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Diet & Health : Children & Women Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

Does eating ice cream prevent infertility in women?
By Ben Wasserman -
Mar 2, 2007 - 6:06:47 AM

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Eating too much of low-fat dairy foods such as skimmed milk and yoghurt may harm women's fertility while eating whole fat dairy products such as whole fat milk and ice cream may have a protective effect against infertility, a new study suggests.

In the study published on February 28 in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction, U.S. researchers found an association between a low-fat dairy diet and increased risk of infertility due to lack of ovulation or anovulatory infertility.
Women who ate two or more servings of low-fat dairy foods per day were 85% more likely to experience ovulation-related problems compared to those who ate less than one serving per week. In contrast, women who ate at least one serving of high fat dairy foods per day had a 27% reduced risk of anovulatory infertility compared to those who ate one serving or less per week.

Dr Jorge Chavarro, lead author of the study and a research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston was cited as saying that more research is needed to confirm or refute the association between low-fat dairy foods and anovulatory infertility because the information in this area is scarcely available to support this link.

Chavarro said it is particularly important to clarify the role of dairy foods on fertility as the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends men and women eat three or more servings of low fat diary foods daily.   If confirmed, the 85% higher risk of infertility could be the basis for women who want to become pregnant to adjust their diet.

In the study, Dr Chavarro and his colleagues identified 18,555 women aged 24 to 42 who participated in The Nurses' Health Study II. Women without a history of infertility when entering the study had tried to become pregnant or become pregnant between 1991 and 1999.

The women were surveyed every two years to see if they had tried to become pregnant for more than a year without success and what caused the problem if they failed to conceive. Also their dietary habits were questioned with regard to what they ate and how often certain foods during the previous year.   In the course of the study, 438 women reported infertility due to an ovulatory disorder.

With all possible factors considered including age, parity, body mass index, total calorie intake, physical activity, smoking, drinking and contraceptive use, Dr. Chavarro found eating two or more servings of low fat dairy foods a day apparently increased the risk of infertility by 85% compared to eating one serving or less per week whereas eating one or more servings per day of high fat dairy foods appeared to lower the risk by 27% compared to eating one serving or less per week.

But no association was found between infertility and the total intake of dairy foods.    And there was an inverse association between high fat diary foods and the risk of developing the fertility disorder.   That means a high consumption of high fat diary foods may lead to a lower risk of infertility.

The researchers also investigated the effect of individual dairy food on the risk of infertility.   One extra serving of low fat dairy foods such as yoghurt would result in an 11% increase in the infertility risk whereas one extra serving of high fat diary products such as whole milk would reduce the risk by 22%, both associations were based on the condition that the total calories in two groups were the same.

A more significant finding was that the more ice cream a woman ate, the lower her risk of infertility was.   Women who ate two or more servings of ice cream a week were 38% less likely to develop infertility than those who used less than one serving per week.

The researchers believe that the presence of a fat-soluble substance, which improves ovarian function, might explain the lower risk of infertility from high-fat dairy foods. "The intake of dairy fat, or a fat-soluble substance present in dairy foods, may partly explain the inverse association between high-fat dairy foods and anovulatory infertility," Dr Chavarro explained.  

Chavarro did not elaborate what the fat soluble substance was, but the researchers found there was not any association between anovulatory infertility and intake of calcium, phosphorus or vitamin D.

A scientist affiliated with suggests that if the association between dairy fat and fertility, then fat soluble hormone(s) in milk might be the reason. Anovulatory infertility was likely caused by an imbalance of hormones caused by prolonged strenuous exercise, anxiety and other emotional stress and dietary hormones from dairy may influenced the imbalance.
A Mongolian scientist working at Harvard has earlier said that U.S. milk has high estrogen levels than Mongolian milk as US farmers collect milk even during a period in which dairy cows produce high levels of estrogen in their milk. Another possibility is that those who ate low fat dairy foods were more health conscious than others, probably because they may have known some preexisting condition directly or indirectly related to infertility.

Anovulatory infertility can may also result from a number of other factors including eating disorders, hypothalamic dysfunction, hyperprolactinemia, polycystic ovary syndrome, luteal phase defects, tumors of the pituitary gland adrenal gland or ovaries and use of certain medications.  

The scientist suggests that women should not rush to eat tons of ice cream to protect against infertility as ice cream is not a good food from a nutrition viewpoint.   He point out eating dairy foods with high fat and protein was linked with chronic diseases such as cancer, according to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, a Cornell University nutritionist who described the link in his famous book titled “The China Study”.

Early studies have already raised concern over high consumption of milk because lactose is digested into glucose and galactose, the latter clinically and experimentally appears toxic to ovarian germ cells.  

One study published in the Feb. 1994 issue of American Journal of Epidemiology (AJE) found fertility declined faster with aging in women who had higher consumption of milk and greater capability of digesting lactose. This means, milk consumption may affect ovarian function.   The toxicity was also demonstrated in other studies, which have associated milk consumption with higher risk of ovarian cancer. One such study was published in the November 1989 issue of AJE.

The scientist comments it does not matter the results of the current study are accurate and reliable or not.   Eating ice cream or dairy foods is not the way to go when it comes to protection against infertility.



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