How Omega 3 Fats May Improve Fertility

Even if you’re not a big fan of seafood, you probably know that adding more fish to your diet can do a lot of good, from improving your heart health to lowering inflammation. Now, according to scientists at the University of Colorado, there is even evidence that the healthy fat can boost your chances of getting pregnant.

The study, presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine annual meeting, was in mice, so more research needs to be completed before omega 3 foods or supplements become part of treatment for infertility. But Dr. Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, an obstetrician-gynecologist who led the study, is encouraged.

She worked with a group of mice that are genetically bred to have healthy ratios of omega 3 fatty acids. These mice are born with the ability to bathe cells and tissues in omega 3 fats, so the team then looked at their egg development in the ovaries.

What she found: The mice with the higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids seemed to have more precursors to egg cells than control mice with lower levels of the fat, meaning they had a larger reserve of eggs-to-be. These could then mature into a healthy egg that is fertilized and can lead to a live birth. When the ovaries were examined even further, Skaznik-Wikiel also found that the quality of the eggs were better among the animals with higher levels of omega 3s. Higher quality eggs improves the chances that the egg will be fertilized and develop into a live pup.

“Based on this study, it looks very encouraging that omega 3s can potentially improve fertility,” says Skaznik-Wikiel. “Our study shows that there may be some relationship between dietary factors and things like egg quality so one idea may be recommending supplementation with omega 3s to improve fertility.”

Exactly how the healthy omega 3 fatty acids are helping the ovary to produce better quality eggs isn’t clear yet. But other studies Skaznik-Wikiel has done with mice suggests that these fats may lower levels of inflammation that can adversely affect ovarian function.

More studies need to replicate and confirm the role that omega 3 fatty acids might play in fertility, but for now, Skaznik-Wikiel says that there isn’t much harm in consuming more omega 3 fats. (Some people who are predisposed to bleeding problems may be at higher risk of hemorrhages with high doses of omega 3s, but those cases are relatively rare.)

There may also be other benefits linked to omega 3 fatty acids for the fetus as well, in helping nerve development — that’s why many prenatal vitamins include forms of omega 3 fats. “We hope in the future to have more answers to be able to say firmly that yes, omega 3 fatty acids are the way to go [for women hoping to get pregnant,]” she says.

“But even without that firm answer at this point I don’t see the harm in supplementing.”

How omega-3 can improve fertility

As the spring weather starts to get warmer it is a great idea to start eating lighter foods such as fish and seafood after the long winter months of consuming casseroles … yummy as they are!

There is now robust evidence of how omega-3 fatty acids can improve male and female fertility.  NHS Choicesrecommend that women trying to conceive should eat no more than two portions of oily fish a week. And don’t worry if you don’t eat much fish, there are plenty of other food sources that are good sources of omega-3 that you can include into your diet.

The typical intake of omega-6 in western countries is high, and the ratio of the omega-6:omega-3 fatty acids in the UK are now thought to be greater than 10:1 and even as high as 25:1 in some adult diets. Many years ago the omega-6:omega-3 ratio dietary intake of primitive man was closer to 1:1.

There are three main omega-3 fatty acids; alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Omega-3 fatty acids are important in the prevention and treatment of various diseases, including both male and female infertility. They are important in ovulation, male sperm count/motility/mobility and DNA, conception, and embryo development.

How omega-3 can improve fertility for women

  • Increases the blood flow to the uterus.
  • Helps to regulate monthly cycles and reducing inflammation.
  • During pregnancy – brain and retina development.
  • Helps prevent pre-eclampsia and postnatal depression.

How omega-3 can improve fertility for men

  • Improves sperm membrane composition and integrity.
  • Helps to increase sperm count.
  • Improves motility and morphology.
  • Reduces damage to sperm DNA.

A University of Colorado study recently presented to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine’s yearly meeting, suggests that women who frequently eat certain varieties of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may increase their chance of conceiving. The study involved mice, so more research is needed to be completed before omega-3 foods or supplements become part of treatment for infertility, but Dr Malgorzata Skaznik-Wikiel, an obstetrician-gynecologist who led the study, is encouraged by the results.

Dr Skaznik-Wikiel worked with a group of mice that were genetically bred to have healthy ratios of omega-3 fatty acids. These mice are born with the ability to bathe cells and tissues in omega-3 fats, so the team investigated their egg development in the ovaries. Their research found that the mice with the higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids seemed to have more precursors to egg cells than control mice with lower levels of the fat, meaning they had a larger reserve of potential eggs. These mature into a healthy egg that is fertilized,  leading to a live birth. When the ovaries were examined even further, it was also found that the quality of the eggs was better among the animals with higher levels of omega 3s. A higher quality egg improves the chances that the egg will be fertilized and develops into a live pup. “Based on this study, it looks very encouraging that omega-3s can potentially improve fertility,” says Skaznik-Wikiel. Exactly how the healthy omega-3 fatty acids are helping the ovary to produce better quality eggs isn’t clear yet. But other studies involving mice suggests that these fats may lower levels of inflammation that can adversely affect ovarian function.

Fresh or canned fish and seafood that are excellent sources of omega-3 include:

  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Sardines
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Herring
  • Halibut
  • Mackerel

Vegetarian or non-fish sources of omega-3 include:

  • Milk
  • Fruit juices
  • Soy milk
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Margarine
  • Kale
  • Mint
  • Spinach
  • Watercress
  • Parsley
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Walnuts
  • Pumpkin seeds

Oils that contain a good amount of omega-3

  • Canola
  • Cod liver
  • Flaxseed
  • Mustard
  • Soybean
  • Walnut

 

Further reading:

Epping, J (2011). “Omega-3 Consumed During Pregnancy Curbs Risk For Postpartum Depression Symptoms.Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Accessed April 2014.

Saldeen, P and Saldeen, T (2004). Women and omega-3 Fatty acids. Obstet Gynecol Surv. ; 59(10): pp722-30.

 

NOT ALL OMEGA-3s ARE CREATED EQUAL. Contact allaboutomega@gmail.com for the most potent and right dosage of Omega-3 for you and your family.

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