Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

TV star Zoe Marshall resorts to "drastic measures" in bid to get pregnant

Benji Marshall's wife, Zoe, has taken on a radical diet in her bid to get pregnant, but a top Kiwi fertility expert is warning of the risks involved with calorie depreivation. Photo / file
Benji Marshall's wife, Zoe, has taken on a radical diet in her bid to get pregnant, but a top Kiwi fertility expert is warning of the risks involved with calorie depreivation. Photo / file

Zoe Marshall - wife of Kiwi league legend Benji - has adopted a radical diet in her bid to get pregnant.

But fertility experts on this side of the Tasman have outlined potential risks of regimes such as Marshall's - who has already gone through two weeks of digesting nothing but water, black tea and what she calls "foul Chinese herbs".

Media personality Marshall, 32, was diagnosed with endometriosis four years ago, a condition which sees lining cells grow outside the uterus and can cause infertility.

Marshall had surgery to remove excess tissue, but the condition - understood to affect around one in 10 women - returned.

After previously discussing a 20 per cent chance of falling pregnant and investigating IVF and alternative therapies, Marshall has now put her faith in traditional Chinese medicine.

"I have taken drastic measures to make sure my body is in optimum shape to conceive," Marshall wrote in her online blog. "This will be the hardest physical and mental challenge I undertake.

"2 weeks only water, black tea and foul Chinese herbs.

"The following 2 weeks is a slow integration into eating. The first day of food is half a cucumber. THIS IS HARD CORE.

"It's time to restore and regenerate my organs - from prior damage, disease, poor food choices and constant over-eating.

"Wish me luck."

Zoe Marshall and her Kiwi rugby league star Benji. Photo / Zoe Marshall Instagram.
Zoe Marshall and her Kiwi rugby league star Benji. Photo / Zoe Marshall Instagram.

Two days into the no-food plan, Marshall posted again to say she "woke up and felt very lethargic, almost like I was a bit stoned. I was so out of it."

The medic behind the method, Dr Shuquan Liu, is the director and team leader of 101 Wellbeing in Sydney. He said it's not a case of patients starving themselves and his plans have worked before, including helping a 50-year-old woman get pregnant.

"For people trying to get pregnant, if there is no physical problem the main cause is they don't have enough blood, oxygen or nutrition to produce the best egg. When you clean the inside it produces better eggs so a baby has a better chance to thrive," Liu said.

"In this two weeks we not only supply the herbs and water, we also supply acupuncture and special massage to the area we want to clean. To open up internal organ function.

"All the herbs are natural herbs, they can be seeds, herbs, fruit, leaves, bark - all these kinds of natural herbal medicines.

"People use my programme for weight loss, detox, infertility, blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, anything."

"It depends on the organ, I'm not saying it's easy. It's not as difficult as people think, people always think 'my God, not eating for two weeks is hard'. But when you're actually doing it, some people love it."

However, experts in Western medicine point to evidence warning against calorie deprivation.

Chair of the Fertility Associates board, Dr Mary Birdsall, is one of the most respected and sought-after fertility experts in the country. According to her, diet is not a silver bullet when it comes to fertility, but under-nourishment can be damaging.

We discourage extreme calorie deprivation because we think there is good evidence that it is harmful
Dr Mary Birdsall, New Zealand fertility expert.

"If a woman loses a lot of weight quickly, or is very underweight, then her ovulation stops. It's nature saying 'you are not in a good enough space to be pregnant, we're going to turn off the system.'

"Our advice is that there is no miracle diet for getting pregnant. There's quite a lot of evidence that extreme calorie deprivation at or around the time of conception is harmful in terms of the health and wellbeing of the child long-term.

"There's quite a lot of evidence around when times of populations were subjected to extreme starvation, the poor impact that has both on women trying to conceive and women who are pregnant."

Birdsall said the approach she recommends is anchored in a balanced diet.

"Our advice is two handfuls of fruit, three handfuls of coloured vegetables, some protein, some calcium-containing foods, keep an eye on your saturated or unhealthy fat intake and reduce coffee and alcohol, or stop altogether," she said.

"It's about balance, eating well, nothing extreme."

Marshall declined comment to the Herald on Sunday.

FERTILITY: HELP AND ADVICE

• People 30 years and younger have the best chance of conceiving. Chances reduce by a quarter for ages 30-34, by half for ages 35-39, and three quarters for ages 40-43.
• Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs when you are trying to become pregnant. Stop at least three months before trying. Caffeine may reduce fertility, so avoid it or reduce to one cup a day.
• Drink plenty of fresh water.
• Smoking halves the chance of pregnancy per month, reduces blood flow and nutrition to the foetus, and can affect long term health of the child. In men, smoking damages the DNA in sperm.
• Understanding the ovulation cycle is crucial. The best time for sex is 1-2 days
before ovulation. Check for fertile mucus and use basal temperatures to confirm
ovulation. Consider urinary fertility tests if unsure.
• Being overweight or obese can reduce fertility and increase problems in pregnancy. Obesity in men may reduce sperm quality and increase the risk of erection problems.
SOURCE: Fertility New Zealand

- Herald on Sunday

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