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The Fertility Diet: Should you believe the hype?

A new book by Harvard researchers offers hope to the six million American couples struggling with infertility. Unfortunately, it isn’t likely to make any real difference.

It’s well-accepted that diet, exercise and lifestyle affect how long you live, the health of your heart, and the likelihood that you’ll develop cancer, yet little has been proven about how what you eat affects your fertility. “The Fertility Diet“, a new book by Harvard researchers, touts the findings of a long-term study following more than 18,000 women trying to conceive as beginning to fill in that gap.

Among the key findings reported, the study recommends eating complex carbohydrates in lieu of simple carbs, choosing unsaturated fats and avoiding trans fats, eating more protein from plants in lieu of protein from animals, and maintaining a healthy weight (corresponding to a Body Mass Index [BMI] between 20 and 24), and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

These recommendations are perfectly reasonable and may actually lead to better health. The larger question is: can we realistically use the information in this study to conclude that changing one’s diet will actually increase the likelihood of conception? And this is where the scientist in me says, NO. As we say, “Associations between lifestyle and certain health outcomes do not prove causation.”

How often our patients have asked if we recommend a certain diet or dietary supplement, and how often I have been tempted to go beyond our standard prescription of a healthy diet and pre-natal vitamins. I have been dreaming of a book called the “USC Fertility Diet”, could it become a best-seller? Probably.

The trouble is, there is no proof that a particular diet makes any difference. And I just can’t bring myself to make it up.

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