In recent years, the widespread availability of reproductive technology has become increasingly accessible making it easier for couples to control when they wish to start a family. As age declines, women become less fertile due to a decreasing number of oocytes available for conception. Women who have surpassed their childbearing years have a higher risk in developing disorders affecting reproductive health and fertility. This paper assesses the effectiveness of diet and its relation to fertility in aging women seeking a child in the later years of life. This paper reviews several scholarly journals as many sources believe that there is a positive correlation between diet and fertility. However, it is evident that some researchers may disagree stating that diet is weakly correlated with enhancing fertility in women. This examination of nutrition as a fertility treatment points out the limitations of diet and proposes a comprehensive method including the addition of psychological and social approaches to this complex issue.
Reproductive medicine refers to a branch of medicine that specializes in the prevention and assessment of several reproductive conditions that occur in both men and women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2019) states, in the world of science it is a known fact that as women age their potential to have children decreases. Although, the exact time when this decline starts to progress can vary among individuals. In the article, ‘The Truth About Fertility and Aging’ printed in Shape Magazine, author Jenna Birch interviews registered dieticians to discuss the effect of a balanced diet on reproductive health in aging women. According to these healthcare professionals, while we cannot control the inevitable process of aging, what we can control are the foods we consume. A balanced diet promotes healthy cell and tissue growth that act as a strong foundation for a successful pregnancy (Birch, 2018). From a dietician’s perspective, the best way to enhance fertility in later life is to manipulate the ratio of macronutrients consumed in one’s diet. This paper will analyze several research journals to conclude how strongly correlated altering the diet of a woman is in enhancing reproductive success as well as provide directions for future research in the area of reproductive medicine and gerontology.
Fertility can be defined as a woman’s natural ability to produce offspring. According to Statistics Canada (2016), recent surveys have concluded that the average age of mothers at first birth has become increasingly concentrated around the age of 30. Thus, being said, women are now disregarding normative age-graded influences and having children later in life. Diet is a natural approach to treating fertility and is often one of the first lifestyle adjustments women make to increase fertility on a cellular level. Anti-Müllerian hormone also referred to as AMH is a dimeric glycoprotein involved in differentiation and cell growth (Maczekalski et al., 2016). Anti-Müllerian hormone levels have a strong relationship to ovarian reserve in women. Ovarian reserve allows physicians to interpret the number and quality of follicles in the ovaries and can be used to examine the overall reproductive health of a woman. Maczekalski et al. (2016) argued that AMH levels can be used as a tool to assess the age-related decline in fertility. The body’s natural levels of AMH progressively decline which create several challenges for physicians as the difficulty of assessing egg count increases. Vitamin D is commonly associated with AMH as there seems to be a positive correlation between the two. Thus, it is recommended that women consume foods rich in Vitamin D such as fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolks to boost AMH levels resulting in test results that can provide a health practitioner with the information needed to create an appropriate treatment plan including special diets. In addition to this, the type of diet one consumes has been proven to have an effect on infertility. Dhungana et al. (2016) conducted a study that examined the Western diet and its harm on ovarian health and aging. The consumption of saturated fatty acids, omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids, and refined carbohydrates has become more common in Western societies. As a result, the susceptibility to damage in oocytes has increased in aging women and lessened the chance of conception to occur (Dhungana et al., 2016). Dieticians agree upon omega-3 fatty acids consumption being a key adjustment in diet for aging women seeking conception in later life (Birch, 2018). As the research presented states, diet does not only boost fertility levels, it can also increase hormones in the body that are directly linked to reproductive health. As research on the effect of nutrition and its relation to fertility progresses, women who wish to pursue a family later in life may find it beneficial to refer to diet as a reliable source of treatment for infertility.
Identifying dietary factors that have an effect on fertility rates is of major public health significance. Chiu, Chavarro, and Souter (2018) studied various epidemiologic literature and examined key relationships between nutritional factors and female reproductive health. In addition to a well-balanced diet, research states that women are often told to consume a daily multivitamin containing folic acid before and during pregnancy to prevent birth defects as well as the maintenance of pregnancy. According to the U.S Public Health Service and Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, women who have entered their childbearing year should consume 0.4-0.7 mg of folic acid to prevent neural tube defects (Chiu, Chavarro, & Souter, 2018). However, dating back to the 1990s, controversy over the safety of folic acid consumption arose due to studies that reported increased spontaneous abortions in women over the age of 30. Therefore, it is advised that women over the age of 30 to avoid folic acid supplementation as a fertility treatment as there is limited evidence to support this approach to infertility. In Birch’s article, she interviews registered dietician Jessica Marcus who claims protein to be top of mind during the perinatal period as its ability to build cells and tissues is crucial to fetal growth (Birch, 2018). She explains, an aging mother who has eaten adequate calories, but inadequate protein may end up with a baby with low birthweight resulting in several complications. Chiu, Chavarro, and Souter (2018) rebuttal the idea of protein having a significant impact on fertility as they argue that attention should be paid to the exposure to environmental contaminants in foods containing protein. Foods such as meat, poultry, and fish are often exposed to several toxins that have built up in the tissues of the animal and are then passed to humans who consume them. These toxins can result in the death of a fetus as women exceeding the age of 30 are much more vulnerable to this complication in comparison to younger women. As the sources presented acknowledge, diet is an essential aspect of pregnancy and there is much work that still remains regarding its ability to improve fertility in aging women. In order to provide practical dietary suggestions to older women struggling with subfertility, all aspects of nutrition must be considered such as the environmental, psychological, and social factors effecting conception.
Due to the various advances in fertility science, prospective parents have been given an array of opportunities to increase the chances of conception later in life. Modifiable risk factors refer to behaviours that can either raise or lower an individual’s risk of developing diseases and disorders. Diet is considered of significance when categorized as a modifiable risk factor for treating subfertility in aging women. Birch (2018), spoke with registered dietician Liz Weinandy whom believes that there is an intense correlation between diet and subfertility in aging women. She states, the most beneficial strategy for improving fertility levels in older reproductive ages is a healthy diet pattern. Although Marcus and Weinandy consider nutrition to be the optimal solution to subfertility, both dieticians do not mention other modifiable risk factors associated with infertility that have been argued to have equal importance to diet in relation to this hormonal disorder. Rossi, Abusief, and Missmer (2016) conducted experiments concluding that the in addition to a healthy diet, it is believed that a combination of nutritional, psychological, and social aspects is of most benefit to increasing fertility. Psychological stressors have been shown to have a direct influence on the reproductive system in aging women. Aging women enter an entire new phase in life where changes are seen in both physical appearance and bodily processes that can lead to the development of these stressors. Women entering the aging process may find it beneficial to seek psychological assistance to relieve symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem which in turn may increase self-efficacy levels leading to a positive impact on fertility (Rossi, Abusief, & Missmer, 2016). In addition to this, the social experiences of an aging women can also contribute to how diet is impacting fertility. Engaging in social activities such as the consumption of alcoholic beverages does not favour conditions that support pregnancy especially in older women. The association between alcohol and infertility has been shown to have potentials mechanisms through which alcohol can impair fertility due to the rise in estrogen leading to decreased follicle stimulating hormone secretion (Rossi, Abusief, & Missmer, 2016). In this situation, the addition of a healthy diet is not of assistance as existing oocytes have already been exposed to damage thus decreasing the possibility of conception. Adding to the challenges infertility patients endure, an aging women’s social support system is of extreme significance when trying to conceive in later stages of life. Jamilian, Jamilian, and Soltany (2017) believe that after a woman has undergone several stressors brought upon by the aging process, it is crucial to have a reassuring partner to assist in offering both emotional and physical support. It has been seen that under extreme conditions that women may lose weight due to insufficient diet or poor nutrition due to stress in which they lose all the valuable nutrients needed to found a healthy pregnancy (Jamilian, Jamilian, & Soltany, 2017). To conclude, there are several additional lifestyle factors that either support or impair the use of diet as a fertility treatment. When choosing to use diet to treat subfertility, women may find it sufficient to keep in mind the various factors that can affect diet and its expression on subfertility.
The popular press article written by Jenna Birch illustrates the medical opinions of several healthcare professionals who speak upon the topic of reproductive health and aging specifically, its effect on fertility. Dieticians argue that nutritional adjustments are the most powerful tool to overcoming subfertility as women age. However, many researchers challenge the correlation between diet and fertility as there is still much work that remains regarding diet and its ability to treat subfertility. According to existing data, there are several positive correlations between diet and subfertility as well as psychological and social implications that support the treatment of fecundity. In terms of directions for future research, many researchers in the gerontology field may focus on developing thorough research on specific types of nourishments that have a direct effect on the process of conception. Infertility treatments are costly in terms of money, time, and emotional energy which force many women to turn to non-invasive alternatives such as diet (Rossi, Abusief, & Missmer, 2016). In future studies, researchers can focus on optimizing modifiable lifestyle factors that have been confirmed to increase fertility through natural conception or infertility treatment. In order to make recommendations to subfertility patients specifically aging women, researchers must consider limitations of modifiable risk factors and foster research that will allow healthcare professionals to draw conclusions which in return allow treatment plans to be created accordingly. As Birch reinforces in her article, fertility is unique for every woman regardless of age, however, diet is a universal lifestyle adjustment that illustrates positive changes amongst all aging women. Attaining additional research on this aspect of fertility treatment can allow women to attain the freedom to choose when to conceive through a non-surgical method. As research in gerontology and reproductive health continues, women will conquer the capability to choose to have children later in life without the worrisome of subfertility as a consequence of aging.
Infertility can be considered a social stigma for many women suffering with conception. However, modern science and technology is bringing society closer to the end of infertility and its complications. From artificial inseminations to egg and sperm donors, reproductive health has advanced tremendously as women can rely on an array of options available to them after surpassing the reproductive peak where the probability of conception is at its highest. Diet as a treatment for fertility is another aspect of fecundity that is currently under review by several scholarly researchers. As research in the gerontology field persists, women’s health and infertility may lead practitioners to findings that benefit the process of conception allowing women of any age to take advantage of the opportunity to choose when they are physically and psychologically prepared to take on a new role in the path of life, and that is, being a mother.