Fertility & Nutrition: Increasing Your Odds
15-25% of couples experience infertility, or the failure to achieve a pregnancy within a year. Medical treatment for impaired fertility is on the rise. However, lifestyle factors including nutrition can significantly influence female and male fertility and can help compliment medical treatments. Below are some suggestions that can boost your body’s ability to conceive.
ACHIEVE A HEALTHY WEIGHT – Being underweight, overweight, or obese can have a significant effect on fertility. Research shows that women at a healthy BMI between 20-24 have an easier time becoming pregnant, whereas women with a BMI greater than 25 may have trouble becoming pregnant. Excess weight interferes with fertility hormones and can lower the odds that Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), such as IVF, will succeed. Incorporate healthy eating, movement and exercise into your healthy lifestyle to help achieve an optimal weight.
THE RIGHT TYPE OF FAT – Trans fats negatively affect fertility and overall well-being in both men and women. Avoid foods with trans fats including hydrogenated oils, packaged snacks, baked goods, fried foods, shortening, and some margarines. Choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, nuts (almonds and walnuts), seeds, and fatty fish including omega-3 rich fish (think salmon) 2 times per week.
FOCUS ON PLANT-BASED PROTEINS – Research shows that replacing meat sources of protein with vegetable sources of protein decreases the risk of infertility. Focus on plant-forward and choline-rich sources of protein including beans, lentils, soy, nuts, seeds, and quinoa. Eggs and 2-3 servings of omega-3-rich fish per week are also encouraged.
MAKE YOUR GRAINS WHOLE – Whole grains help to stabilize blood sugar to prevent hormonal fluctuations that can disrupt fertility. Higher intake of whole grains is associated with a higher chance of live birth. Try to avoid refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, sugary cereals, soda, fruit juices, and cookies) and consume more whole grains (whole grain breads, cereals, pastas, whole fruits, and beans).
AIM FOR COLOR – Antioxidants help to reduce damage due to oxygen and are the bright colors found in fruits and vegetables. Choosing to eat foods high in antioxidants can help increase live birth rates in couples undergoing ART, especially for men. Antioxidants include vitamin C found in citrus fruits, vitamin E found in sunflower seeds, and beta carotene found in orange vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots.
FISH IS ENCOURAGED – Seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, vitamin D, and iron. Eating seafood before and during pregnancy is recommended 2-3 times each week. It is important to choose low-mercury fish including anchovies, catfish, clams, flounder, salmon, and scallops and avoid fish high in mercury including king mackerel, shark, tilefish, bigeye tuna, and swordfish.
MORE REASONS FOR PLANTS -- There is evidence that the iron found in fruits, vegetables, beans, fortified cereals and supplements (non-heme iron) improves chances of fertility, while the iron found in animal protein (heme-iron) may increase the risk of infertility. Iron has also been shown to lower the risk of infertility so consider taking a multivitamin with iron or consume greater amounts of non-heme iron food sources. Pairing iron-rich foods with Vitamin C can help to increase the absorption.
CONSIDER A SUPPLEMENT -- Take a prenatal vitamin with the recommended 400 mcg of folic acid before and during pregnancy to help prevent birth defects and help increase fertility and live birth rates in ART. Doses higher than this recommendation along with the additional intake of vitamin B12 may offer the greatest benefits. Enjoys both eggs and fortified breakfast cereals to consume these nutrients.
SKIP THE SKIM -- This is the rare case when full fat dairy products are going to get a thumbs up. Some research shows that when the fat is removed to make skim milk, the balance of hormones in the milk changes. Consume 2 servings of whole milk dairy per day (1/2 cup full-fat cottage cheese, 1 cup whole milk, a slice of cheese, one cup of whole-milk yogurt). Males, however, are recommended to stick with low-fat dairy which helps to increase their fertility.
WHAT ABOUT SOY? – Soy intake does not help or hurt couples try to conceive. Isoflavones are plant versions of estrogen and consumption these compounds do, however, increase live birth rates in ART. Consume soy foods such as tofu, tempeh, miso, and edamame. Other foods rich in isoflavones include legumes, chickpeas, beans, peanuts, and nuts. Try to avoid concentrated sources of soy from supplements, soy protein drinks, and soy protein bars.
FERTILITY DIET -- “Healthy” diets have been consistently related to better fertility, higher live birth rates, and better semen quality while “unhealthy” diets have been shown to do the opposite. Healthy diets are rich in fish, poultry, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
VITAMIN D EVERY DAY -- 40-60% of the entire United States population is vitamin D deficient. Deficiency is correlated with a lower chance of pregnancy. The daily recommended intake is 400-800 IU/day, and this can be achieved by consuming foods such as egg yolk, salmon, cod liver oil, and fortified milk or by getting 5-10 minutes of sun exposure each day.
SAY NO TO ALCOHOL -- Women who drink alcohol have a higher chance of experiencing infertility. Alcohol also decreases sperm quality in men. Try to avoid alcohol when trying to conceive. Choose non-alcoholic beverages including lemon cucumber water, sparkling apple cider, or your favorite mocktail.
CONSUME CAFFEINE IN MODERATION – Coffee in moderation (2-3 cups per day) is fine during the period when you’re trying to get pregnant but try to limit your caffeine to 3 cups a day, as excess caffeine has been linked to miscarriages. Be sure to avoid caffeinated sodas that are high in sugar.
-Kelley Magill, Graduate Practicum Student, BWH Nutrition and Wellness