Breaking fertility barriers

Breaking fertility barriers

Birth rates are plummeting worldwide. According to Family Planning International, 10% of all couples worldwide are dealing, or have dealt, with infertility. While most people blame this on women having children later in life, there are emotional, environmental and genetic factors at work too. Which is why The Complete Guide to Becoming Pregnant (Random House) by Firuza Parikh, director, assisted reproduction and genetics, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, is an essential read for those who find conception difficult. The book contains facts that debunk all the old wives’ tales that haunt women during pregnancy.

She also talks about questions on male and female infertility that remain unasked, along with different IVF protocols and other general information. The book ends on a high note with film director and choreographer Farah Khan’s miracle story about carrying triplets in her 40s, which leaves the reader with two essential elements for conception—hope and positivity.

Here we present excerpts from her book on how nutrients in food, and yoga can help boost fertility. We also spoke to nutritionist Jyoti Arora, team leader, nutrition and dietetics, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon, and yoga expert Seema Sondhi, Yoga Studio, New Delhi, for more on this.


What Parikh says: An amino acid which helps increase both sperm count and quality.

Arora says: It’s found in wholewheat, nuts, seeds, peanuts, brown rice, popcorn, soy, raisins and chocolate.

Quantity recommended daily: Depends on your body type, so contact your medical practitioner.


What Parikh says: This amino acid is essential for normal functioning of sperm cells, and helps improve sperm quality.

Arora says: Meat, poultry, fish and dairy products are the richest sources of L-carnitine, while fruits, vegetables and grains contain relatively little L-carnitine.

Quantity recommended daily: Depends on your body type, so contact your medical practitioner.


What Parikh says: This antioxidant protects the body from chemical fragments called free radicals and is vital for sperm formation. It prevents chromosome breakage, which can cause birth defects and miscarriages.

Arora says: Plant foods, such as vegetables, are the most common dietary sources of selenium. Fish, shellfish, red meat, grains, eggs, chicken, liver and garlic are all good sources of selenium. Brewer’s yeast, wheatgerm and enriched breads are also good.

Quantity recommended daily: For men, 14 years and above, 55 micrograms (mcg), and for women, 14 years and above, 55mcg.


What Parikh says: This antioxidant protects the sperm from DNA damage. A study has shown that vitamin C, added to Clomiphine (a fertility-aiding drug), leads to better ovulation rates.

Arora says: It’s found in tomato, strawberry, raspberry, peppers, broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, peas, kiwi, papaya, paprika, watermelon, orange, grapes and ‘amla’. Many other fruits and vegetables also contain small amounts of vitamin C.

Quantity recommended daily: For men over 18 years, 90mg, and for women over 18 years, 75mg.


What Parikh says: The antioxidant activity of vitamin E improves the fertility potential of sperm.

Arora says: It’s found in wheatgerm oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, dry nuts , green leafy vegetables, tomato, sweet potato, pumpkin, papaya, broccoli, olives, avocado and asparagus.

Quantity recommended daily: For men and women, 14 years and above, 15mg.


What Parikh says: Regular intake of folic acid can prevent neurological problems in the baby such as spina bifida. The B-complex family of vitamins is essential for producing healthy genetic material—DNA and RNA. Research indicates that administering vitamin B6 to women who have trouble conceiving increases fertility, and that vitamin B-12 has been found to improve sperm counts.

Arora says: Folic acid is found in beans and legumes, citrus fruits and juices, wheat bran and other wholegrains, dark, green leafy vegetables, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver. Vitamin B is found in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cereal grains, milk, legumes and fresh vegetables.

Quantity recommended daily: 100mg.


What Parikh says: These are necessary for the reproductive system and normal hormone function. Low intake of EFAs can cause poor sperm quality, abnormal sperm, poor motility or low count.

Arora says: Omega-3 sources are flaxseeds, walnut, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, avocado, some dark, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and mustard greens, canola oil (cold-pressed and unrefined), soybean oil, wheatgerm oil, salmon, sardines and tuna. Omega-6 sources are flaxseed oil, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachio nuts, sunflower seeds (raw), olive oil, olives and black currant seed oil.

Quantity recommended daily: Omega-3 and Omega-6, via diet, per adult, is 1.5g each.


What Parikh says: This is necessary for the functioning of the reproductive hormones—oestrogen and progesterone. It is also a necessary component of the sperm tail. Zinc deficiency can cause low sperm counts.

Arora says: It is found in lamb, pork, chicken, lobster and salmon, dairy products such as milk and cheese, yeast, peanuts, beans and wholegrain cereals, brown rice, wholewheat bread, potato and yogurt. For vegetarians, pumpkin seeds offer one of the most concentrated, non-meat food sources of zinc.

Quantity recommended daily: For men above 18 years, 11mg; for women above 18 years, 8mg; and for lactating or pregnant women, 3mg.


Yoga expert Seema Sondhi suggests three breathing exercises that can be continued during and after IVF:


• Sit in a comfortable meditative position, keeping the spine and head straight, hands on knees and mouth closed.

• Bend the right arm towards yourself from the elbow. Fold the middle and index finger inwards to the palms. Bring the ring finger and the little finger towards the thumb.

• Place the right thumb on the right side of the nose and the ring and little fingers on the left side of the nose. By pressing the thumb, block the right nostril.

• Inhale slowly and deeply through the left nostril to a count of four. After a full inhalation, block the left nostril with the ring and little fingers and hold the breath for eight counts.

• Exhale, releasing the pressure from the right nostril and releasing the air slowly, deeply and steadily to a count of eight.

• Next, block the left nostril by pressing your thumb, inhale deeply from the right nostril to a count of four. After a full inhalation, block the right nostril and hold the breath for eight counts. Exhale through the left nostril to a count of eight.

• This completes one round of Anuloma Viloma. Do six-eight rounds. Then relax in Shavasana.


• Sit in a comfortable position with eyes closed. Relax your body. Allow your breath to become calm and rhythmic. Inhale deeply from both nostrils through the throat, partially keeping your glottis closed in order to produce a sound in a low, uniform pitch (sa).

• Fill your lungs, but take care not to bloat your stomach. Exhale slowly and deeply until your lungs are empty. As you exhale, you should feel the air on the roof of the palate and it should produce a sound (ha). These sounds should be so silent that only you should be able to hear them. This completes the first sequence of this Pranayama. Wait for a few seconds to begin the next round.

• Repeat 10-15 times.


• Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, with hands on thighs and palms facing upwards.

• Close the eyes and relax the whole body by breathing deeply.

• Raise the arms, bend the elbows and bring the hands to the ears. Using the index finger, plug the ears. Inhale, slowly and deeply.

• Exhale, slowly making a deep, smooth and steady humming sound like that of a bee.

• This completes one round of this Pranayama. Practise 5-10 rounds.

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