As women we grow up with the idea that getting pregnant is SO easy, I mean taking your birth control pill late or missing a day might have caused a lot of us concern at some point or another. For some, it really is that easy but for most women it isn’t. In fact, in Canada, 1 in every 6 partners experience infertility. Infertility can be heart breaking and extremely confusing, with the source of infertility often being unknown.
If you have been actively trying to conceive, you have probably heard or read about “fertility boosting foods” such as oysters, pineapples, brazilin nuts, garlic, and so much more. Although there is no harm in eating any of these foods, there is also little scientific evidence that suggests eating extra servings of such foods will boost fertility. There are, however, some research studies that provide valuable information with regards to nutrition and fertility.
In this blog post I will be breaking down some of the research related to nutrition and diet when it comes to fertility.
The Nurses’ Health Study is the most resourceful research study when it comes to data pertaining to nutrition and fertility. The study followed approximately 17, 500 women and their nutrition and lifestyle habits (without a history of infertility) over the course of 8 years as they attempted to conceive or conceived. The results indicated that women with higher intakes of folic acid, nonheme iron, vegetable protein and high fat dairy (1-2 servings) had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory infertility (infertility associated with ovulation dysfunction) and 28% lower risk of infertility associated with all other causes. This means that the “fertility diet” pattern may have a positive influence on fertility in women (Chavarro, J.E. et al., 2016).
This diet pattern included:
Lower intake of trans fats, with greater intake in monounsaturated fats
Lower intake of animal protein, with greater intake of vegetable protein sources
Greater preference for full fat dairy products
High non-heme iron intake (found in plant foods)
Greater intake of high fibre carbohydrates
Another research study reinforces the findings mentioned above by stating that increased intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds is helpful in managing weight and boosting fertility . These foods are rich in phytochemicals, fibre, and antioxidants, and are beneficial for both male and female fertility (Collins, G. G. & Rossi, B.V., 2015).
What about supplements?
There are a few supplements that have been well researched in terms of fertility. Today I will be breaking down vitamin D, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and folate.
Vitamin D: vitamin D clinical trials have produced varying results. When testing infertile men and women studies have found a large majority to be deficient in vitamin D. However, when supplementing women undergoing IVF some studies found that those with higher serum vitamin D levels had higher pregnancy rates, while others did not. In a study focusing on infertile men, those treated with supplements showed improved sperm motility rates.
Bottom line: there is a lot of mixed evidence when it comes to vitamin D and fertility, so we are a far way away from saying it can boost fertility. However, taking a vitamin D supplement (especially here in Canada with long winter months) is not harmful and is good for other health reasons (like bone health).
You can find vitamin D in some food sources including, eggs, fatty fish, and dairy.
Vitamin E (and selenium): there has been some research in both men and women that show positive outcomes with vitamin E and selenium supplements. One study found women who were 35 + years with vitamin E supplementation got pregnant sooner. In addition, men who supplemented has less oxidative damage to sperm and increased motility. However, more research is needed as these studies were done amongst sample groups of people. In addition, supplementation is cautioned, as large doses can cause adverse health outcomes for both men and women.
Bottom line: more research is needed but you can always include vitamin E and selenium rich foods in your diet. Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, sweet potato, papaya, spinach, and other dark leafy greens. Selenium can be found in yogurt, cheese, fish, brazil and other nuts, grains (like cous cous, pasta, etc.), and mushrooms.
Coenzyme Q10: Coenzyme Q10 is an antioxidant, energy promoter, and membrane stabilizer. Due to its role in cellular energy researchers think it has the potential to improve sperm count and motility in mend and egg quality in women. For women there is little research to support taking this supplement. However, for men a few studies have shown improvements in sperm count, motility and form with supplements.
Bottom line: the research is less clear for women, for the majority of people there is no harm in taking a coenzyme Q supplement, but there is not enough evidence to support its fertility boosting effects.
Folate: Folate is required for DNA synthesis and required for periods of rapid cell growth. Folate supplementation may improve reproductive outcomes, as some studies have shown improved rates of pregnancies in women with highest supplement intakes. In addition, the preconception period is a time of cellular growth and folate supplementation may improve reproductive outcomes.
Bottom line: if trying to conceive taking a folate supplement is likely a good idea for overall reproductive health.
Always talk to your health care provider or nutrition expert before starting supplements.
8 Helpful Tips:
Get protein from vegetables. Add lentils (and other legumes), instead of meat, to your pasta bake, as nonheme iron (from plant foods) may be favourable for fertility
Choose whole grains. Opt for whole grain breads and pasta as they are rich in fibre and can boost fertility
Enjoy 1-2 servings of full fat dairy (if you can eat dairy). Choose full fat milk instead of skim milk as it may positively affect ovulation
Increase intake of fruits & vegetables. Add an extra serving of fruits and vegetables to each of your meals as they are rich in fibre, antioxidants and phytochemicals and can improve fertility
Eat healthy fats. Opt for healthy fats such as unsaturated vegetables oils (olive oil, etc.), fatty fish (salmon, sardines, etc.) and avocados
Consume an adequate amount of folic acid. Take a 400mcg folic acid supplement or make sure you get sufficient folic acid through your diet by eating dark leafy greens, broccoli, etc.
Avoid trans fat. Avoid processed desserts, hydrogenated margarines and fried foods as they may have a negative impact on ovulation, and therefore fertility. Instead opt for healthy fats such as nuts and seeds, fatty fish, avocado, and olive oil.
Drink plenty of water. Water is the best drink to keep hydrated; avoid sugary drinks, juices and drink caffeine in moderation.
So can the food you eat influence your changes of getting pregnant?
There's a lot of info out there, eat brazil nuts, pineapple, maca powder, pomegranate juice and the list goes on! But unfortunately there isn't a whole lot of evidence to support these claims. Incorporating some of these 'fertility boosting' foods into your diet isn't harmful but it might not be the quick fix you are hoping for. Fertility can be impacted by many factors including age, reproductive organ health, stress, family history, etc. So, food isn't the only piece of the puzzle.
However, I DO BELIEVE that having a well balanced diet and healthy lifestyle can make all the difference in improving your fertility and overall well being.
If you have any questions for me, please don't hesitate to ask. If you'd like to share your thoughts, stories, or something that worked for you...please connect. I love hearing from all of you!
Cheers to happy and healthy eating! :)
Until next time,
Eat Right Feel Right - Angela XO
1. Collins, G. G. & Rossi, B.V. (2015). The impact of lifestyle modifications, diet, and vitamin supplementation on natural fertility. Fertility Research and Practice.
2. Sim, K.A. & Patridge, S.R., Sainsbury, A. (2014). Does weight loss in overweight or obese women improve fertility treatment outcomes? A systematic review. Obesity Comorbidity/Obesity Management.
3. Chavarro, J.E. et al., (2016). Contributions of the Nurses’ Health Studies to Reproductive Health Research. American Journal of Public Health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4981818/
4. Government of Canada (2013). Fertility.