Infertility is estimated to affect 15.5% of reproductive-aged women in the United States (1). Out of these infertility cases, it is estimated that 35% are associated with female infertility, 30% are due to male infertility, 20% are due to both male and female infertility, and 15% are unexplained (2). When it comes to fertility, there are so many factors that are out of a couple’s control. However, nutrition is an area of fertility that both partners can control. Research is showing that good nutrition can have a positive impact on fertility. In this post, I will share foods and nutrients that can help boost fertility naturally for women.
Folate intake has been shown to have positive effects on female fertility. Women who took a multivitamin supplement, containing folic acid were found to have a lower risk of developing ovulatory infertility. Furthermore, consumption of folate was associated with lower rates of sporadic anovulation and shorter time to become pregnant (1). Women who are planning to start a family can obtain folate (or folic acid) in a prenatal vitamin.
Healthy, omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are associated with a lower risk of endometriosis and higher probability of conception within a menstrual cycle. Fish, like salmon and sardines, are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. A strong connection has been found between fish consumption and a shorter time to become pregnant (1).
However, fish that are high in mercury may have a negative impact on fertility (3). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant to eat two to three servings of low-mercury fish per week and to avoid eating high-mercury fish (1). For more information about the levels of mercury in various fish, visit https://www.fda.gov/food/consumers/advice-about-eating-fish
On the other hand, intake of trans fats can increase insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of ovulatory infertility (1,3). Trans fats are found in foods like margarine, shortening, fried foods, and commercial baked goods (4). Furthermore, some studies have shown a negative connection between the consumption of red meat and achieving pregnancy (3).
Both the quality and quantity of carbohydrates consumed in the diet can affect glucose levels and insulin sensitivity (1). Glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity can influence ovulation and fertility in women (2).
Specifically, a diet rich in high glycemic foods can increase insulin resistance, which can negatively impact fertility and ovarian function. Furthermore, increased consumption of high glycemic foods, carbohydrates, and simple sugars was linked to decreased chances of becoming pregnant (2).
On the other hand, diets that included complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables were found to positively impact female fertility (1,3).
Sufficient Vitamin D
Animal studies have shown that poor vitamin D intake is associated with decreased fertility outcomes. In contrast, human studies have not found a strong connection between vitamin D intake and fertility. However, studies did find that women undergoing Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), who had sufficient vitamin D levels had more successful pregnancy outcomes in comparison to those who had insufficient vitamin D levels or were deficient (1).
Women who are planning to start a family can obtain vitamin D in a prenatal vitamin. Taking a prenatal vitamin at least three months prior to becoming pregnant can help women start off pregnancy with adequate nutrient stores.
Low intake of fruits and vegetables was correlated to a longer time to become pregnant (1). In contrast, increased intake of animal protein has been correlated with a higher risk of infertility due anovulation. Higher dietary intake of plant sources of protein and lower intake of animal sources of protein may benefit female fertility (2). Overall, evidence suggests that higher consumption of plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and legumes may have a positive impact on fertility for women.
Limit Fast Food, Caffeine, and Alcohol
Fast food tends to be high in trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and added sugar, all of which can negatively impact fertility (2). High consumption of fast food was correlated to longer time to become pregnant (1).
Increased caffeine and alcohol intake may also affect impact fertility. High caffeine intake may be connected with a longer time to achieve pregnancy (2). Additionally, research shows that alcohol intake, especially heavy drinking and chronic alcohol use, may be related to a greater risk of development of menstrual disorders and decreased fertility (2). Furthermore, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which can negatively impact fertility (5).
Adequate Calorie and Nutrient Intake
Insufficient calorie and nutrient intake and/or intense dietary restrictions can lead to weight loss and other negative outcomes, including increased infertility. Eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, can cause women to experience amenorrhea and infertility (5). It’s important for women trying to conceive to avoid restrictive diets and instead follow a healthy eating pattern, consisting of a variety of different nutrients.
While fertility is a complex issue, there is no doubt that nutrition can play a role. Consuming certain foods and nutrients may help boost fertility naturally. Eating a nutritious diet containing omega 3 fatty acids, low mercury fish, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and limiting trans fats, simple carbohydrates, animal protein, fast food, caffeine and alcohol may have a positive impact on female fertility. Additionally, supplementation with folate and having sufficient vitamin D levels may have a positive effect on fertility for women.
If you’re looking for fertility nutrition support, I provide virtual nutrition coaching to help you properly nourish yourself in preparation for pregnancy. Click here to book a free discovery call with me and learn more.