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Is there a link between diet & a common medical condition that can lead to infertility?

Posted Mar 27 2010 11:23am

A new study may have found the first modifiable risk factor for endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a medical condition which affects around 2 million women – that’s one in ten women  - in the UK. Small pieces of the lining of the womb – the endometrium – are found in other areas of the body. Each month, as part of the menstrual cycle, this tissue is similarly stimulated by the release of oestrogen to thicken, & then break down & bleed, but it has no way of leaving the body. While for some women there may be no symptoms, or they may be of low intensity, for many these are debilitating resulting in severe pain, swelling & possible damage to the ovaries & fallopian tubes which can result in infertility.

Although there are several theories as to what causes endometriosis, none of these are conclusive & the actual cause is therefore uncertain. There is as yet no cure for the condition & few modifiable risk factors have been identified, though some improvement of symptoms has been linked with fish oil supplements.

Now a new study carried out with over 70,000 nurses in America over a twelve year period – the largest to examine the link between diet & endometriosis – has found that specific types of fat may have an impact on the incidence of the condition. While overall fat consumption appeared to have no impact, the results found that women who ate the highest quantity of trans fats as part of their diet were 48 per cent more likely to develop endometriosis. The study also suggested that a diet containing a higher consumption of animal fat could also potentially carry an increased risk. Women who ate the highest amount of long-chain omega 3 fatty acids – commonly found in oily fish such as salmon, tuna & mackerel - appeared to have a 22 per cent less risk of developing the condition. Trans fats are typically found in processed foods, including snacks & ready meals. Artificially produced by turning liquid oil into solid fat – hydrogenation - they increase shelf life & add bulk to foods. They have no nutritional value of their own & have also been linked to other diseases & medical conditions such as heart disease & stroke.

Dr. Stacey Missmer - the lead author of the study - stressed the need for further research to confirm the results & also said that a further step could be to examine whether the symptoms of women already suffering from the condition could be alleviated by applying this dietary knowledge regarding fat consumption.

Certainly the results are an indication of a preventative measure that can be taken by women. In a statement Dr. Missmer said, “Many women have been searching for something they can actually do for themselves, or their daughters to reduce the risk of developing the disease, and these findings suggest that dietary changes may be something they can do.”

As well as the direct implications for endometriosis, Dr. Missmer felt that the results were significant in highlighting a further health concern for removing trans fats – already banned in some countries - from the food supply.


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