You may have seen the headlines that olive oil could boost fertility, but that may be jumping the gun a bit.

The truth behind the headlines is that a team at Southampton University is investigating whether olive oil, together with Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, could help fertility among couples undergoing IVF. More than 100 couples are taking part in the study; some will use olive oil in cooking, an olive-oil based spread and a daily supplement drink enriched with Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids for six weeks in addition to their normal diet. The effects will be compared with couples on a control diet of sunflower oil for cooking, a sunflower-oil based spread and a sham supplement drink.

The trial began in January, and the results have not yet been published, so the headlines were a bit premature. But the trial is based on an encouraging earlier study that that suggested a ‘Mediterranean’ diet can increase pregnancy rates by up to 40%.

A study by Harvard School of Public Health of women undergoing IVF also found that women whose diet had higher levels of saturated fats (found in butter, lard, meat, palm oil and coconut oil) had fewer mature oocytes available for collection. Women with the highest level of poly-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, seeds, salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, soybean oil, corn oil and sunflower oil) also had a higher proportion of poor-quality and more slowly cleaving embryos than those with lower intakes.

However, the women with higher intakes of monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil) had most live births; the odds of a live birth after embryo transfer in women with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat were 3.45 times higher than those of women with the lowest intake.

So the jury is still out as to whether olive oil will help boost your fertility. But it seems that the general health benefits of a Mediterranean diet may extend to couples trying for a baby as well.

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