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Veganism and Pregnancy - Do I Have to Eat Meat to Have Multiples?

Veganism and Pregnancy - Do I Have to Eat Meat to Have Multiples?

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When it comes to vegetarianism, and particularly veganism, it seems everyone’s a critic. Some people, for example, claim that vegans are invariably weak and malnourished. But not many people have asserted that veganism affects a person’s fertility – until recently.

Can being vegan diminish your fertility?

A recent study has raised questions about the role of veganism in female fertility. The study, conducted by Dr. Gary Steinman of the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, compared the twinning rates of three groups of women: vegans (who don’t eat dairy or any other animal products), vegetarians (who don’t eat meat, but do consume dairy), and omnivores (who eat all animal products, including dairy). Steinman found the twinning rate of vegan women to be one-fifth of those who consumed dairy products.

This begs several questions. For instance, does evidence that vegans have a harder time getting pregnant with twins mean that they are less fertile? Can following a plant-based diet have that much of an effect on a woman’s fertility? If so, how?

Being Vegan May Improve a Woman’s Chances of Conception

Evidence suggests that a woman who eliminates animal products from her diet may improve her overall ability to conceive. Consider the following:

By eliminating animal products from her diet, a woman may ovulate more regularly. A study by the University of British Columbia showed that vegetarian women ovulated normally more than 95 percent of the time. According to Neal D. Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this is because eliminating animal products from the diet stabilizes hormone levels. Adhering to a high-fiber vegan diet helps the body expel excess estrogen and protects one from the harmful growth hormones given to cows (which can cause a person’s hormone levels to fluctuate).

Adhering to a vegan diet can keep the ovaries healthy. Barnard’s research suggests that following a low-fat, plant-based diet can help to prevent polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. It can also protect the ovaries, since one of the simple sugars in lactose is toxic to the ovaries.

Being Vegan and Getting Pregnant with Twins

If being vegan is beneficial to ovulation, how do we interpret Steinman’s findings?

First, we should clarify that a woman may, by following a vegan diet, help her ovaries to produce eggs regularly, but not to produce a greater number of eggs. Steinman’s findings linked veganism to lowered levels of IGF (insulin-like growth factor), a protein that causes the ovaries to produce more eggs. Some studies have shown IGF levels to be 13 percent lower in vegan women than in women who consumed dairy products.

Second, it would be erroneous to consider these findings in a vacuum. Although a woman’s diet and reproductive health play a role in her ability to get pregnant, numerous other factors – including her genetics, emotional well-being, and her partner’s fertility – should not be eliminated from the equation. A couple facing fertility issues should take a systemic approach and contact an experienced fertility expert in their area for guidance.

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