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Higher Protein Lower Carb Diets May Help Fertility


A small study on 120 women presented at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists discovered that by tweaking the protein and carbohydrate levels in women's diets IVF success rates may be increased rather dramatically. The results of this small and preliminary study suggest that a diet which contains suggest at least 25% protein may help women to have more successful assisted reproduction procedures such as IVF.

There were two main treatment arms to the study: one group of women ate a protein rich diet while another group ate a protein rich diet with carbohydrate restriction. Another group ate normally an acted as controls. The results demonstrated that in women who ate a protein rich diet, two thirds became pregnant which is a pregnancy rate considerably greater than the average IVF success rate in the USA. Comparatively, the women who acted as controls experienced a 31.9% pregnancy rate.

Women who consumed a high protein diet in tandem with carbohydrate restriction experienced even greater IVF success rates. Carbohydrate restriction was defined as a carbohydrate intake less that 40% of their total daily food intake. When women curtailed their carbohydrates and ate more protein their IVF success rates climbed to an astonishing 80%.

Interestingly, some top IVF clinics have historically warned against diets which are excessively high in protein. This caution was based upon animal studies which have suggested a potential for reduced fertility when dietary protein is above normal levels.

Researchers (2) from the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) have linked high protein diets to impaired fertility and less viable offspring in animals. Their studies (on mice) found that a diet rich in protein - 25 percent protein (typical of the daily Atkins' Diet protein consumption) - could have an adverse effect on female fertility compared to a normal 14% protein diet. Just one third of the group eating a high-protein diet were able to become pregnant, compared to 70% in the normal diet group; the rate of pregnancy loss was also greater when protein intake was high.

High protein diets are thought to interfere with fertility in animals by increasing the amount of ammonium in the female reproductive tract which could have an adverse effect on delicate embryos. The researchers concluded that:

"These findings, together with similar work carried out in cows, mean that it would be prudent to advise couples who are trying to conceive, either naturally or via ART, to ensure that the woman's protein intake is less than 20% of their total energy consumption.”

“The available data certainly indicate that a high protein diet is not advisable while trying to conceive." (2)

The positive study noted above (1) used IVF as the method of conception which of course by-passes the fallopian tubes. If excess ammonia was created in the fallopian tubes this may not have been an issue due to the mode of reproduction: direct transfer of the embryo into the uterus. Alternately, it may be that women, unlike mice and cows actually thrive on higher protein and lower carbohydrate diets when trying to conceive, whether they are conceiving naturally or via assisted reproduction. Hopefully further studies will tease out the details.

This article is for purely informational purposes and in not intended to replace medical or nutritional advice for which you should see a physician or dietitian.

(1)Annual Meeting of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Source reference: Russell J, et al "Daily protein content correlates with increased fertility and pregnancy outcome" ACOG 2013 Abstract Poster #96
(2) 20th Annual Conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. June 29 2004 Abstract no: O-076
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Content copyright © 2014 by Hannah Calef. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Hannah Calef. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Hannah Calef for details.

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