Women who exercise regularly, take vitamins regularly and eat fewer saturated fats, more full-fat dairy products and less meat have fewer ovulation problems, new research finds.
Failure to ovulate regularly accounts for 18 to 30 per cent of all cases of infertility, according to the study. Infertility affects one in six couples.
The eight-year period of study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, tracked 17,544 married women trying to become pregnant who participated in a large-scale study at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The participants were awarded a dietary score based on their diet, gleaned from questionnaires the women filled out, according to the study published in the Nov. 1 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Women were graded on whether they ate more monounsaturated fats or trans fats, vegetable protein or meat protein, high fat dairy products or low fat dairy products, and multivitamins.
Other lifestyle information was also factored in, such as regularity of exercise and Body Mass Index or BMI — a calculation based on a person's weight to height ratio.
Those women who ate the lowest fat diets with more plant than animal protein, consumed full-fat dairy products, took iron supplements and ate low-glycemic carbohydrates had the lowest risk of an ovulatory disorder.
"A combination of five or more low-risk lifestyle factors, including diet, weight control and physical activity, was associated with a 69 per cent lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility," reads the study.
"What we found was that, as women started following more of these recommendations, their risk of infertility dropped substantially for every one of the dietary and lifestyle strategies undertaken," said Jorge Chavarro, a research fellow in the department of nutrition at Harvard, in a release.
"In fact, we found a six-fold difference in ovulatory infertility risk between women following five or more low-risk dietary and lifestyle habits and those following none."
Women who had a BMI of between 25 and 29.9, meaning they were overweight, had a higher rate of infertility that those at a healthy weight, and obese women with a BMI of over 30 had more than a two-fold risk.
The scientists believe that a healthy diet as well as supplementation of vitamins regulates the body's level of micronutrients and maintains its insulin sensitivity — how well the body responds to sugars in the bloodstream.