Scientists are launching a trial to establish whether a Mediterranean diet could help boost the fertility of couples undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Fertility experts in Southampton are examining the use of omega-3 fish oil and vitamin D in diets taken six weeks before treatment - known as the preconception period. They want to see how these affect the quality of sperm and egg cells, the resulting embryo and the environment of the uterus into which it must implant to achieve a pregnancy.
A total of 110 couples planning to undergo IVF will take part in the preconception dietary supplements in assisted reproduction (Prepare) trial, which is being conducted at the Complete Fertility Centre Southampton and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Southampton Biomedical Research Centre in nutrition.
The team will also use a cutting-edge incubator, known as an Embryoscope, to view fertilised eggs round-the-clock and look for any key changes during transition to embryos.
The device is fitted with time-lapse video monitoring technology to enable the researchers to closely analyse the quality of the embryo and assess its chances of developing into a pregnancy.
Professor Nick Macklon, medical director of Complete Fertility Centre Southampton and a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the city's Princess Anne Hospital, said: "Some recent studies suggest a Mediterranean diet rich in vitamin D and omega-3 might improve the outcome from IVF, but the idea is yet to be tested in a proper randomised trial.
"Despite various attempts to make breakthroughs, good evidence of the effects of diet on fertility is lacking, largely due to the rigorous nature and long durations of diet plans which fail to reach completion."
Prof Macklon, who is also chair in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Southampton, said a recent Southampton study in rodents found dietary manipulations within a very short period around the time of implantation had profound effects on early development.