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Story | Community
31 August 2021

QF alumnus addresses ways to improve reproductive health

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Image source: Chinnapong, via Shutterstock

Weill Cornell Medicine doctor highlights importance of lifestyle changes and reproductive education

Challenges of infertility are on the rise, and while the journey of natural conception can be psychologically draining for some, there are many factors that contribute to reducing or enhancing fertility in both women and men.

Studies suggest a set of key factors linked to the health of the reproductive system which should be considered from a young age, since these factors involve lifestyle patterns, nutrition and dietary habits.

To explain more about these factors, Dr. Nigel Pereira, an alumnus of Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university, who currently is an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and an Assistant Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, explains how environment, lifestyle and nutrition can greatly impact fertility.

Recent data has suggested a link between Vitamin D deficiency and infertility

Dr. Nigel PereiraAlumnus of Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar
Dr. Nigel PereiraAlumnus of Weill Cornell Medicine – Qatar

“Recent data has suggested a link between Vitamin D deficiency and infertility. Although vitamin D levels are a global concern, yet, it can be particularly alarming in hotter parts of the world, where people mostly shade away indoors for a big portion of the day to avoid the heat, resulting in vitamin D deficiency,” Dr. Pereira said.

Having regular check-ups to ensure vitamin D levels may be one way of enhancing natural fertility. Other crucial contributors to reproductive health are nutrition and physical activity.

“There is a lot of data that suggests if a woman is overweight or obese, her conception rate would be lower than someone who has a normal body weight. So, fast food, indoors lifestyle, absence of even casual physical activity such as using public transportation or walking a short distance to grab a meal, all can lead to increased weight.

Even following a healthy balanced diet without proper physical activity will inevitably cause weight gain, and that in itself may have long-term menstrual cycle issues, leading to conception and pregnancy issues

Dr. Nigel Pereira

“Even following a healthy balanced diet without proper physical activity, will inevitably cause weight gain, and that in itself may have long-term menstrual cycle issues, leading to conception and pregnancy issues.”

Dr. Pereira recommends for women who are on a high carbohydrate – high fat diet to try to lose at least five to seven percent of their body weight before trying to conceive, as this small decrease will improve menstrual regularity, chances of conception, and may mitigate adverse obstetric risks such as preterm delivery, postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia.

Adopting the concept of calory counting and being conscious about our food choices improves overall health and can enhance fertility. Image source: udra11, via Shutterstock

It’s equally important to stress that also being underweight, exercising too much, and eating too little to stay in shape could also cause hormonal irregularities.

“The skinny beauty standards usually promoted in various forms of media nowadays puts pressure on many women to keep their weight below a certain level. Depriving the body of nutrients can certainly hurt the reproductive health,” Dr. Pereira said.

Anything that comes directly out of a bag, a can or a box represents a less healthy option in comparison to something they need to wash and peel

Dr. Nigel Pereira

Dr. Pereira recommends for all individuals, including children and young parents, to adopt the concept of calorie counting. He says people should be conscious about their food choices. “Educating children about food choices is important. For example, anything that comes directly out of a bag, a can or a box represent a less healthy option in comparison to something they need to wash and peel.”

As for physical activity, which is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Pereira recommends a 30- minute brisk walk or any kind of aerobic exercise or sport five days a week. “Most people don’t like to exercise because it can be boring, unless if it becomes part of their lifestyle where they feel guilty for not exercising and then it becomes a habit.

“So, it’s important to start off with a basic routine that you can gradually build on. Once you start with a 30-minute exercise, you will only do more after that.”

Apart from the broad ways to boost fertility, Dr. Pereira recommends for women to monitor the cyclicity of their period. If they experience any symptoms of irregular cycles, acne, hair loss, or hair growth over uncommon areas, they should seek the consultation of a reproductive endocrinologist or a gynecologist.

Physical exercise is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle. Image source: GP PIXSTOCK, via Shutterstock

Younger girls should be made aware that their lifestyle habits will play a big role in the future of their reproductive system. And since young girls tend to look at their mothers as role models, mothers can choose to adopt healthy lifestyles through exercise and balanced diet.

Dr. Pereira highlighted the importance of having an open conversation between mothers and their daughters about their period. “Children are much smarter than we think and it’s better for mothers to educate their daughters about this phase and the changes they will experience rather than them getting their information from friends or other sources. Another healthy way of approaching this topic is to accompany their daughter to a gynecologist who can explain the nature of this phase.”

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