Do certain foods or diet patterns help with fertility? Maybe so. A recent small study published by multiple medical centers in New York State looked at dietary patterns and ovarian health. Women who followed the Mediterranean or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) dietary patterns had improved biomarkers for ovarian function. In addition to the possible fertility impact, both diets have been shown to lower blood pressure, promote weight loss/maintenance, reduce inflammation in the body, and lower risk for chronic disease.
So, what do these diets have in common?
The Mediterranean and DASH diets encourage eating more plant-based foods and lean meats and fish versus foods higher in fat, salt, and sugar. They are also about more than a “diet”—they are about working towards healthier choices. The Fertility Diet out of Harvard, also emphasizes whole grains and the selection of unsaturated fats and oils over trans and saturated fats.
While more research is needed on diet and fertility outcomes, there are overall health benefits to making dietary changes that emphasize more plant-based and nutrient-rich food choices. Here are a few considerations when working towards a healthier—and more fertile—you.
Know and reduce your risks.
Type 2 diabetes can develop in both men and women due to a combination of lifestyle factors (high fat, high sugar diets, excess weight gain, and lack of physical activity). Obesity is linked to more difficulty in getting pregnant. Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are also at increased risk for infertility. It is estimated that up to 10% of women in the U.S. have PCOS, which is considered one of the leading causes of female infertility. Talking with your doctor about your desire to get pregnant and discussing any potential risk factors you may have can help you better identify areas of focus for your health and nutrition. If you are overweight and trying to conceive, adopting lifestyle changes that promote a healthy weight can help promote fertility and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Make healthy eating and lifestyle choices a family affair.
Fertility is a two-way street. Both the man and the woman can contribute to challenges conceiving, including abnormal sperm production, sperm delivery issues, ovulation disorders, and uterine or cervical problems. Trying some lifestyle changes together can benefit both partners’ health and wellness and may help improve fertility. Whether it is stopping smoking, reducing alcohol or caffeine intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, or exercising more, talking about these changes and finding ways to take them on together can improve the likelihood that they will stick.
Keep key nutrients in mind
While folate is the most often discussed nutrient for women of child-bearing age, other nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin D, vitamin E, choline, and omega-3 fats, should not be overlooked. Each plays an essential role in supporting both the male and female reproductive system health. Vitamin E and zinc promote healthy sperm quality. Omega 3 fats have been linked to ovarian health in women and may benefit both male and female fertility. While getting these nutrients from the diet is key, a supplement may also be needed to reach adequate levels. Talk to your health care provider about taking dietary supplements to boost your nutrition.
Seek personalized nutrition support.
Given the emphasis on nutrition for promoting optimal fertility, many registered dietitians specialize in this area and often are part of the staff of fertility centers. Meeting with one of these nutrition experts can help you and your partner receive tailored dietary guidance. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers general tips and resources on food and fertility and links to find a dietitian in your area. Your health care provider can also connect you to a dietitian available through your health care network. In addition to nutrition counseling and education, many dietitians offer cooking classes, grocery store tours, and other practical tools for improving meal planning and preparation skills.
Unfortunately, there is no one-sized, fits all solution to increasing fertility or reducing infertility challenges. These issues also vary based on age, with fertility declining as a woman enters her early to mid-thirties and getting even more reduced as age 40 nears. Couples engaging in conversations around plans to have a baby is a great first start. By taking steps together to improve overall health and wellness, you can better position yourself and your partner to conceive and have a baby. From stress management to adopting healthier eating patterns and engaging in regular physical activity, you can plot a natural course for boosting fertility.