Here’s How Your Diet Can Affect Your Fertility
It’s common knowledge that pregnant women should stick to a healthy diet. Growing a baby is hard work for your body, and requires the building blocks of good nutrition. But what about when you’re not pregnant yet? If you’ve explored all the possibilities for enhancing your fertility, you may have considered diet as one of a host of factors. But is there any truth to claims that what you eat can increase your likelihood of conception?
The answer appears to be yes — to a point. As a general rule, good overall health is the best starting point for achieving pregnancy, so naturally, diet plays a part. Common-sense choices like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and limited sweets help the body function well, making it a friendly place for baby. Taking it a step further, however, a study of over 17,000 women showed that even more specific eating patterns might promote baby-making. Women experienced 69 percent reduced risk of ovulatory disorder infertility when their diet consisted of low levels of trans fat and animal protein and high levels of high-fat dairy products and non-heme iron from plant sources (as well as when the women practiced other lifestyle behaviors such as physical activity).
and some don’ts
Eating right for your fertility may sometimes have more to do with what you don’t eat than what you do eat. In her classic women’s health manual Taking Charge of Your Fertility ($26), Toni Wechsler, MPH, encourages “limiting consumption of refined foods, excess sugar, and products with additives.” Beyond their more well-known negative effects like spiking blood sugar and causing weight gain, these foods create an obstacle specific to pregnancy: “All of these can impede the liver’s ability to metabolize hormones,” says Wechsler in her book. Though you might not think of your liver as part of the fertility equation, it helps regulate hormones like estrogen that are crucial to achieving pregnancy.
Boosting fertility might not only mean cutting back on what you eat but also what you drink. Several studies have linked alcohol consumption to lower chances of achieving pregnancy. One revealed that infertility increased significantly in women who had 10 or more alcoholic drinks per week, as compared to low or moderate drinkers. Caffeine may have an influence too. A 2016 study found that drinking more than two cups of coffee per day led to higher miscarriage rates. The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting caffeine intake to 200 milligrams a day, or about two eight-ounce cups of coffee. In her book, Wechsler agrees, and adds other substances to the list: “If you have unexplained infertility, you and your partner should both seriously consider reducing or even eliminating caffeine, nicotine, drugs, and alcohol from your diet,” she says.
Diet can affect fertility in another, more indirect way: your weight status. Since being both overweight or underweight can hinder the body’s ability to conceive, you may need to adjust caloric intake or the types of foods you consume to reach an optimal weight for fertility. This holds true even if you’re trying for a baby via in vitro fertilization. Higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with negative outcomes for patients undergoing IVF.
For some, certain conditions that impede fertility may require their own dietary interventions. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, for example, which causes infertility in many sufferers, can often be managed with diet. If you believe a health condition may underlie your difficulty getting pregnant, talk to your doctor or dietitian about how to address it through nutrition (or other means). “By addressing nutrition needs with a qualified practitioner familiar with your case, you know that you’re in the best hands and working with someone creating a plan for you, your body, and your fertility journey,” says Yaffi Lvova, a registered dietitian who specializes in pregnancy nutrition.
Finally, the best advice around fertility and diet may simply be to not let food choices cause undue anxiety when trying to conceive. “Increased stress can be a problem during an infertility struggle,” says Lvova. “Preoccupation with food and dieting can contribute to that obstacle. The best idea for physical and emotional health during a fertility journey or at any time in a woman’s life is to have a healthy relationship with her body.”
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