Can you eat your way out of infertility?

The Canadian Fertility Show

More vitamins. More minerals. More herbs. More fat. What do we owe fertility patients in the way of evidence when we're selling them nutrition?

Anyone attending the Canadian Fertility Show in Toronto this past Saturday could be forgiven for coming away believing that fertility is largely a matter of nourishment. 

Sure, there were booths dedicated to donor eggs and fertility law, surrogacy and gay parenting, midwifery and adoption. There were lectures by doctors about IVF, by scientists about genetic screening, and by surrogates, parents and counsellors about third party reproduction.

But a great deal of attention hovered over food and its building blocks. By my count, 10 out of 23 talks touched on nutrition; so did 17 out of 49 booths. The message seemed to be that what you do or do not put into your body will make all the difference, and that whatever you're doing now is probably wrong. You need more vitamins. You need more minerals. You need more herbs. You need more fat. You need more amino acids. You need a different kind. You need to consume them in a different way. 

The two most startling nutrition ideas I encountered were:

Weekly IV infusions 

Intravenous infusions involve supplying a substance directly into your bloodstream. One speaker, a Toronto naturopath, highlighted case studies where IV infusion was used to try to help patients with conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, poor egg quality and poor sperm quality. 

The specific formulations varied by case. A 39-year-old woman with poor egg quality, who'd had five failed IVF cycles, for instance, got an IV drip that included amino acids such as lysine, taurine and glysine, and the drug N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC). The speaker claimed, among other things, that the treatment increased the concentration of mitochondria. Mitochondria are a cell's power generators, and their dysfunction in eggs has been linked to age-related infertility.

At least two companies had booths promoting IV drips to improve the chance of conception.  

Extreme high fat diet 

One talk argued that sugar is the main villain in our diets, causing inflammation, which in turn causes most infertility. The speaker was a reproductive endocrinologist from upstate New York.

And it's not just standard sweets that he takes aim at: because fruits and vegetables convert into sugar, they too should be avoided. "Lettuce is deadly," he told the audience. He further advises against milk products, avocados, nuts of all kinds, and any fermented foods.

In fact, he recommends just one fat-filled meal each day — his personal preference is rib eye steak and homemade low-sugar ice cream — a practice he calls "intermittent feasting." He recommends this type of diet for everyone, but especially for couples seeking to conceive — and women who are pregnant. 

His fertility clinic sometimes also recommends "intralipids" — an intravenous treatment containing egg protein and soy fat. Fat, he claims, is the key to reducing fertility-blocking inflammation. 

I'm not disputing that diet can be important to getting pregnant and having a healthy baby. But are foods and their building blocks really the missing link? I'm skeptical. I like evidence. 

People who have been trying for a long time to be parents, but haven't yet succeeded, can be extremely vulnerable. They deserve full disclosure about what is and is not known about a proposed treatment or diet, and they need that information before they pay.  

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To get in touch, email me at alison.motluk @ gmail.com.

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