Is sugar ruining your fertility?

As a practising midwife and fertility expert, I have always been fascinated by the role nutrition takes in every couple’s ability to have a healthy, happy baby.

What I see in my fertility clinic is women know everything about ‘diet’ but very little about nutrition. They will be looking for a magic ingredient in their diet that will get them pregnant, but in reality, every part of the diet and the micronutrition within it lays the foundations for a healthy – or not so healthy – egg and sperm.

Over the course of my many years in this field, I have come to the conclusion that micronutrients play a big role in getting pregnant – both naturally and through assisted conception – with deficiencies having significant effects on fertility for both men and women.

2016 was the year of Brexit, Trump…. And the year that sugar became public enemy number 1.

And not unreasonably so – especially when it comes to your fertility.

In order to make a mature egg both naturally and for IVF, there is a delicate and complex interplay of reproductive hormones that need to peak and flow throughout the month. And unfortunately for those with a sweet tooth, sugar is a major hormone disruptor and affects blood sugar balance, having a negative impact on this process.

What’s the evidence?

Some studies show that with a lower intake of carbohydrates have links to better IVF success. It is known that eggs and embryos do not thrive in a high glucose environment.

In a study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) meeting last year, IVF patients who switched to a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet and then underwent another cycle increased their blastocyst formation rate from 19% to 45% and their clinical pregnancy rate from 17% to 83%.

Even non-IVF patients with polycystic ovarian syndrome have improved pregnancy rates after making this lifestyle change, the study’s author Dr. Russell noted.

Sharon Phelan, MD, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque said: “Although the blood glucose is not high enough to be in the diabetic range, it is enough to be toxic to the developing blastocyst.”

How does sugar affect fertility?

The term blood sugar relates to the amount of glucose in your blood stream at any one time – which in turn affects your energy levels.

An unhealthy diet (one that is high in refined carbohydrates – ie sugars – and saturated fats) leads to blood-sugar imbalance (manifesting as peaks and troughs of energy throughout the day), which in turn has a negative impact on the health of your reproductive system. First, low blood sugar (which will make you feel lethargic), stimulates the body’s release of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol).

Continued release of stress hormones alters the way in which your body responds to progesterone – which is so important for the proper function of the menstrual cycle.
Second, high blood sugar (that sugar-high burst of energy), when frequent and sustained, causes the body to release the hormone insulin, which aims to get sugar levels under control.

The trouble is that if we have too much insulin in our system too frequently, the insulin receptors in the body (some of which are on the ovaries) begin to desensitise, creating a condition called insulin resistance. This is a major risk factor for PCOS and may even directly cause damage to the woman’s eggs.

And there is more: sugar is empty calories which causes weight gain, which converts to fat and ages sperm and egg cells.

So keeping blood sugar under control is essential for optimising the chances of pregnancy, whether through IVF or naturally. Optimum nutrition provides a steady supply of blood sugar throughout the day, in order to ensure stable energy levels and stable metabolic processes.

What can you eat?

All this said, I passionately believe that that couples who want to make a baby need to have treats. Who could live without bread, chocolate and sweet treats? Not me!

If you crave chocolate and sweets, I don’t believe that the IVF diet should be about complete denial. So, rather than thinking you must cut out all sweet foods, try to think about how you satisfy your need from something sweet. Highly refined white sugar (in cakes, chocolate, biscuits, sweets and so on) has been stripped of all the natural moderators in raw sugar – the nutrients that make the sugar less damaging to the body. So, try to get your sugar fix from naturally sweet sources:

  • Dried fruits, such as dates, figs or apricots which make wonderful, sweetening additions to stews and desserts; if you want a sweet snack, try a few pieces of dried mango rather than a chocolate bar.
    organic maple syrup can not only make a healthier alternative to white sugar, but also contains the nutrients zinc and manganese.
  • Honey is higher in calories, gram for gram, than refined sugar, but it has healthier components, including B-vitamins – a teaspoon drizzled over granola for breakfast, or used to sweeten desserts, is preferable to refined sugar.
  • Xylitol is a low-calorie natural sweetener (occurring in certain fruits and vegetables, including strawberries and cauliflower) that can be extracted from its sources and used in baking and in coffee and tea as an alternative to refined sugar. It does have a laxative effect, though – so use it in moderation.
  • If you usually have sugar in your tea or coffee (bearing in mind you should minimise your intake of caffeine-containing drinks while you’re trying for a baby anyway), don’t be tempted to reach for artificial sweeteners, which are often made using some chemical nasties that can upset your body’s systems. Try instead to adjust your palate, gradually reducing the amount of sugar you use until you’re used to drinking coffee and tea without it.

For recipes and meals that contain just the right amounts of complex carbohydrate
and slow-release energy foods to keep your blood sugars stable and encourage optimum fertility, The IVF Diet Book is out now

Eating for IVF – cleansing broccoli soup

More and more couples are turning to IVF each year to help them conceive, and yet there are still many questions to be answered. “What makes IVF successful?” and “What else can we do to support our treatment?” are two of the most important queries couples can have.

Nutrition and lifestyle advice, psychological and emotional support and a positive mindset all play an important part in helping couples conceive, and can even make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful outcome.

And that’s what I’ve covered in my new book, The IVF Diet Book

This book not only advises how to prepare for IVF, but why it’s so important, and the step-by-step diet and lifestyle plan is a clear way to support your treatment.

Over the following weeks, I’m going to be presenting some of my favourite recipes from the book. First up, it’s cleansing broccoli soup.

For weekly tips, advice and wisdom on natural fertility and IVF, subscribe to our Fertility Show on YouTube.

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Do I need to rest after an embryo transfer?

The IVF process is not a quick or simple one, and so after the embryo transfer has finally happened, it’s natural to worry about ruining it. A lot of the time, women feel anxious about getting up and moving around in case the embryo ‘falls out’. The natural instinct is to want to rest a while after the procedure, and this is completely fine! The most important thing to do is to listen to your body and do what it dictates. Read more

Teresa and Adelaide Greenhalgh

After 7 Previous IVF Attempts Woman Gives Birth With New Procedure At London Clinic

Teresa Greenhalgh shares her story:

After 7 previous rounds of IVF “It was only when she was 43 that she decided to have another try, after discovering a new treatment was available at the Zita West Fertility Clinic…

‘I wanted to be able to tell myself I had tried everything I could,’ she explained. ‘I didn’t want to live with regrets and thoughts of, “if only I’d tried one more time”.’

New testing technology at the clinic revealed a problem with Teresa’s immune system that meant her body was rejecting the embryos as foreign bodies…….”

Under the care of Dr George Ndukwe and through our holistic approach to IVF which included Teresa making some nutritional and lifestyle changes as well as a course of acupuncture, she finally gave birth to their beautiful daughter, Adelaide.

….read the full story by clicking on the press clipping below:



IVF Open Evening at the Zita West Clinic

IVF Open Evenings

If you’re thinking about IVF, or about to embark on IVF, then we’d love to invite you to one of the regular free online open evenings.

To find out more and register your place, sign up here.

Our results speak for themselves. Many of our clients come to us having had failed IVF cycles elsewhere and we are specialists in why IVF fails.

At the Zita West Clinic, we take a uniquely comprehensive approach to IVF that combines:

  • An individualised personalised plan appropriate to your circumstances
  • Preparation in the lead up to IVF
  • Support going through IVF
  • An assessment of your nutrition, lifestyle, and psychological/emotional aspects, all of which can impact on your chances of a successful IVF cycle.

During the Open Evening

We will talk you through what you can do to prepare for IVF success on EVERY level, not just the medical level, and how a plan of action covering every aspect of your health and well-being can help to optimise your chances of conception and pregnancy, including:

  • What to expect from an IVF cycle
  • Our unique approach to IVF
  • How lifestyle, nutrition and psychological factors can impact on success
  • How to manage your mind-set for IVF success
  • Why IVF fails and what can be done
  • Simple steps you can take to increase your chances of successful IVF

“When a couple or a woman comes to see me they are looking for answer to their questions and welcome our holistic approach that they are unlikely to have come across previously. They want a plan of action and to feel more in control and, through our assessment of their lifestyle, diet, nutrition and mind-set, we develop a plan that gives them back that feeling as well as ensuring they give themselves the best chance of succeeding.”  Zita West