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Balanced, healthy nutrition is an essential element of general well-being and fertility.
Balanced, healthy nutrition is an essential element of general well-being and fertility. The importance of nutrition in the period before conception has been shown by a series of papers while weight management is often recommended by doctors in order to increase the chances of pregnancy. 1 It is also a great first step in taking care of yourself before starting your fertility journey. In this article, we will be reviewing the current evidence around specific nutrients and how they affect your fertility.
In short, the answer is yes. Scientific evidence suggests that nutrition can play an important role in fertility and conception. 2 However, diet doesn’t act alone - it is closely interlinked with lifestyle, sociodemographic and psychosocial factors, such as exercise level and weight management, level of income, and stress. 3
Diets rich in whole grains, monounsaturated (e.g. olive oil and avocados) or polyunsaturated (e.g. salmon and walnuts) oils, vegetables, fruits, and fish, have been associated with higher fertility in women and improved semen quality in men. 4
Contrary to “bad” fats, also known as trans fats, which can be found in all processed foods, “good” fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.
In women, consumption of “good” fats, such as monounsaturated fats (olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, most nuts and seeds) and polyunsaturated fats (sunflower oil, fatty fish such salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds) has been associated with lower rates of infertility related to ovulation. 5 These effects might be explained by their association with hormone levels, especially insulin sensitivity and glucose balance, which are known to influence fertility.
For men, diets rich in polyunsaturated fats, in particular omega-3 fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory qualities, have been shown to improve sperm health. 6
Recommendation: for women, it is recommended to replace saturated fats with monounsaturated such as olive oil, olives, avocados and nuts, while also being aware of portion sizes. For men, it is recommended to replace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats, including vegetable oils, seeds, nuts and oily fish. 7
Plant-based proteins, such as green vegetables, various whole grains, legumes and nuts have been shown to benefit fertility outcomes in women compared to meat-based protein. However, poorly-planned vegan and vegetarian diets can negatively impact fertility by causing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which highlights the importance of a well-balanced plant-based diet. 8
Recommendation: plant-based, minimally processed sources of protein, such as tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds. 7
Vitamin D receptors can be found in the ovaries, placenta, and endometrium in women and testicles and sperm in men, suggesting the importance of it for fertility. 9 Moreover, vitamin D levels have been found to be associated with more positive pregnancy tests, clinical pregnancy and live birth rates in women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF). 9
Recommendation: taking vitamin D supplements in the winter months.
Folic acid is a synthetic version of folate or vitamin B9, which helps the body make healthy red blood cells, is needed for sperm DNA synthesis, and is important in the normal development of the foetal brain and spine. 10 Folic acid (400ug) is recommended when trying to conceive and especially in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Recommendation: folic acid supplements and a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, fruit and nuts. 7
Although infertility is often associated with women, male factors are known to be responsible for ~25% of cases. A recent study has shown that sperm quality has consistently been declining in the past decades, but the exact causes are unclear. 4 Hypotheses include environmental factors such as exposure to pollution, chemicals and plastics, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet.
Each partner plays an equal role in fertility and conception and, as a result, it is important that both partners optimise their diets when trying to conceive.
Maternal weight before pregnancy is a strong predictor of fertility and chances of success. But neither very low nor very high weight is beneficial for fertility. Low weight can result in disrupted menstrual and ovulation patterns, as well as a compromised immune system thus putting you at risk of infections. Meanwhile, obesity disrupts hormone levels and often leads to issues in ovulation, as well as increases the risks of pregnancy complications, such as gestational diabetes, hypertension and preterm births. 7 11
Try the Apricity fertility predictor, an AI tool designed to help you optimise natural fertility or estimate chances of success through treatment. It combines information based on your lifestyle factors and shows how a few changes can impact your chances of natural pregnancy.
A balanced diet is crucial for fertility health as well as general well-being. It is also important to keep in mind and avoid the following foods when trying to conceive:
Foods and beverages high in sugar: sodas, sweets, energy drinks. Sugar causes inflammation of your organs, including the reproductive system, and has been found to impact the quality of eggs. 12
Foods high in processed carbohydrates: pasta, bread, baked goods, cereal, processed food etc. Processed carbohydrates, including pasta, bread, baked goods, various kinds of cereal and most importantly processed foods, in large amounts, have been found to negatively impact fertility. It is important to note that this is only the case when eating these overly processed carbohydrates paired with a lack of high fibre or a solely plant-based diet as this can cause hormonal imbalance and affect ovulation patterns. Whole-grain carbohydrates are still recommended.
Low-fat dairy. In women, fat is an important source of nutrients essential for androgen hormone production (such as testosterone). Research has shown that a low-fat dairy diet may be associated with a lack of ovulation and an increased risk of infertility. 13
Trans fats. As already mentioned, trans fats are the “bad” fats found in processed foods, such as doughnuts, pastries, cakes, cookies, margarine, and processed meats. They potentially damage fertility by causing inflammation and insulin resistance, negatively impacting both male and female fertility. 14
Every fertility journey will look different but the importance of varied, well-balanced nutrition is a great first step for both partners equally. As well as diet, other lifestyle factors, such as exercise, sleep and mental health are crucial when trying to conceive. Making a few changes is a good foundation for managing your stress levels, which, as we all are well aware, are high when going through fertility treatment.
At Apricity, we aim to ensure you feel supported, cared for and confident throughout your fertility treatment. Our first-class fertility specialists and fertility advisors are available 7 days a week as well as supportive counselling.
Written by our group of fertility experts and doctors consultants
Written by our group of fertility experts and doctors consultants
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