Boosting Fertility Naturally with Food

Published on: 10/03/2023

About 15-25% of couples are unable to achieve pregnancy after 12 months of unprotected sex. If this is you, you are not alone. The question I want to answer for you today is whether nutrition can help to improve those odds and increase the chances of conception. The good news is that a growing body of research suggests that, yes, foods can boost fertility naturally for both women and men. 

This article will go over foods, nutrients and other factors that may help or hinder fertility in both women and men—starting with the overall dietary pattern.

What Can BOOST Fertility Naturally?

# 1. A Nutrient-Rich, Anti-Inflammatory Diet 

If there is one main takeaway from the growing research linking nutrition and fertility, it’s that an overall healthier diet is beneficial.

Inflammation is a normal process your body uses to help it heal from infections and injuries. However, regularly consuming inflammatory foods, such as fast food, sugary drinks, and processed foods, can result in long-term, low-grade inflammation that may negatively impact fertility.  In women, inflammation can disrupt ovulation and a regular menstrual cycle, and can contribute to endometriosis, reduced ability of a fertilized egg to implant, and more frequent miscarriages. In men, inflammation can reduce sperm quality and quantity.

In a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, you:

  • Consume mostly poultry and fish (an excellent source of omega 3), while eating red meat less often.
  • Primarily use olive oil.
  • Incorporate abundant fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, providing a rich supply of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Include dairy products like yogurt and cheese, but in smaller proportions.
  • Enjoy sweets occasionally and in moderation.
  • Avoid excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats.

The Mediterranean diet is renowned for its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Backed by scientific research, this dietary approach has shown promise in promoting overall wellness, managing inflammation, and boosting fertility naturally. 

Take a look at the “Mediterranean Recipe Collection”, located on the side bar of this blog post, where you will find simple, yet delicious recipes made with whole food ingredients – a valuable resource designed to support your journey towards fertility.

# 2. Seafood

Studies have shown that couples who eat more seafood get pregnant sooner than those who rarely eat seafood. The best results with the shortest time to pregnancy were achieved when both partners consumed two 4-ounce servings of seafood every week. Over 90% of the couples who enjoyed 2 servings per week got pregnant within 12 months, compared to 79% of those who ate seafood less often.

This link between seafood and pregnancy may be related to the positive effects the omega-3 fatty acids have on ovulation, menstrual cycles, and sperm quality.

When choosing seafood for a healthy pregnancy, it’s important to keep in mind that not all seafood is created equal. If you are trying to get pregnant, focus on seafood that is lower in persistent environmental chemicals and mercury. This means eating salmon, sardines, scallops, and shrimp, while staying away from larger, predatory fish like shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Here are some great resources that will help you make informed decisions when choosing the seafood you consume:

  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which is a useful tool that helps you find sustainable seafood. Link here.
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Smart Seafood Buying Guide. Link here.
  • If you live in Canada, like I do, check out Skipper Otto, an organization with the mission to connect Canadian families with sustainable seafood. link here.

# 3. A Healthy Gut Microbiome

The gut microbiome, which refers to the diverse community of microorganisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract, has been increasingly recognized for its potential influence on various aspects of health, including fertility. Here’s an overview of the relationship between the gut microbiome and fertility:

  • Hormonal Regulation: The gut microbiome can have an impact on hormonal regulation, including reproductive hormones. Certain bacteria in the gut can produce or metabolize hormones, potentially affecting the delicate balance required for reproduction.
  • Inflammation and Immune Function: The gut microbiome plays a role in immune system regulation and inflammation. Chronic inflammation and immune system dysregulation can disrupt normal reproductive processes and potentially affect fertility.
  • Nutrient Absorption and Metabolism: The gut microbiome is involved in nutrient absorption and metabolism. It can affect the availability and utilization of various nutrients, such as folate, iron, and vitamin D, which are essential for fertility and reproductive health.

It’s important to note that the understanding of the gut microbiome’s role in fertility is still evolving, and more research is needed to fully clarify the mechanisms and implications. Lifestyle factors, such as diet, stress, and antibiotic use, can influence the gut microbiome. Adopting a balanced and diverse diet, rich in fiber and whole foods, along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, may contribute to a more favorable gut microbiome composition and potentially support fertility. 

For more in depth exploration on the subject, take a look at my blog posts “The Gut Microbiome and Estrogen” and “Nutrition Tips to Restore a Healthy Gut Microbiome”.

# 4. Plant Based Protein

Plant-based protein can offer several benefits for fertility. Here’s an explanation of why plant-based protein can be beneficial:

  • Nutrient Density: Plant-based protein sources are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which can support overall reproductive health and fertility.
  • Fiber Content: Plant-based protein sources are often high in dietary fiber. Adequate fiber intake promotes healthy digestion and can help regulate blood sugar levels, which in turn supports hormonal balance and reproductive function.
  • Antioxidant Power: Many plant-based protein sources contain antioxidants that help protect the cells from oxidative stress and damage. This can potentially improve fertility outcomes.
  • Reduced Inflammation: Plant-based protein sources are generally associated with lower levels of inflammation compared to animal-based protein sources. Chronic inflammation can negatively impact fertility, and a diet rich in plant-based proteins may help mitigate this risk.

Plant based protein is found in legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. It’s important to note that it is not necessary to follow a vegetarian diet to improve fertility, you just have to include more plant-based proteins into your diet. 

Legumes
  • Beans such as kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, and fava beans.
  • Lentils.
  • Green peas and split peas (yellow or green).
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans).
  • Products made with soybeans such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
Nuts

Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, brazil nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, etc.

Seeds

Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc

Whole Grains

Quinoa, amaranth, spelt, millet, wild rice, brown rice, barley, oats, etc

What is DETRIMENTAL to Fertility?

# 1. Artificial Trans Fats

Trans fats are artificially created during the manufacturing process to change liquid oils into solid fats. Trans fats interfere with normal hormone regulation, causing irregular menstrual cycles, reduced ovulation, and compromised sperm quality. They also induce inflammation, oxidative stress, and negatively affect cardiovascular health.

The good news is that these artificial trans fats (“partially hydrogenated oils”) are being phased out of the food supply because of their detrimental effects on heart health.

Here are some practical steps to minimize your consumption of trans fats: 

  1. Read Nutrition Labels: Check food labels for “partially hydrogenated oils” or “hydrogenated oils.” These terms indicate the presence of trans fats. 
  2. Limit Fast Food and Processed Snacks: Fast foods and many processed snacks often contain high levels of trans fats. 
  3. Choose Margarines Wisely: Ideally you should avoid margarine. If using margarine, select brands labeled as trans fat-free or with no hydrogenated oils.
  4. Be Cautious with Processed Baked Goods: Many commercially baked goods like pastries, cakes, and cookies contain trans fats. Limit these treats and consider homemade versions with healthier fats.

# 2. Sodas and Energy Drinks

Several studies show that both women and men who consume sugar-sweetened beverages—especially sodas or energy drinks—tend to have lower fertility than those who don’t drink them. The reduced fertility was found at levels as low as seven drinks per week (about one per day).  

A possible reason for this link may be that sugar may interfere with women’s reproductive hormones, egg maturation, and ovulation, while in men, there is a lower sperm concentration. 

#3. Advanced Glycation End-Products (AGEs)

AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, are a type of compound resulting from the combination of proteins and fats with sugars—a process known as glycation. These substances are naturally produced within our bodies as nutrients are broken down. Additionally, they occur naturally in the foods we consume daily and are even generated through the application of heat during cooking. Furthermore, the manufacturing of highly processed foods contributes to their formation. However, despite their natural occurrence and presence in our diet, AGEs pose a threat to our well-being. If not effectively eliminated by the body, these compounds amass in our tissues and organs, subsequently leading to heightened oxidative stress and inflammation. Regrettably, such repercussions exert a detrimental influence on fertility. 

For insights into minimizing exposure to AGEs, I invite you to peruse my blog post titled “What You Need to Know About Advanced Glycation End Products”.

Tips to minimize AGE exposure and their impact:

  1. Cooking: Choose moist heat methods (steaming, boiling) over dry heat (grilling, frying). 
  2. Acidic ingredients: Marinate your meat in acid-based marinades (these contain lemon juice, lime juice or vinegar). Acids inhibit AGE formation.
  3. Limit High-AGE Foods: Cut back on processed meats, high-fat meats, and sugary items.
  4. Choose Low-AGE Foods: Opt for whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, yogurt and fish.
  5. Healthy Microbiome: Balance gut bacteria to enhance AGE metabolism during digestion.
  6. Antioxidant Diet: Include cruciferous veggies (broccoli, kale) and adopt a Mediterranean diet rich in antioxidants.

# 4. Being Underweight or Obese

When it comes to fertility, body fat levels play a significant role in reproductive health. Both undernutrition and overnutrition can have implications for egg and sperm quality and overall fertility. Let’s explore the effects of these conditions in more detail:

Undernutrition
  • Limited studies with small participant numbers have found that men with a Body Mass Index (BMI) below 18.5 may experience reduced total sperm number, sperm concentration, and total number of motile sperm compared to men with a normal BMI. Undernutrition can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients that are crucial for sperm production and function. However, more research is needed to fully understand the impact of undernutrition on male fertility.
  • Undernutrition is harmful to female fertility because it can disrupt hormonal balance, affect ovulation, and lead to irregular menstrual cycles. Inadequate nutrition can also lead to low body weight and insufficient energy reserves, which can impact the body’s ability to support a healthy pregnancy and fetal development. Additionally, undernutrition may lead to nutrient deficiencies essential for reproductive health, increasing the risk of complications and reducing the chances of successful conception.
Overnutrition 
  • There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating clear links between obesity and sperm health. Obesity is associated with systemic oxidative stress and inflammation, which can lead to sperm DNA fragmentation. This fragmentation can affect sperm quality and potentially impair fertility.
  • Obese women may experience higher levels of fat and inflammation in the fluid surrounding their eggs, leading to chromosomal damage and reduced egg quality. 

Prioritizing a gradual return to a healthy body weight has been shown to improve fertility outcomes. 

# 5. Caffeine and Alcohol

Excessive caffeine consumption and high alcohol intake have been linked to decreased fertility rates. Moderation is key when it comes to these beverages.

# 6. Endocrine Disruptors and Other Toxins

Endocrine disruptors are a class of environmental pollutants that are commonly encountered in everyday items, including plastics, pesticides, and personal care products. These chemical compounds have the potential to affect hormonal balance within our bodies, leading to significant health concerns. For couples seeking to conceive, it is crucial to understand how exposure to endocrine disruptors can hamper reproductive functions and compromise fertility.

Identifying and Avoiding Toxic Chemicals:

To safeguard your reproductive health, it is advisable to steer clear of products containing harmful substances like bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastics and food packaging. Additionally, other toxic chemicals present in household cleaners, pesticides, and beauty products can also disrupt hormone production. A proactive step toward minimizing exposure involves scrutinizing product labels for potential toxins.

Embracing Organic Choices:

An effective strategy to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors is to prioritize organic products whenever feasible. Organic foods, in particular, offer a noteworthy advantage as they are devoid of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, which have the potential to disrupt hormone regulation. By opting for organic options, you can take a significant step toward protecting your reproductive health.

Final Thoughts 

Embarking on the journey towards parenthood can be both exciting and challenging, and you’re not alone in seeking answers and support. The connection between nutrition and fertility is becoming clearer as research unfolds, and the good news is that there are steps you can take to boost your fertility naturally. By embracing a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet, you’re not just nourishing your body; you’re empowering your fertility journey.

If this exploration into the world of fertility and nutrition has resonated with you, I invite you to delve deeper. I understand that every individual’s path is unique, and that’s why I’m here to offer personalized nutrition consultations. Let’s embark on a discovery call together, where we can discuss your specific needs, concerns, and aspirations.

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References

 Alesi, S., Villani, A., Mantzioris, E., Takele, W. W., Cowan, S., Moran, L. J., & Mousa, A. (2022). Anti-Inflammatory Diets in Fertility: An Evidence Review. Nutrients, 14(19), 3914.

Aoun, A., Khoury, V. E., & Malakieh, R. (2021). Can Nutrition Help in the Treatment of Infertility? Preventive nutrition and food science, 26(2), 109–120.

Chavarro, JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willet WC. Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Feb; 198 (2): 210.e1-210.e7.

Collado MC, Isolauri E, Laitinen K, Salminen S. Distinct composition of gut microbiota during pregnancy in overweight and normal-weight women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Oct. 88(4): 894-899.

Gaskins, A. J., & Chavarro, J. E. (2018). Diet and fertility: a review. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 218(4), 379–389.

Gaskins, A. J., Sundaram, R., Buck Louis, G. M., & Chavarro, J. E. (2018). Seafood Intake, Sexual Activity, and Time to Pregnancy. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 103(7), 2680–2688.

Hatch, E. E., Wesselink, A. K., Hahn, K. A., Michiel, J. J., Mikkelsen, E. M., Sorensen, H. T., Rothman, K. J., & Wise, L. A. (2018). Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Fecundability in a North American Preconception Cohort. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 29(3), 369–378.

Jinno M, Takeuchi M, Watanabe A, Teruya K, Hirohama J, Eguchi N, et al. Advanced glycation end-products accumulation compromises embryonic development and achievement of pregnancy by assisted reproductive technology. Hum Reprod. 2011;26(3):604-10.

Mayo Clinic. (2021, December 8). Pregnancy and fish: What’s safe to eat? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy-and-fish/art-20044185

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2022, December 2). Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminB12-HealthProfessional/

Nehra D, Le HD, Fallon EM, Carlson SJ, Woods D, White YA, et al. Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Aging Cell. 2012;11(6):1046-54.

Ricci E, Al Beitawi S, Cipriani S, Candiani M, Chiaffarino F, Viganò P, et al. Semen quality and alcohol intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reprod Biomed Online. 2017;34(1):38-47.

Shmerling, R. H. and Shmerling A. (2020, November 3). Fertility and diet: Is there a connection? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fertility-and-diet-is-there-a-connection-2018053113949

United States Food and Drug Administration. (2018, May 18). Trans fats. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/trans-fat

Van Heertum K, Rossi B. Alcohol and fertility: how much is too much? Fertil Res Pract. 2017;3:10.

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Verena is a Registered Dietitian specializing in women’s hormonal health, fertility, and oncology.  The primary aim of this blog is to offer information that empowers individuals to align their lives with their body’s inherent rhythms. Within these pages, you’ll encounter a blend of evidence-based recommendations grounded in modern medicine, complemented by natural healing approaches and insights from traditional wisdom.

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