Has anyone recommended the "Fertility Diet" to you yet?

Don’t worry – they will.

The Fertility Diet is a book that just came out around Thanksgiving.  It’s by some Harvard researchers, the lead of whom seems to be Dr. Jorge Cavarro.  They used data from the Nurses’ Health Study, where a large group of female nurses were questioned about many aspects of their health over a period of years. 

Here’s what is so infuriating about books like this:

1) In order to sell books, the authors make their suggestions sound like a cure-all.  This is misleading and frustrating.

2) In order to sell magazines, TV advertising time and God knows what else, articles and news reports about the book will report on the subject with even more inaccuracy, thereby increasing the "cure-all" factor and misleading more people.  The "facts" will seem obvious when they are not really even facts.

3) By the time regular folks hear about this, it sounds like an obvious, easy thing to do that will undoubtedly work, and those regular folk will then come to you, and me, the long-suffering infertiles.  If we are very lucky, those regular folk will only mention the book – the Newsweek cover story – the ridiculously inaccurate TV news blurb – or whatever they saw.  If we’re not lucky, said well-meaning regular folk will suggest it and urge us to try it.

It’s about like suggesting to a cancer patient that they stop smoking.  They’ve probably already considered it. 

Before suggesting a health breakthrough to someone who suffers, we should all subject it to this little test: is it, uh, obvious?  If so… perhaps our suffering friend has already heard of it.

By some wacky coincidence, the fertility-enhancing elements of the so-called "Fertility Diet" are widely known and accepted principles of good nutrition.  So we’ve already heard about them and know, with every forkful of food that reaches our mouths, how we are doing. 

This so called "Fertility Diet" has been inaccurately hyped.  (I know!  That hardly ever happens!)  Turns out it may be helpful but only for women with ovulatory issues – that’s about 25% of all infertiles.  Not "most of" us, as many of the articles will say. 

Most women with ovulatory issues hear about PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and are urged to fix their diets and "attain a healthy weight" right away.  I don’t know much about PCOS because by some miracle I don’t have it, but it can be correlated with insulin resistance, overweight, and possibly with poor nutrition.  Because it is a known, somewhat / possibly controllable risk factor for some women, some clinics won’t treat women with high BMI, or won’t offer them "shared risk" and other financing packages. 

So Dr. Chavarro’s findings are only news to non-infertiles.  Wonderful!  Just who we need advice from.

No matter what we suffer from, we already blame ourselves.  We already wonder if we should have smoked marijuana in high school, whether we should have consumed a six-pack of Diet Coke a week for most of our twenties, whether we should have had the abortion or the unprotected sex or been on the pill or NOT been on the pill.  We wonder if we should have dry-cleaned our clothes, or used all those cleaning products.  Was it the food poisoning we got in Mexico?  The Accu-tane, the Retin-A?  The Raisinets?  Who the hell knows.

On the one hand, Dr.Chavarro and his co-authors elaborately hype their book and the study’s findings in their Newsweek cover article  (written by the study authors themselves).  He claims the diet is aimed at "preventing and reversing ovulatory infertility" and that it "may help" with other types of infertility.

But in Tara Parker-Pope’s very welcome review of the book in today’s NY Times, Dr. Chavarro says that it "had been a challenge to balance the limitations of scientific research with the commercial demands of book publishing."  Meaning, be more truthful / specific and sell fewer books?  Evidently.  He reframes the book in Ms. Parker-Pope’s article this way:

I would describe it as an apparently fertility-enhancing dietary pattern, but that doesn’t go with the flow of your reading.   

No, it doesn’t, but that’s okay by me. 

I have not received any recommendations for the book, by the way; and I am not trying to slam any of the "regular folk" in my own life.  All are lovely, wonderful, and have put up with my infertility-related rants and complaints with unfailing love.  The regular folk get set up by the media, and the inevitable watering-down of information that happens.  I have made unhelpful suggestions myself, many times.  It’s hard not to.  We all have to either turn off everything and/or work extra hard to keep the world from making us dumb.

Obviously this book may help a few people (aside from enriching the authors) and I should be glad that infertility makes the cover of Newsweek from any angle.  I’m just grumpy that my own stellar nutrition hasn’t done me a bit of good (in conceiving at least), and that free advice still flows, and that I’m bound by taboos and confidentiality when the subject comes up so I can’t set the record straight as I’d like to. 

…and oh by the way the Lupron has me a little bit grumpy too.

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