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Dietitian consults should be routine for women trying to conceive, says expert

Photo: Health Times
Obstetricians and GPs should be more educated on the impact of diet on fertility, according to Fertility and Prenatal Dietitian Melanie McGrice, who says consulting a dietitian or nutritionist should become routine for couples trying to conceive.

“Diet impacts fertility in quite a few different ways,” says Ms McGrice.

“And I’m passionate about diet for fertility for two key reasons.

“One is simply that it can assist with different dietary conditions that directly impact fertility.

“For example, if somebody has undiagnosed Celiac disease, that can have a significant impact on fertility.

“I’ve had clients who have been trying IVF for years and years only then to find out that the woman had undiagnosed Celiac disease.

“Once that was treated, they were able to conceive properly.”
There are multiple other conditions, such as Crohn's disease and even endometriosis, that are also impacted by diet.

Another common cause of infertility, according to Ms McGrice, is insulin resistance.

“Sixty percent of people who are overweight have insulin resistance, and one in two women who are planning to conceive fit within that category, so it’s a high number of women.

“Insulin has a domino effect on other fertility hormones which make it difficult to conceive.”

In fact, Ms McGrice says about one in three women who are struggling to conceive, are doing so as a result of insulin resistance.

On the flipside, women with very low percentages of body fat can also struggle to conceive due to the impact on ovulation, and diet plays a key role here also.

“So there are lots of reasons where diet can help women to conceive.”

Along with conception itself, there is increased research that shows the direct impact of diet on what is commonly referred to as “the first 1000 days”.

“That is the main time for genetic programming which goes on to influence our life and our health for decades to come.”

Ms McGrice says in her view, every woman who is planning to conceive should be having a consultation with a dietitian.

“It can really help to optimise your baby’s genetics and it can also help to optimise fertility.”

While women more commonly seek allied health services when trying to conceive, there is an increasing amount of research that shows men’s nutrition also impacts fertility.

However Ms McGrice says more research is required, in order to better understand the impact, as is being done in relation to women’s fertility.

“There is a really interesting study by harvard which shows that by making just five dietary changes, it can help optimise women’s fertility by 65 per cent.

“Diet is so incredibly powerful for fertility. I don’t think there’s enough knowledge about it and even when I’m presenting to doctors they often say they had no idea that diet has such a big impact on fertility.”

While research in the area is relatively new, it coincides with an increase in reports of fertility issues, due to increased aged, obesity, dietary conditions and malnutrition.

“There are so many more conditions that impact fertility as well, so for those reasons we’re seeing increases in rates of infertility.

“But often people are going to fertility clinics before looking at a holistic view to the issue.”

Ms McGrice says while she agrees with the guidelines that suggest fertility treatment be sought following 12 months of trying for those under 35, and 6 months for those over, she feels women should be consulting with a dietitian as soon as they start trying to conceive.

“Often people go straight onto their folic acid supplements, but it’s not just about taking something out of a bottle, you actually need to look at your diet.”

Ms McGrice is passionate about educating the medical community about the direct impact of dietary changes to fertility, and often presents to GPs and reproductive specialists to make them more aware.

“I’m very passionate about educating the medical profession on just how important diet is.

“I’m often asked to go and speak to different conferences and so forth, where I’ll explain to them about the importance of diet for fertility and the often end up referring patients to us.”

Ms McGrice also runs a YouTube channel for patients and professions called Nourish Fertility which includes mini tutorials around fertility and diet, and runs an online program, www.malaniemgraph.com/join, about optimising your diet for fertility.

“It really takes people through step by step about how to optimise their diet for fertility, looking at nutrition and supplements, weight, diet and physical activity.

“It demonstrates the importance of really having a good look at your diet with the perspective of fertility.

“I’ve been through my own fertility journey as well so I have a lot of empathy for my clients.

“I’m surprised at how unaware some of the medical are, but you know about what you’re most passionate about, and I’m passionate about educating the industry and helping as many women as possible optimise their fertility.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.