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How Diet Affects Fertility

September 1, 2023

The Connection Between A Mother-To-Be’s Nutrition & Egg Quality

It may not feel like it at times, but fertility involves more than just timing and luck. The quality of reproductive cells plays a crucial role in the journey toward conception and healthy pregnancy, with emerging research suggesting that nutrition can significantly impact egg quality. We are diving into this fascinating relationship, uncovering key dietary factors that can boost fertility potential and maximize your chances of conception.

How Diet Affects Fertility

Maintaining A Healthy BMI Has Trickle-Down Effects

Optimally, a patient will want to stay within the BMI range of 18.5 and 25 before their pregnancy. There is a higher correlation between infertility and issues maintaining pregnancy for BMIs that are over or under that range.

Patients who are overweight may run into issues such as insulin resistance, higher cholesterol and other comorbidities that tend to go hand-in-hand with obesity. These all can further complicate fertility. Underweight patients run the risk of facing nutritional deficiencies and malnourishment — or simply not getting the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain a pregnancy.

“You really want to start this process 3-6 months ahead of conception. This gives you enough time to make internal cellular changes. If you want to get pregnant in the fall, it would be best to start changing your diet at the beginning of July.”

The Target Benchmark Changes With Pregnancy

When you’re actually pregnant, the goal is to be within 25 – 35 lbs. of your pre-pregnancy weight to support a healthy pregnancy. Gaining a little bit more weight is healthier than being underweight because you’re not putting the baby at risk of pre-term labor and other issues with birth.

Which Nutrients Can Improve Fertility?

Proper nutrition is pivotal for laying the foundation for robust egg quality. Recent studies support the significance of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, among other essential elements, when optimizing for fertility. These nutrients not only fortify egg health but also establish a fertile ground for conception.

By incorporating foods teeming with antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, nuts, seeds, olive oil and whole grains, this dietary pathway strives to give the body the fertility-boosting vitamins and nutrients necessary for nurturing the delicate journey of conception.

Folate Intake & Healthy Neural Tube Development

Polyunsaturated fats, fiber and plant-based foods are all excellent when it comes to bolstering egg quality, but one nutrient that can’t be overlooked is folate. Folate is especially important during pregnancy to help with neural tube development. Leafy greens, whole grains, fresh fruits, beans and sunflower seeds all naturally contain folate. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate and is often taken as a supplement or added to food during production..

The Fertility Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

Embracing a diet rooted in the principles of the Mediterranean diet, renowned for its anti-inflammatory properties, has emerged as a promising avenue to bolster fertility according to studies encompassing both animal and human models. An optimal balance of protein, carbohydrates, antioxidants, folate and lipids within the daily regimen contributes to the broader canvas of female reproductive well-being.

Necessary Medical Testing To Gauge Your Current Health

Functional stool tests, food sensitivity tests or a cycle on the Elimination Diet are helpful in determining potential causes of inflammation, hormone or blood sugar dysregulation, and weight gain — all of which are potential contributors to suboptimal fertility.

The Importance Of Optimizing The Gut Biome

Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome (an ecosystem of the gut comprised of billions of microorganisms) is a key component to supporting fertility. Supporting the microbiome consists of eating a diverse diet (“Eating The Rainbow”). This involves increasing your intake of fiber, prebiotics and probiotics.

Fiber Rich Foods Include:
  • Avocadoes
  • Beans
  • Dried fruits
  • Legumes
  • Leafy greens
Prebiotic Foods Include:
  • Flax
  • Soy
  • Whole grains
  • Garlic
  • Bananas
Probiotic Foods Include:
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt (unsweetened/without added sugar)

What Foods Damage Egg Quality?

While trying to conceive, it is important to minimize processed foods and refined sugar in an effort to bolster strong blood sugar regulation and maintain a healthy preconception weight. Foods with highly saturated fat have also been known to negatively impact egg quality. Foods to avoid include butter, processed meats, cured meats, baked goods, low-fat dairy foods and sugar-sweetened drinks.

“You really want to start this process 3-6 months ahead of conception. This gives you enough time to make internal cellular changes. If you want to get pregnant in the fall, it would be best to start changing your diet at the beginning of July.”

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet Can Reduce Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress can negatively impact egg quality, leading to decreased fertility potential. Antioxidants act as guardians that neutralize harmful free radicals and preserve the integrity of your delicate eggs. You can find antioxidants in foods such as broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and apples.

However, it isn’t enough to just eat an antioxidant-rich diet; a hopeful mother-to-be should also avoid foods that are “pro-inflammatory.” These include processed meat, refined grains, refined sugar and common snack foods, such as cookies, pastries and crackers.

Is Caffeine OK When Trying To Get Pregnant?

Yes — when you’re trying to get pregnant, caffeine is ok. However, you don’t want to have so much that it causes your adrenals to be thrown off which would snowball into your hormones becoming unbalanced. 200mg of caffeine a day or less is also safe while pregnant.

Your Environment & Lifestyle Choices Play A Role, As Well

While nutrition is paramount, other lifestyle factors can also impact egg quality. Exercise, stress management and environmental toxins in fertility should all be considered when taking a holistic approach to enhancing egg quality.

“We want to avoid things that mimic hormones in our bodies like plastics and synthetics. Pollutants and pesticide exposure can impact egg quality and cause ovulation disorders. This makes smoking cessation even more crucial.”

In some cases, dietary adjustments alone may not suffice to meet all the nutritional needs for optimal egg quality. Supplements may need to be used to help enhance your nutritional intake and bridge this vital gap.

Supplements Are Helpful, But Diet Is Queen

“As a practice that specializes in fertility treatment services, we monitor key lab values and see where they are deficient and how supplements can be helpful in pregnancy planning. But remember: they are ‘supplements’ for a reason! We shouldn’t rely on supplements to get what we need; it is always best to get our nutrition from food sources.”

Supplements That Can Help Improve Fertility Include:

  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC)
  • Fish oil with EPA and DHA
  • Prenatal vitamins with choline, folic acid and iron
  • Vitamins A, B, C, and E
  • zinc and selenium
  • Curcumin
  • Green tea extract
  • Quercetin

About The Author 

Angie Scala, NP, is the fertility treatment specialist at Donaldson Plastic Surgery in Columbus, Ohio. She currently builds nutritional plans and lifestyle programs for women seeking to optimize their chances of fertility. Angie takes a comprehensive and customized approach to each patient as they embark on the fulfilling journey of parenthood.