Can a Healthy Diet Cure Infertility?
Discovering that you might be facing infertility can feel like a punch in the gut. Trust me, I’ve walked that path. But here’s a silver lining: thanks to advancements in medical science, that door isn’t firmly shut. Options like IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) are paving ways for many to embrace parenthood.
But let’s turn to a pressing question you might have: “Can a wholesome diet really boost my fertility?” The answer, rooted in current scientific findings, suggests that optimal nutrition can indeed play a pivotal role in enhancing fertility. So, while you are pondering over fertility treatments or even if you’re leaning towards natural methods, integrating a nutritious diet could be a game-changer.
Dive in with us, as we unpack how infusing your diet with specific superfoods and sidelining potential fertility foes can enhance your journey towards conception.
What Is Infertility?
The problem of infertility is more common than you might think, affecting roughly one in five couples. It is defined as failed attempts to conceive after 12 months of unprotected sex or after six months if you are over 35 years old. The good news is that there are many options for those suffering from infertility, including IVF. But speaking from personal experience of four IVF cycles, I can vouch for its taxing nature on both the mind and body.
So, here’s a thought: Why not explore every natural avenue to boost your chances before diving into fertility treatments? Revamping your diet could be your first positive step in this deeply personal journey.
How Does Nutrition Impact Fertility?
According to a new study from Harvard Medical School, many specific food groups and vitamins impact fertility, and the nutrients needed for sperm health are not necessarily the same as egg health. We will look more closely below at the best nutrients for sperm and egg, but the study results show that a diet rich in nutrition can positively affect the quality of both eggs and sperm.
In addition, maintaining a healthy weight (BMI between 19 and 25) increases the chances of getting pregnant successfully. For this reason, fertility clinics often have a BMI limit for treatment. In the UK, NHS treatment requires a BMI below 30, and most private clinics restrict treatment to those with a BMI under 35.
Therefore, if you are concerned about your fertility, it would make sense to make sensible changes to your diet and lifestyle, starting with the suggestions below.
Which Nutrients Are Important for Egg and Sperm Health?
The vitality of both the egg and sperm is paramount, and here’s why. Healthy eggs have a better shot at being fertilized, and robust sperm increases the odds of doing the fertilizing. Moreover, top-notch eggs and sperm reduce the risk of genetic hiccups, which can sadly result in miscarriages or birth anomalies. It’s all about giving life the best starting line possible!
The Mediterranean diet, often touted as one of the healthiest and most balanced diets on the planet, has been shown to be beneficial when trying to conceive. Specifically, the following nutrients were found to have a positive impact on the health of eggs, leading to an improvement in female fertility:
Most of us have heard that folic acid is a must-have during pregnancy to ward off neural tube defects like spina bifida. However, this B vitamin isn’t just for expecting moms. If you’re on the baby-making journey, folic acid is your friend too! It’s believed to improve the environment for the egg, boosting the chances of forming a top-tier embryo. Want a natural dose? Grab some leafy greens, broccoli, or asparagus, which contain folate, the natural counterpart of folic acid. And a pro tip: while these foods are great, it’s wise to take a synthetic folic acid supplement too, especially during pregnancy. Why? The body absorbs these two forms differently, and you’ll want all the benefits you can get!
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps maintain your reproductive system’s health. It is especially important for healthy egg production and fertility.
Vitamin B12 helps regulate the ovaries’ activity by providing them with the energy they need to produce healthy eggs. In addition, vitamin B12 aids in the development of a fetus by providing nourishment for its growth.
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products like meat and dairy. If you follow a mainly plant-based diet, there is a chance you could have a deficiency since a study has shown that as many as 92% of vegans have low levels of B12.
Plant sources of B12 include chlorella, nutritional yeast, and fortified soy and tofu.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
You’ve probably heard the buzz about Omega-3 fatty acids, often hailed for their heart and nerve benefits. But did you know these fish oils wear another cape in the realm of fertility? Indeed, they’re champions in enhancing blood flow to our reproductive organs, giving a boost to ovarian response during procedures like ovulation stimulation therapy or IUI (intrauterine insemination).
They have shown particularly significant improvements in older women, so if (like me) you are starting your fertility journey on the wrong side of 30, omega-3 is a great place to start.
Hungry for some Omega-3s? Dive into fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or herring. Not a fish fan? No worries! Walnuts, flax seed oil, chia seeds, and soybeans have got you covered. So, whether you’re casting a fishing line or reaching for a nutty snack, make Omega-3s a part of your fertility toolkit!
The great news is that men are constantly producing fresh sperm, so changes in diet can take effect very quickly.
An overall healthy diet is key to improving sperm quality, but the following nutrients have been found to be particularly important.
Antioxidants are compounds that help neutralize harmful molecules called free radicals. Free radicals can damage the cells in your body and make it more likely that you’ll get a disease.
Antioxidants may also help improve sperm quality by protecting sperm cells from free radicals. This could result in better motility and morphology (shape) of sperm cells, potentially enhancing fertility rates by helping more sperm reach their intended target during fertilization.
The good news is that antioxidants are found in a wide range of delicious foods, from berries and oranges to leafy greens. Even chocolate is included! Just make sure it’s at least 70% cocoa for maximum benefit!
When you eat these foods, the antioxidants help to “soak up” free radicals before they cause damage.
Zinc is one of the most important nutrients for sperm. It’s a trace mineral that has many roles in both men and women, but its function on sperm health is particularly significant. More zinc is found in semen than anywhere else in the human body.
Zinc helps to protect against oxidative damage to sperm cells, which can harm their ability to fertilize an egg. Zinc also supports healthy testosterone levels, which are crucial for normal sexual function and fertility in men.
Foods high in zinc include shellfish – particularly oysters – and red meats like beef. Plant sources include hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds, though not in as high quantities as animal products, so you may wish to supplement with zinc if you follow a mainly plant-based diet.
While all males would benefit from increasing omega-3 intake from their diet, those with fertility issues could benefit the most.
Omega-3 has been shown to improve sperm count, sperm morphology, and sperm motility, as well as reduce inflammation. However, omega-3 cannot be produced by the body, so it is essential to ensure you have sufficient intake from your diet.
The best sources of omega-3s include wild-caught fish like salmon or mackerel, as well as walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds. You can also get omega-3s from fortified foods like eggs or milk.
Which Foods Should You Avoid To Improve Your Fertility?
As well as adding the above nutrients to your diet, if you are really desperate to make positive changes to your fertility in a short space of time, it is recommended to reduce or cut out entirely certain food groups that can negatively impact your health.
Here are some of the most notable villains:
Sugary Foods, Including Soda
Sugary foods, including soda, can wreak havoc on your reproductive system. Sugary foods are high in fructose and raise your insulin levels—which can negatively affect egg maturation and menstrual cycles. While soda is definitely the most apparent offender here, all refined carbs can have this effect and should be replaced, where possible, with whole foods.
Trans fats are detrimental to your overall health and are especially bad for your fertility. They can hide in foods like margarine, fast food, and microwave popcorn—which means that if you’re eating a lot of these foods, you could be sabotaging your chances of getting pregnant.
Trans fats are known to cause inflammation in the body, which is the reason they’ve been linked to heart disease. Inflammation is also associated with lowered sperm count and decreased testosterone levels in men and ovulatory infertility in women.
If you want to boost your fertility, it’s important to avoid trans fats! Check out our delicious healthy, whole-food recipes to help you come up with some alternatives!
Most of us know that processed meats are not particularly good for our overall health, but a recent study has found that they are especially damaging in terms of fertility. When looking at IVF, they found that sperm from men who didn’t eat much processed meat had a 28% higher chance of fertilizing an egg than those who regularly ate it. The study also found higher rates of fertilization in men who ate poultry.
So, to boost fertility and your health in general, it would be advisable to replace processed meats with high-quality meat, particularly poultry, where possible.
Infertility is a complex issue that is individual to each couple and will have many influencing factors. However, the bottom line is a healthy diet can improve your chances of conception by helping to balance your hormone levels and nourish your reproductive organs. While it’s true that dietary changes likely won’t work alone to help you conceive, there’s every reason to believe that a healthy diet can support your fertility and increase your chances of becoming pregnant.