Eating for Healthy Fertility
Starting a family may seem like a simple thing: all you need is a man and a woman, and baby makes three. However, fertility can be a challenge when factors such as lifestyle, age and environment come into play. Diet actually plays an essential role. Here’s how to eat well to ensure excellent fertility health.
Many people make lifestyle choices such as unhealthy food, smoking, taking recreational drugs, late nights, high-stress jobs, going on alcohol binges or being surrounded by environmental toxins, not realizing the effect of these habits on their fertility later in life. Many people are also waiting until later in life to start a family, and years of poor lifestyle habits are compounding their fertility problems.
One of the major factors that can affect your fertility is your diet. You can increase your chances of conceiving by 78.4% with non-artificial methods such as nutrition and naturopathy, and even improve your odds during assisted-pregnancy methods such as in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
A healthy body weight is one of the key factors in your fertility, and healthy eating can prime your body for a successful pregnancy. Proper nutrition prior and during pregnancy is very important to improve your chances of healthy ovulation, prevent miscarriage and ensure optimal fetal nutrition.
Researchers at the University of Surrey in the UK conducted a natural fertility study in 1995, and found that a regime that involved the elimination of alcohol and smoking, increased intake of fruit, vegetables and mineral and vitamin supplements and reduced consumption of caffeine, non-organic meat and dairy products saw 89% of the couples having healthy babies within three years.
A 2007 study conducted by doctors at the Harvard School of Public Health also showed that changes to diet and exercise habits could improve a woman’s chances of conception by about 80%.
BODY WEIGHT AND FERTILITY
One major factor that can easily impact your fertility is your body weight, and this is true for both men and women. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5 to 25 is considered healthy, a score lower or higher than that could be impacting your chances of conception.
In women, both the ovaries and fat cells help to regulate production of estrogen, which controls ovulation. A woman with low body weight may not be producing sufficient estrogen, whereas excessive body weight contributes to overly high estrogen production. Just losing 5% of the excess body weight can improve your chances of conception, if your infertility is related to ovulation problems.
Being overweight or obese also hampers male fertility as a high amount of body fat can make the testicles too hot, causing DNA damage and oxidative stress to sperm. Obese men have been shown to have slower sperm, lower sperm production and a higher number of deficient sperm.
Couples who have weight problems can find it 25% harder to conceive than couples who are of a normal body weight. Being overweight during pregnancy also exposes a woman to increased risk of diabetes, miscarriage and hypertension.
Other ways that your diet and lifestyle impact your fertility include:
- A diet high in highly processed foods and junk foods can affect male fertility and lower sperm count and concentration
- Excessive sugar and trans-fats can lead to insulin resistance, which impacts both male and female fertility negatively.
- Free radicals caused by smoking, alcohol and processed foods can attack and injure your body’s cells, including eggs and sperm.
- Nutrient deficiencies in early pregnancy can cause poor fetal growth and development, and even cause serious birth defects.
EATING FOR HEALTHY FERTILITY
The number one treatment for couples who are planning to conceive but are facing difficulty is to change their approach to diet and nutrition. Here are some ways to remedy that.
Eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables
Eat at least five daily portions of orange, green and red fruits and vegetables. These are high in free-radical vitamins C and E, folic acid, selenium and zinc, and will provide you with the nutrients your body needs to produce healthy eggs and support a healthy pregnancy.
Get your daily requirement of carbs
Choose wholegrain bread, pasta, cereals, protein and rice, and aim for one serving per meal. Wholegrain starches are rich in fibre, essential minerals and immune-system supporting vitamins, and help to keep your hormones and blood sugar in check.
Reduce intake of animal protein
Switching to dried beans, pulse and nut (vegetable proteins) has been shown to significantly improve your rates of fertility. You can increase your chances of conception by more than 50% by just replacing half of your beef, pork or chicken with these non-meat protein sources.
Choose organic, grass-fed meats
Grass fed meats that are low in saturated fat can be an excellent source of protein and essential fatty acids, as well as providing the necessary iron for healthy conception. Moderation is the key, however, as there are studies showing a correlation between endometriosis and high red meat consumption. Avoid chicken which is high in hormones and antibiotics, and choose organic, free-range sources where possible.
Include Omega-3 fats from fish
Essential fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones, and they prevent inflammation and promote a healthy menstrual cycle, so include at least two servings of oily fish in your weekly diet. Avoid large deep water fish as they tend to have high concentrations of mercury. Choose wild, cold water fish over farmed fish, as they can contain antibiotics and toxic additives.
Go for full-fat dairy
Consuming your daily calcium requirement in full-fat milk instead of low-fat choices contributes to better chances of getting pregnant. You should, however, avoid high-sugar and processed dairy products such as sugary yoghurts and ice-cream. Where possible, choose organic, grass-fed, whole-fat, raw dairy options to avoid the hormones and antibiotics found in most mass-produced dairy products.
Get your vitamins and minerals
Supplementing your diet with Folic Acid, Vitamin D, iron and iodine helps to prepare your body for better ovulation, conception and pregnancy.
Avoid highly processed, sugary foods
Limit your intake of cakes, pastries, sugary drinks, candy and chocolate bars, fast foods and junk foods; these foods are low in nutrition and high in sodium and free radicals and can interfere with your fertility. You should also avoid packaged fruit juices or cordial drinks can contain high amounts of refined and artificial sugars that negatively impact your immune system.
Eschew soy products
Soy foods such as soy milk, soy burgers and tofu products which contain phyto-estrogens can disrupt your fertility cycle.
Drink plenty of pure, filtered water
Caffeinated drinks such as tea, coffee and colas can reduce your fertility and impact your chances of conception. These drinks should be avoided and replaced with plenty of reverse osmosis or distilled water and pure fruit juices. Avoid drinks from plastic bottles that can leach estrogen-mimicking chemicals.
Cut out alcoholic drinks
Experts suggest no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for those who are working on their fertility. Both men and women benefit from including 2 to 3 alcohol-free days a week, while they are planning to conceive.
IMPROVING YOUR CHANCES: OTHER LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO CONSIDER
Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins as toxic chemicals surround us in our everyday lives, and can be very detrimental to egg and sperm formation. Remove household toxins such as garden pesticides, herbicides, paints and solvents, and replace cleaning sprays and solutions with low toxin or eco-friendly cleaning preparations.
Stress and insufficient sleep can also contribute to infertility, so ensure you get plenty of sleep, and explore some techniques for relaxation. Some ways to relax include trying yoga, massage, going for walks and reading.
Consider monitoring your fertility with fertility awareness techniques such as the use of a fertility calendar, and monitoring your basal body temperature and cervical fluids to identify your peak fertility days. Monitoring your fertility on a calendar will also help you to understand your menstrual cycle and help to reveal any problems and irregularities that are impeding fertility.
DID YOU KNOW?
There are six major factors that affect fertility in women who have ovulation problems, according to a 2007 Harvard study:
- The ratio of mono-unsaturated to trans fats in diet
- Protein consumption (derived from animals or vegetables)
- Carbohydrates consumption
- Dairy consumption (low- and high-fat dairy)
- Iron consumption
- Multivitamin use
- Body mass index (BMI, weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters)
- Physical activity