body affect my fertility?

Depending on diet (strict Vegans will definitely need vitamin supplements), skin colour (darker skins cannot manufacture Vitamin D so effectively in Northern latitudes), and health status (malabsorption syndromes or post gastric –band surgery interferes with absorption), up to 40% of the female population may be deficient in Vitamin D.  Because Vitamin D deficiency has been proven to affect fertility in other mammals, several research groups have investigated IVF outcome in women with different Vitamin D concentrations in their blood.

Is the chance of pregnancy affected by Vitamin D?

One study found a progressive decline in pregnancy rates with declining Vitamin D status in Caucasian but not Asian patients, and a study of 99 recipients of donor eggs of different ethnicities showed a significant decline in clinical pregnancy rate with declining Vitamin D levels. A well-designed Italian prospective study carried out in 2014 that included nearly 500 women undergoing IVF found that the chance of a clinical pregnancy for women with adequate Vitamin D levels was double that of women with low levels. Vitamin D supplementation is a simple and cheap intervention and at correct doses is free of side effects.  Also there is growing evidence that Vitamin D supplementation may improve birth outcome and reduce obstetric complications such as pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.

The take-home message is start taking Vitamin D along with Folic acid BEFORE you start trying for a baby and embarking on your fertility treatment. Go too for our range of fertility supplements.

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Do you need to save up sperm for fertility?

Zita says…

“We now know that up to 50 per cent of all cases of infertility are associated with a male factor. That figure surprises many, because through generations we’ve been lead to believe fertility is all about women but of course this is the case, it does take two to make a baby!

Many men discount the need for getting checked out via semen analysis mainly, I believe, out of fear. But burying your head in the sand will not make the problem go away, and it’s far better to be proactive.

One question I’m asked all the time is whether you need to ‘save up’ sperm for fertility, but the idea of this is a myth as it will die after a few days. Research shows that the more fresh the sperm, the better the quality.

Some couples try to ‘save up’ sperm for the ovulation period, and then barely have any sex at all through the month. Whilst it’s true that you’re most fertile during this time, you should still try to conceive every two or three days regularly throughout the month to maximise your chances. In fact, the fresher the sperm the healthier it is! The key thing for fertility is to make sure there is a good supply of fresh, healthy sperm at the ready.”

A client story – pregnant after failed cycles elsewhere…

Some of our client’s stories can be heartbreaking, and it means so much to us when we can help them become pregnant after many failed cycles. Here we share one of our client’s journeys…

4 years, 14 miscarriages, 3 rounds of IVF

“I’m a mum to 6 month old twins. After 4 years of trying and an agonising 14 miscarriages, I can finally say those words that I started to fear I may never have the privilege of saying: “I’m a mum.” Three simple words but life-changing to me. Becoming pregnant after failed cycles elsewhere is down to the Zita West clinic. My partner and I started trying when I was 35, so pretty late by fertility standards. I was fairly blasé when we had our first three miscarriages, each two months apart, pleased that at least I could get pregnant. But that early optimism was misplaced and soon the notion of a successful pregnancy became an ever more distant dream. And over the years the worst happened, we began to lose hope. Hope was the sustenance that had kept us going and with an ever-diminishing amount of that, we were beginning to despair. All women who have gone on this journey will know all too well the physical, mental and emotional toll it can have on us and our partner too but the loss of hope is a bit of a game changer. We underwent two rounds of IVF at another London fertility clinic, both times we saw a heartbeat, both times we lost the pregnancy.

Dream team

The team at Zita West, George Ndukwe in particular, gave us back our hope but most importantly gave us our babies too. For that I will be eternally grateful. George is kind, gentle and knowledgeable but he really listens and he hears you. His attentiveness meant that we had a successful live pregnancy with twins. He understood what I needed medically and emotionally and, in addition to a fairly comprehensive medical load, George worked flexibly to offer new medication and explore alternative avenues. As our previous fertility clinic kept us on a standard protocol, this approach from George again provided hope as it wasn’t just the same old, same old. Importantly, this gave us a timely lift when we were running low on stamina and resilience.

Holistic approach

In addition, I had a session with a nutritionist and had acupuncture from Zita and her team, the overall sense being that of a family taking a holistic approach at looking after every aspect of your health and well-being and I really did feel looked after and nurtured. Psychologically this approach really worked for me, as it was comforting and I felt safe. Every time I went to the ZW clinic, from the receptionists to the medical team, I felt welcomed and cared for, people always knew my name and knew what stage of treatment I was at and asked me about it and how I was doing. When it came to the egg collection, this took place a few streets away with Care London. My previous experience of egg collection was three silent men down at the business end waiting for the embryos to be brought in, my partner clutching my hand, me in stirrups sweating lots. At Care, there was more the atmosphere of a spa day, interestingly all women, but chatting about my nail varnish colour, flitting around and enjoying their job it seemed, they put me right at ease. Honestly, it was fun. One nurse called Sarah was so emotional when she rang to tell me the good news about my positive pregnancy test that I felt like I was on the phone to my sister, because she sounded like she was so emotionally invested in it all. Probably she was. I’ve shed a few tears writing this, remembering the tough bits, but I can honestly say that I really wouldn’t change a moment of it. And I do absolutely credit the team at Zita West for getting us here, the four of us. Again, for that I’ll be eternally grateful.”

Boosting serotonin for fertility

Your body is a wonderful cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones, all of them telling you how to behave and how to feel. While your life circumstances have a profound influence on the levels of these messengers in your system, what you eat affects them too. Boosting serotonin for fertility can help

Natural boost⠀

While some foods contain a little serotonin, studies suggest it is difficult to raise your levels in the brain simply by eating more of these foods partly because it is difficult for serotonin to cross the blood-brain barrier. However, one way we can naturally boost levels is to consume more foods rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which is the building block for the production of serotonin.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
These foods include:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– eggs⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– walnuts⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– plums⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– bananas⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– kiwis⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– tomatoes⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– cheese⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– beans⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– turkey⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
– seafood ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

In order to properly process tryptophan, though, and to turn it into serotonin, the body needs a helping hand in the form of carbohydrate. This helps the amino acids to cross the blood–brain barrier. Consuming a little slow releasing carbohydrate, for example oats, with a tryptophan-rich food, for example banana and nut butter, may be more effective. There’s more on the best type of carbohydrates to consume generally on pages 000–000.

Another way to increase levels of serotonin is to supplement your diet with 5-HTP. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor in the production of serotonin from tryptophan. Supplements of 5-HTP cross the blood–brain barrier more easily and can be an effective way of increasing levels of serotonin.

Other good mood nutrients

As well as 5-HTP and tryptophan, try to increase the following nutrients in your diet in a bid to keep your mood positive:

B-complex vitamins, especially vitamins B1 (thiamine), B6, B9 (folic acid) and B12, low levels of which have been linked to depression and low mood. The conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP can be inhibited by a deficiency of vitamin B6 or insufficient magnesium, so make sure you are getting enough of these nutrients.

Zinc is also needed for the production of feel-good neurotransmitters so include plenty of zinc-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, seafood, fish and lean meat in your diet.

Omega-3 fatty acids have a role in the synthesis of serotonin and research suggests they can be helpful in boosting mood. They also help lower inflammation. Pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body cause greater production of enzymes that deplete tryptophan in the blood, which can result in serotonin deficiency in the brain and low mood.

A vitamin D insufficiency may contribute to general depression so make sure your levels are optimal.

Iron, which in low levels can lead to feelings of fatigue, poor cognitive function, apathy, irritability and sadness.

Check your thyroid function – low thyroid function has been linked to depression and low mood.

It’s important to say that we still need much more research on the delicate balance of macro- and micronutrients in the body and their effects on mood. So, while it’s important to boost all those tryptophan-rich foods and to make sure you’re eating plenty of carbohydrates, there’s certainly no need to become carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor. Instead focus on eating a balanced diet.

Zita West Fertility Detox

The Zita West Five Day Fertility Detox

The benefits of a fertility cleanse

It’s good to get rid of bad habits when preparing for a pregnancy and building up your nutritional reserves. Nourish yourself as best you can, and doing a five day fertility detox together can be a great way to start. This is taken from my book, Eat Yourself Pregnant.

The cleanse will support your body’s natural detoxification processes by providing nutrient-dense foods and drinks that support the liver in its role as your body’s detoxifier.

Every day your body produces an array of compounds and internal waste products that it needs to dispose of safely. The food, drink and medications you consume, hidden environmental chemicals in bodycare and household products, electromagnetic radiation and environmental pollutants all add to this toxic load, placing a burden on your liver and its detox supporters – your kidneys and digestive system.

The five-day detox is intended for both of you to do together. Exposure to environmental toxins has been shown to affect male and female fertility. Many environmental toxins are endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with your body’s hormones, potentially resulting in decreased sperm quality, disrupted reproductive cycles and ovarian dysfunction.

Preparing for your fertility detox

The first stage of the cleanse is to remove all foods and toxins that may be placing additional burden on your digestive system and liver function. I suggest you cut out all alcohol, sugar and caffeine from your diet two or three days before you begin. If you don’t already eat organic, switching to organic produce can also help reduce your toxic load.

Plan your detox for days when you have sufficient time to rest and can avoid social functions, meals out and parties. If you can, schedule in some time every day to undertake gentle exercise such as swimming, Pilates, yoga or walking. Some people prefer to follow the plan around a weekend – I recommend beginning on a Thursday – but others like to complete it during the week. Choose what works best for you.

For the first two days you will eat three meals with the option of a healthy snack to eat mid-morning or mid-afternoon if you are really hungry. It is important to keep your blood-sugar levels balanced throughout the detox to avoid placing additional pressure on your adrenal glands. For this reason the cleanse includes protein-rich foods.

The following two days comprise a liquid-only diet with a range of smoothies, soups and juices throughout the day. Then, you complete the detox with a further day of three light meals and optional snacks. In order to support detoxification it is important to maintain the right acid–alkaline balance.

The detox foods include lots of ingredients that support and maintain your body’s natural alkalinity. Allocate time to shop for all the ingredients before you begin and follow the meal planner every day. Drink plenty of fluids – aim for 1 litre (35fl oz) of filtered water daily and also include a variety of herbal teas. Each day of the detox starts with a glass of hot water with a little lemon or lime juice added. This combination is very alkalizing and supports liver cleansing. You can also try adding ½ teaspoon of super-green powders to juices and smoothies daily.

Finishing the detox

At the end of Day 5 you should feel lighter, clearer and much more energized. Capitalise on your good work and immediately begin using the recipes in the rest of the book so that you don’t have time to slip back into any bad habits. You are now on a path to a baby-ready body!

The inevitable don’ts

Try to steer clear of the following as they will hinder your attempts to detoxify:

  • red meat, dairy foods, eggs, gluten grains (rye, barley and wheat), large fish (tuna, marlin, shark and swordfish) and shellfish
  • sugary foods, charred foods, processed foods, deep-fried foods and foods high in trans fats and hydrogenated fats, and takeaways
  • any foods wrapped in cling film or tin foil
  • non-stick, aluminium or stainless steel cookware
  • smoking or any recreational drugs

You can download this guide for FREE by going to here. Don’t forget to share your pictures with the hashtag #zitawesteatyourselfpregnant!