Fertility and Nutrition: Is There a Connection?
Is there a connection between your fertility and your nutrition? Infertility affects about 10 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States according to the CDC. In most cases of female infertility, ovulation problems and hormone imbalances associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are the culprits. Other causes of female infertility include but are not limited to: structural problems with the reproductive system, autoimmune disorders, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. Women who suffer from these conditions can often feel discouraged and hopeless when trying to conceive as many of these health concerns are out of their control. Fertility is influenced by so many factors that women can feel empowered by controlling the aspects of their health that they do have control over such has nutrition and a healthy body weight.
Since the majority of infertility cases are linked to PCOS, it makes sense to take a look at this first. Because of the metabolic symptoms associated with PCOS, many women face not only infertility but also an increased for developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and disordered eating. For many of these, lifestyle management and diet changes are the primary treatment approach for reducing symptoms. Many of the adverse side effects of PCOS are associated with insulin resistance which is when the body’s cells stop responding to the hormone insulin causing high levels of insulin and glucose to remain in the bloodstream. Let’s go over a few tips for managing insulin levels:
- Weight loss (even just a 10% reduction has shown to have an improvement)
- Balanced carbohydrate intake (aim for 3 meals and 2 snacks a day to control blood sugars)
- Avoid skipping meals (this will help to prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes)
- Increase intake of high fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (this helps to slow how quickly sugar is released into the bloodstream)
- Combine a lean protein, carbohydrate, and fiber at each meal (helps with optimal blood sugar control at meal time)
The “Fertility Diet”
While there is no one “miracle food” that will cure infertility, there have been studies conducted to see which eating patterns are associated with a greater chance of conceiving. One study was published in 2007 by Harvard researchers observing the dietary patterns of 18,000 women who were trying to conceive. They found that women with ovulatory infertility who followed this eating pattern had a 66 percent lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27 percent reduced risk of infertility from other causes than women who didn’t follow the eating pattern So what did those women eat? They…
- Limited trans fats and increased monounsaturated fat
- Focused on plant proteins vs animal proteins
- Switched to high-fat dairy from low-fat dairy
- Added a multivitamin
Also don’t forget about folate! While there isn’t research showing that it helps with fertility, it is crucial for the baby’s neural tube development which happens in the first 3-4 weeks after conception. Women trying to conceive should aim obtain 400 micrograms of folate daily. Folate can be found in dark leafy green, fortified grains, and supplements.
Maintaining a Healthy Weight
Another way to improve fertility is to achieve a healthy weight. Weight extremes, either too high or too low, can affect hormone levels in both men and women making conception more challenging. Excess body fat can impact the production of the reproductive hormone (GnRH) which is crucial for regular ovulation and sperm production. On the other hand, if women become at a bodyweight that is too low, their body may stop ovulating all together (amenorrhea) or lack the proper nutrients for egg development. Avoid going on a fad diet as a quick attempt to lose weight as this can deplete the body of essential nutrients needed for pregnancy.
So, is there a connection between your fertility and your nutrition? The best way to find out is to talk to an expert! If you are trying to become pregnant and struggle with infertility or PCOS, talk to a registered dietitian to develop an eating plan that can help you reach your nutrition needs and maintain a healthy weight!