Women who follow a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and olive oil may stand a better chance of conceiving a child through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) than those who do not, researchers said on Tuesday.
A group of 244 women of a median age of 35 enrolled for IVF in Athens, Greece was studied. The results showed that those younger than 35 who followed a so-called Mediterranean diet for six months before IVF were more likely to have a healthy baby, reseacrhers reported in the journal Human Reproduction.
Women in this group "had a 65-68 percent greater likelihood of achieving a successful pregnancy and birth compared to women with the lowest adherence to the Mediterranean-style diet," they said.
A Mediterranean diet, inspired by menus popular in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain, has long been said to be good for heart health.
It involves eating little red meat, and lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes such as peas and beans, unrefined cereals, fish, and vegetable oil.
"The important message from our study is that women attempting fertility should be encouraged to eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet," study co-author Nikos Yiannakouris of the Harokopio University of Athens said.
The study showed a correlation, but researchers cannot use it to conclude that a Mediterranean diet is the sole cause of better IVF outcomes.
According to the study: "Lifestyle factors including diet, smoking, exercise and stress affect reproductive performance, also during assisted reproduction".
The findings cannot be generalised to all women trying to become pregnant, nor to obese women, a category excluded from the study, the team added.
Researchers not involved in the research said the findings once again highlighted the importance of healthy eating.
"It contributes to growing evidence that diet and lifestyle affect both natural fertility and IVF outcomes," Adam Balen of the Leeds Centre for Reproductive Medicine said.
Another major factor that determines the chance of an on-going pregnancy is the age of the woman, with rates declining over the age of 35 and with the duration of infertility.
The first birth of an IVF child took place in 1978, when Lesley Brown from Bristol gave birth to a daughter, Louise.
Ms Brown and her husband John had tried for nine years to have a baby - but Ms Brown's blocked fallopian tubes meant she was unable to get pregnant naturally.
In 1976, she discovered a pioneering treatment that changed their lives.
The couple had two daughters following IVF treatment, and in 2007 Louise became the first test-tube baby to give birth to a child of her own.