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 Thou Shalt Go Vegan

I know what you are thinking – “I could never go vegan” - but please read on and see just what your current diet may be doing to your fertility, then decide. 
What's wrong with meat?Hormone Growth Promoters:  HGPs are sometimes used to enhance meat production (growth) in livestock.  Banned by the EU in 1988, there is increasing evidence to link the us of HGPs to fertility issues.  In NZ, the use of HGPs is strictly controlled – but only to protect our trade with the EU!  What goes into the meat we buy and eat here is a different story.  

According to the NZFSA website “NZFSA does not consider that approved HGPs have any demonstrable food risks, and as such meat is not required by law to be so labelled for sale in NZ”. 

1. Hmmm. Antibiotics:  Individual agents within each of the major classes of antibiotics have been shown to have significant adverse effects on spermatogenesis or spermatozoal function in mammals.                                                                                                 2.  This research is referring to direct ingestion of antibiotics, but one could logically assume that ingesting antibiotics indirectly through the food we eat could have similarly worrying effects.  Antibiotics have been used in meat, milk and egg production in New Zealand since government approval in the 1960s.               

3.  Since further research is needed, and given the other issues surrounding meat in general, I suggest you avoid it.
Organic meat:  Although better than non-organic meat, organic meat is still no good for fertility.  Meat, no matter how carefully you trim it, contains high levels of saturated fats which lead to increases in oestrogen, affecting both male and female fertility and hindering conception.  Tests show that a man's testosterone levels drop precipitously after a high fat meal. 

4  Goodbye libido!  Animal fat is associated with clogged arteries - don't think that this just means heart disease.  Often the first sign of clogged arteries is erectile disfunction – do something about it before it becomes a cardiac issue! 
Worse still, even organically raised farm animals are likely to graze on pasture that has been subject to air pollution, therefore they will also be a main source of dioxins.  “Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, inability to maintain pregnancy, decreased fertility, reduced sperm counts, endometriosis...A North American eating a typical North American diet will receive 93% of their dioxin exposure from meat and dairy products (23% is from milk and dairy alone; the other large sources of exposure are beef, fish, pork, poultry and eggs)...The best way to avoid dioxin exposure is to reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat and dairy products by adopting a vegan diet. ” 1     

5.  If you aren't convinced yet, then read this:  “Men have no ways to get rid of dioxin other than letting it break down according to its chemical half-lives. Women, on the other hand, have two ways which it can exit their bodies: 1) It crosses the placenta... into the growing infant; 2) It is present in the fatty breast milk, which is also a route of exposure which doses the infant, making breast-feeding for non-vegan/vegetarian mothers quite hazardous.” 

6.  Please note that I am NOT opposing breast-feeding (I am one of its greatest advocates) and please be aware that the dangers of using infant formula are far, far greater than those of a meat/dairy eating mother breast-feeding.  However, don't we all want only the best for our little ones?  If going vegan is going to avoid my baby being unnecessarily exposed to toxins, then isn't it worth it?
But surely fish is good for you?Mercury contamination is the big risk here.  Mercury is linked to infertility, miscarriage and birth defects.  “Prenatal mercury exposure from a mother's fish-rich diet can reduce the beneficial effects fish oil has on brain development, report an international group of researchers. The babies exposed in the womb to higher methyl mercury levels scored lower on skills tests as infants and toddlers than those exposed to lower levels of the pollutant.”     

7. If you are worried about getting enough omega-3s while on a vegan diet, check out this webpage: http://www.foodsforlife.org.uk/nutrition/vegetarian-DHA-EPA.html.  While you are thinking about mercury, get your dental fillings checked out too, make sure you haven't got any amalgam and if you have, look at getting them replaced.
How about milk?Most milk we buy these days has been homogenised.  This makes the fat molecules very small and they are able to bypass usual digestion and pass directly into bloodstream – toxins and all (see the section above on meat for info on HGPs, antibiotics and dioxins).  A 1994 Harvard Medical School study showed that in populations with a high milk consumption there was also an increase in age related infertility in women. 

8.  Excessive calcium intake can affect magnesium absorption, leading to higher risk of infertility and miscarriage.  Even once baby is safely in your arms, there is still cause for concern - “Hypersensitivity to milk is implicated as a cause of sudden death in infancy.” 

9.  Lets be logical – cows milk is for baby cows.  We were never meant to drink it and it is a cause of countless health problems, see www.notmilk.com for more info.
So now you know why, what about how? I know many people are going to find it very difficult to take this advice, especially given the agricultural nature of our society, but let me tell you – it really helps!  Even some of my patients who are dairy farmers were able to go vegan (and conceive naturally after two failed IVFs!!) – if a dairy farmer can give up meat and milk, so can you! 
One of my favourite books is “Skinny Bitch”, I highly recommend this book if you want to go vegan but aren't sure how to go about it.  There is also “Skinny Bastard” for the men, and “Skinny Bitch, Bun in the Oven” for pregnant mums (neither of these is really about getting skinny, they just used the name to keep in theme with the original book).  We have copies of all of these at our clinic for lending out, but be warned, they are in great demand! 
When baking here are my favourite tricks for substitution:
Coconut oil subs well for butter, as it is hard during cooler weather, so it can even be used in recipes where you need to rub butter into flour (in summer just pop it in the fridge before use).  Make sure you buy virgin organic coconut oil (don't get the stuff from indian grocers which is only meant for using on hair and skin!).  Just a little off the topic – did you know that coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid, the most important essential fatty acid in building and maintaining the body’s  immune system?  Apart from coconut oil, the only other source of lauric acid found in such high concentrations is in breastmilk!  

10. 
One tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water makes a great egg substitute.  Moreover, flaxseed is a fertility superfood so it is worth finding other ways to incorporate it into your diet. 
I use soy milk to sub for dairy milk.  There is a lot of controversy over the role of soy in fertility issues.  I personally don't believe it is a problem, given that soy has been a staple in asian countries for many years and it is only in recent years that fertility problems have become so common (which seems to coincide with the change towards a diet centred around animal protein).  However if you are concerned, there is always rice milk or oat milk.  I sometimes even use coconut milk or coconut cream for that extra bit of flavour.
I would love to field any questions I can about a vegan diet, share tips and recipes with you, so please don't hesitate to contact me.  
   



1) http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/chemicals-nutrients-additives-and-toxins/hormonal-growth-promotants.htm
  2)http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1991524
  3)http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/poultry-industry/5
  4)http://www.healthyhealing.com/InfoAndArticles/SexualityMen/TheLibidoDietForMen.aspx
  

5)http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin/
6)http://www.ejnet.org/dioxin/
  6)http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/mercury-negates-fish-oil-benefits-on-brain-development/ 

8)http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/139/3/282
 

9) The Lancet, vol. 2, 7160, November 19, 1960


10)http://www.coconut-connections.com


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