In my introduction to the importance of micronutrients and lifestyle as factors that lead to infertility, I hand-picked some vital nutrients and life changes you can make to help you on this arduous journey. As I described, many factors need to coincide simultaneously to create a baby. In this article I want to further explore the smaller elements that are often not taken into consideration.
The topic of malnutrition in a society with an abundance of food, arises again out of the fire when I discuss deficiencies of certain trace elements, and the importance they play in fertility. Specific chemicals, vitamins and trace elements are essential for the proper functioning of all processes in the body including metabolism, methylation, oxidation and detoxification. All of these processes have an effect on fertility and are obtained from food or good quality supplements.
Oxidative Stress and the Antioxidant Lipoic Acid
Oxidative stress occurs when there is a dis-balance between free radicals and antioxidants. Antioxidants also play a part in carbohydrate metabolism, the production of ATP and detoxification. Lipoic acid is an antioxidant, and therefore protects against cell damage. It is also a Sulphur containing nutrient which increases levels of glutathione to support hepatic detoxification. Foods that are high in lipoic acid are potatoes, spinach, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, beets and red meat, particularly organ meat.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that are formed when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Once formed they are highly reactive and can cause damage, or alter the structure of important cellular molecules, such as DNA. All cells however are subject to attack by free radicals. Antioxidants are the police force, engulfing and eliminating them. Studies indicate that ‘DNA damage in sperm has been found to be related to the increasing age of the male partner’ and therefore the use of lipoic acid to protect the DNA has been proven to improve sperm quality. 1. Lipoic acid, therefore, as an antioxidant helps sperm quality and motility and can also protect female reproductive organ tissue from these free radicals.
Selenium is an Essential Mineral and Antioxidant
Selenium is a less known trace element but as we know, while trace elements are required in minute amounts, they are nevertheless very important. It is not only a trace element but also has antioxidant properties that help to protect the cells from free radical damage. Selenium has been known to help prevent birth defects, miscarriage and is an important element in egg production. A deficiency in Selenium has been linked to male infertility due to a decrease in sperm formation. Studies have also revealed lower serum Selenium in women who suffered either first-trimester or recurrent miscarriages, suggesting that early pregnancy loss may be linked to reduced antioxidant protection from Selenium.2.
Selenium is found in a variety of food sources including liver, grass fed beef, cod, halibut, tuna, salmon, sardines, shrimp, turkey and Brazil nuts. Brazil nuts are one of the best sources of Selenium you can get. Don’t eat too many as this can lead to brittle hair and nails, but as an addition to a well-balanced diet they are excellent.
Zinc is an Essential Trace Element
Zinc effects both men and women’s fertility in a number of ways. Firstly it is necessary for the production of mature eggs that will be ripe for fertilization. Secondly it helps to maintain fluid in the follicle, and regulates hormonal levels of oestrogen and progesterone and thirdly it is linked to reducing the size of fibroids. Zinc deficiency reduces libido which is obviously counterproductive to fertility. In men, Zinc has been shown to increase sperm numbers as well as the quality. In addition, it is important in the production of mature sperm and a lack of it may lead to chromosomal changes.3.
As with many minerals there is a lack of Zinc in the soil we grow our produce in. Supplementation is a good way to ensure sufficient levels of Zinc in the blood. However, good food sources of zinc include oysters, beef, lamb, venison, turkey, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, green peas, spinach, cashews, cacao and mushrooms. When cooking products rich in Zinc be careful not to overcook as this will damage the Zinc.
Trace elements and antioxidants are essential to maintaining optimal functioning in the body. If you are unable to ensure adequate food sources then opt for a good quality supplement.