Charmain Canfield knows firsthand that the foods we eat can impact our fertility. Diagnosed with unexplained infertility, she tried for 12 years to get pregnant — using ovulation drugs, inseminations, surgery — and finally in the last two years, three cycles of egg retrieval for in vitro fertilization.
Now, the 39-year old nurse from Ohio credits the ketogenic diet for helping her finally conceive her happy healthy twins, Hunter and Miya, born in March 2017.
“It made all the difference in the quality of my eggs and embryos — I saw it with my own eyes,” said Canfield, who with her husband Michael welcomed the twins into their family of three adopted daughters.
Recently, we highlighted the top eight reasons why women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may want to adopt a low-carb diet. Reason #3 was that a low-carb or ketogenic diet can restore formerly absent or irregular periods, improve fertility, and result in pregnancies.
But whether or not a woman has PCOS, recent research is showing that women’s egg quality can improve and more pregnancies result by cutting carbs, or by even going full keto prior to conception.
In fact, many assisted reproduction programs are now advising both women and men to lower their carbohydrate intake and increase the fat and protein in their diet to naturally enhance the health and fertility of their eggs and sperm before undergoing fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Some fertility experts say it can increase fertility five times.
“We recommend that couples try the low-carb high-fat diet for at least two to three months before trying to conceive or before having egg retrieval for IVF. In our experience this diet produces the best quality eggs and sperm,” notes Dr. Michael Fox, of the Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine, in Florida.
That’s the advice that Canfield got, too, from her fertility expert, Dr. Robert Kiltz, of CNY Fertility, in upper New York state. He told Canfield he called it the Better Baby Diet: Beef, Butter Bacon. The fertility program also creates a regular magazine for patients that includes information about low carb keto eating with recipes — and provides references to Diet Doctor and other low carb ketogenic resources. Dr. Kiltz has another popular saying he tells all patients and shares in his regular videos on CNY Fertility’s Facebook page: “Fertile fatty foods first! It’s the fastest path to reproduction.”
Here is what happened for Canfield: for her first egg retrieval for IVF in 2015, she and her husband ignored the diet advice and stayed eating the typical high carb American diet. “I was addicted to carbs. I loved my potatoes,” she said. That first cycle resulted in 12 poor quality eggs being retrieved, of which 10 fertilized, but only eight survived. But when she went for embryo transfer all eight embryos had arrested in their development and no transfer occurred.
For her second try at egg retrieval a few months later, “We did low carb half-heartedly.” That second cycle resulted in slightly better quality eggs: 15 eggs were retrieved, 10 of those fertilized and she had 10 embryos of which five were good quality and five were poor quality. But no pregnancy resulted.
For her third cycle, she and her husband decided to fully commit to the strict ketogenic diet, cutting out all sugars, processed foods, and starchy carbohydrates. “We thought we need to see if this can work. It is now or never.”
They ate keto for 90 days before the third egg retrieval, during which time Canfield lost 35 lbs and surprisingly eliminated all evidence of her previous chronic inflammation. On egg retrieval she had 21 eggs, 20 of which fertilized. By day 3 they had 17 healthy embryos, half of which they froze. The other half they let develop until day 5/6 and two made it. Those two embryos were frozen and three months later, with Canfield continuing to eat keto the whole time, the two were thawed and transferred. Their twins were the happy result.
While she was unable to keep keto during her pregnancy due to cravings and nausea, they couple are now returning to keto eating. “I felt so much better eating that way and I know it made a huge difference to our success. Our journey was so long and so lonely for so many years, I want as many people as possible to know about keto eating and fertility.” Canfield is now hoping that with continued keto eating they may spontaneously conceive in the next few years. “I would faint after 12 years of trying, but now I feel anything is possible.” If not, they still have healthy frozen embryos they can transfer.
For women whose only problem is PCOS, Dr. Fox notes that the diet can help up to 90 per cent become pregnant within three to six cycles. For those who have blocked fallopian tubes, or other issues preventing pregnancy, the LCHF diet combined with treatment leads to better quality eggs, more fertilized embryos, higher rates of implantation, and more successful pregnancies while undergoing IVF.
In a fascinating observational experiment with 120 women undergoing IVF at the U.S. Delaware Institute for Reproductive Medicine, fertility expert Dr. Jeffrey Russell had patients fill out a three day nutritional diary. While he knew women with higher body mass index tended to have poorer quality embryos for IVF, he had been surprised to see that some thin, apparently healthy women had poor quality embryos, too.
When Dr. Russell looked at their nutritional diaries, however, the link became clear: those with poor quality embryos were consuming more than 60 per cent carbs each day. Women whose diet had less than 40 per cent of carbs, and higher amounts of fat and protein not only had better eggs, they had better embryo development and had four times the pregnancy rates. Moreover, when counselled to cut their carbs and increase their protein and fat in their diet, women with previously poor eggs and embryos saw that quality greatly improve and with pregnancies rates also increase four times. “We even found that some healthy women, who changed their nutritional profile to consume fewer carbs and more protein had unexpected spontaneous conceptions without any need for IVF,” Dr. Russell said.
Russell and his colleagues now require that all clients, women and men, do at least three months of lower carb diets prior to attempting IVF.
That advice is also being given by fertility doctors in the UK. Last week at the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology conference, as reported in Telegraph, British Fertility experts said they were recommending that their patients cut carbohydrates before IVF treatments. The Leeds Fertility program recently started a nutrition class, with cooking lessons for lower carb, for couples trying to conceive.
Canfield is doing what she can to spread the advice, too, sharing her story and posting on Facebook groups for keto eating. “I wish I had known about keto eating 12 years ago.”