Do some foods actually make you more fertile?

There’s a lot of questionable information about how your diet interacts with your fertility goals. Your reproductive hormones fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle and have been linked to changes in food intake, energy levels, and metabolism (1, 2, 3). Also there’s a lot of information centered on the ideal menstrual cycle and hormone fluctuations, with little note to those who don’t fit into that ideal. Honestly, it’s difficult to sift through all the so-called “fertility foods” to tell truth from fiction, especially when you consider all the conflicting information out there with some sites saying, “stay away from dairy” and others saying, “eat dairy, it supplies vitamin D!” It could be that the conflicting information was from smaller studies that came to different conclusions. It’s tempting to say that it’s too complicated to sort out. In reality, there haven’t been many large-scale studies with long-term follow-up on the subject of diet and fertility until fairly recently. Now we have access to information from the National Institutes of Health’s BioCycle Study (4) with 259 participants and the Nurses’ Health Studies (5) on cohorts of women as large as 116,430.

We investigated what the current scientific consensus is regarding the possibility to enhance your fertility through diet and found that there are some foods and nutrients with consistent evidence and others with mixed or insufficient evidence to really draw conclusions.

Spoiler alert: the consensus is that yes, you can enhance your fertility by eating a generally healthy diet, taking a multivitamin, exercising, and avoiding junk food.

While you may get pregnant regardless of what you eat, recently, large studies have suggested that yes, some foods can improve fertility. Aside from other potential causes of infertility such as stress levels (6), environment, and genetic predispositions (7), following a fertility diet may help ward off infertility. A study of 17,544 women found that a lifestyle which included diet, weight control, and physical activity was associated with a 69% lower risk of infertility caused by ovulation disorders (8). A study of 259 women in the US found a link between diet and luteal phase deficiency (9), where your uterine lining doesn’t grow properly (10) causing infertility.  It seems that these larger studies confirm what smaller studies hint at: there is, indeed, a link between diet and hormone balances which may lead to enhanced fertility. Whether there’s a need to eat and exercise differently depending on which menstrual phase you’re in is still up in the air… there’s a need for more attention to the fertility aspect of menstrual phase-determined diets, or Menstralean diets, as only the weight loss aspect has been studied so far (11).

Over the past decade or so, there has been enough evidence in the body of research to recommend food sources for the key nutrients they provide.

Vitamin B9

Photos by  Gaelle Marcel ,  Pille-Riin Priske ,  Reinaldo Kevin , and  rawpixel   Vitamin B9 foods: Lentils, spinach, black beans, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, broccoli, orange juice, peanuts, fortified foods

Photos by Gaelle Marcel, Pille-Riin Priske, Reinaldo Kevin, and rawpixel

Vitamin B9 foods: Lentils, spinach, black beans, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, broccoli, orange juice, peanuts, fortified foods

Several large studies have shown that incorporating foods that supply vitamin B9 at above the level recommended for neural tube defect prevention (400 micrograms/day of synthetic folic acid) may enhance fertility (12). In its natural form found in foods like the ones above, it’s called “folate.” Other foods, like fortified nutritional yeast and cereals, have it added and may call it “folic acid.” Folic acid is not naturally found in food but is often added to those labelled “fortified” in amounts detailed on the package. Both folate from food and supplemental folic acid need to be activated by the body to be turned into vitamin B9. Since they both wind up as vitamin B9, they can be thought of as essentially the same.

                 

A Nurses' Health Study found that supplemental folic acid seemed to explain why women who consumed six or more multivitamins each week had a 41% lower risk of ovulatory infertility than women who didn't take the multivitamin (12)

Folate intake has also been found to reduce the number of cycles where the ovary fails to produce, mature, or release an egg (13).

In the past, however, there’s been mixed conclusions caused by methodological errors which appeared to show increased risk of fetal death from pre-conception folic acid use (12). Now, the CDC and the scientific literature on fertility outcomes suggest that yes, a higher intake of preconception folate (or folic acid) can increase fertility and the likelihood of carrying a pregnancy to term. So eating all of those leafy greens, orange juice, and beans may help you in your fertility journey!

Vitamin B12

Photo by  Caroline Attwood ,  Danielle MacInnes ,  Kim Gorga  and  Nyana Stoica   Vitamin B12 foods: Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products, fortified nutritional yeast, fortified breakfast cereals

Photo by Caroline Attwood, Danielle MacInnes, Kim Gorga and Nyana Stoica

Vitamin B12 foods: Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products, fortified nutritional yeast, fortified breakfast cereals

These foods supply vitamin b12, which is generally absent in plant-based foods (13).  Smaller studies have provided evidence suggesting that when a vitamin B12 deficiency first develops, it may lead to pregnancy loss. A continued deficiency may result in infertility by changing ovulation, ovum development, or ovum implantation (14, 15). If you’re vegetarian or vegan, consider going out of your way to find fortified foods that supply vitamin B12.

Fats

Photos by  Gregor Moser ,  Tom Hermans ,  Kelly Sikkema , and  Roberta Sorge   Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: Fish, walnuts, avocado, flaxseeds, vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, olive)

Photos by Gregor Moser, Tom Hermans, Kelly Sikkema, and Roberta Sorge

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: Fish, walnuts, avocado, flaxseeds, vegetable oils (corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, olive)

These foods contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (16). Take caution when selecting fish; eating fish that have high concentrations of pollutants or mercury may dampen the overall fertility benefit to an unknown extent (12). There has been a lot of attention given to consumption of fatty acids in studies of different populations but they have often  lumped polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) with monounsaturated fatty acids, transfats, and saturated fatty acids. Overall though, the body of research seems to agree that higher intake of PUFAs, especially long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, rather than transfats, may enhance female fertility (17). These PUFAs play crucial roles in ensuring high quality oocyte maturation and embryo implantation (18). Saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated acids were not correlated with infertility in a Nurses’ Health Study, so consider choosing these over transfats in your fertility diet.


Low-glycemic carbohydrates and high iron foods

Photos by  Monika Grabkowska  and  rawpixel   Low-glycemic carbohydrates and high iron foods: Whole-grain bread, steel-cut oats, brown rice, pasta

Photos by Monika Grabkowska and rawpixel

Low-glycemic carbohydrates and high iron foods: Whole-grain bread, steel-cut oats, brown rice, pasta

Low-glycemic carbohydrates cause less of a spike in blood sugar, which helps avoid insulin resistance (19). Insulin resistance has been linked to infertility (8). A large study found that a diet high in low-glycemic carbs like those listed above instead of high-glycemic carbs like white rice, instant oatmeal, and white bread may lead to a decreased chance of infertility (8). Foods with a glycemic index of 0-55 are considered “low” (20), so stick with those and you may ward off infertility. Grains are also good for fertility from an iron-supplying standpoint. Total iron from plants and supplements has been found to have a beneficial effect on fertility in a Nurses’ Health Study (21). Iron can take the form of heme and non-heme iron, but the type associated with increased fertility was the plant-based non-heme form. Plant proteins contain non-heme iron while animal-based proteins contain both types of iron. So plant proteins may be twice as helpful on your journey towards conception because of the additional nutrients they provide.


Summary

After all of our research into fertility foods, we’ve found agreement that a diet high in protein from vegetable sources, full-fat dairy foods, iron, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (as opposed to transfatty acids), and that includes multivitamins may actually impact your hormones and help you on your fertility journey. We found only slight evidence supporting the idea that you should eat certain foods during certain phases of your menstrual cycle, probably due to the lack of attention to the topic. We’re quite interested in this topic though, so we’ll let you know if we come across any additional research supporting this idea.




Resources

1. Pliner, P. and A.S. Fleming, Food intake, body weight, and sweetness preferences over the menstrual cycle in humans. Physiology & Behavior, 1983. 30(4): p. 663-666.

2. Kammoun, I., et al., Change in women's eating habits during the menstrual cycle. Ann Endocrinol (Paris), 2017. 78(1): p. 33-37.

3. Oosthuyse, T. and A.N. Bosch, The effect of the menstrual cycle on exercise metabolism: implications for exercise performance in eumenorrhoeic women. Sports Med, 2010. 40(3): p. 207-27.

4. Wactawski-Wende, J., et al., BioCycle study: design of the longitudinal study of the oxidative stress and hormone variation during the menstrual cycle. Paediatric and perinatal epidemiology, 2009. 23(2): p. 171-184.

5. Bao, Y., et al., Origin, Methods, and Evolution of the Three Nurses' Health Studies. American journal of public health, 2016. 106(9): p. 1573-1581.

6. NIH. NIH study indicates stress may delay women getting pregnant. 2010  [cited 2019 2/13/19]; Available from: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-indicates-stress-may-delay-women-getting-pregnant.

7. Burd, I. and D. Freeborn. Infertility risk factors for men and women. Available from: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=85&ContentID=P01533.

8. Chavarro, J.E., et al., Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol, 2007. 110(5): p. 1050-8.

9. Andrews, M.A., et al., Dietary factors and luteal phase deficiency in healthy eumenorrheic women. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 2015. 30(8): p. 1942-1951.

10. Schliep, K.C., et al., Luteal phase deficiency in regularly menstruating women: prevalence and overlap in identification based on clinical and biochemical diagnostic criteria. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 2014. 99(6): p. E1007-E1014.

11. Geiker, N.R.W., et al., A weight-loss program adapted to the menstrual cycle increases weight loss in healthy, overweight, premenopausal women: a 6-mo randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2016. 104(1): p. 15-20.

12. Gaskins, A.J. and J.E. Chavarro, Diet and fertility: a review. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2018. 218(4): p. 379-389.

13. NIH. Vitamin B12. 2018; Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminb12-healthprofessional/.

14. Bennett, M., Vitamin B12 deficiency, infertility and recurrent fetal loss. J Reprod Med, 2001. 46(3): p. 209-12.

15. Reznikoff-Etievant, M.F., et al., Low Vitamin B(12) level as a risk factor for very early recurrent abortion. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol, 2002. 104(2): p. 156-9.

16. Harvard Health Publishing. The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. 2018; Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good.

17. Chavarro, J., et al., Dietary fatty acid intakes and the risk of ovulatory infertility. Vol. 85. 2007. 231-7.

18. Nehra, D., et al., Prolonging the female reproductive lifespan and improving egg quality with dietary omega-3 fatty acids. Aging Cell, 2012. 11(6): p. 1046-54.

19. Harvard Health Publishing. A good guide to good carbs: the glycemic index. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/a-good-guide-to-good-carbs-the-glycemic-index.

20. Glycemic Index Foundation. About glycemic index. https://www.gisymbol.com/about-glycemic-index/

21. Chavarro, J.E., et al., Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol, 2006. 108(5): p. 1145-52.

What to know about progesterone when trying to get pregnant

What to know about progesterone when trying to get pregnant

It’s pretty amazing how much you discover about your body once you start trying to get pregnant, isn’t it? Everything from learning that certain foods can be harm our fertility (ie: too much sugar and caffeine), as well as certain medications and even make-up, TTC can open up a whole new side of your health. Most alarming perhaps is what we learn about our menstrual cycles and how they can be a window into hormonal balance and health.

When do I ovulate each month?

When do I ovulate each month?

The general principle of how to get pregnant is simple, but in reality, it can be a lot more complicated than simply having unprotected sex frequently. If you’ve been trying to get pregnant, you may be wondering what’s taking so long. If no other issues are present (such as not having viable sperm), getting pregnant is like many things in life: all about timing. The fertile window is pretty much the only time during your cycle that you can get pregnant; if you miss your fertile window, you miss your chance to get pregnant that cycle. If you need help with figuring out when you ovulate and how to find your fertile window, you’ve come to the right place! The fertile window is determined by the day you ovulate, so we will explain what you need to know about ovulation to maximize your chances of getting pregnant.

'Tis The Season for Holiday Travel—What Impact May it have on your Fertility?

'Tis The Season for Holiday Travel—What Impact May it have on your Fertility?

Whether you are connecting with family, visiting home, or taking a well-deserved vacation, you may be wondering if air travel will affect your fertility. There are many physiological changes associated with travel that have the potential to disrupt internal processes, such as an altered sleep cycle, stress, shift in time zone, and change in diet. Researching how these factors relate to fertility can be tedious and confusing, especially given the lack of open discourse surrounding women’s reproductive health. Below are scientific answers to some questions women may have regarding fertility and plane travel.

Is Traveling for IVF Worth It? An Overview of Benefits and Risks

Is Traveling for IVF Worth It? An Overview of Benefits and Risks

As costs of medical procedures are on the rise, many Americans are looking abroad for more affordable care. In fact, a study conducted with collaboration between NYU, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and other global institutions, shows that US Citizens make up approximately 10% of medical tourists worldwide, with the numbers exponentially increasing every year. Though the most common procedures people travel for are cardiac-related or orthopedic surgeries, there is a growing population of women that opt to undergo IVF abroad. In this weeks blog we explore the benefits and risk of traveling for IVF.

How to Actually Lose Weight

How to Actually Lose Weight

Whether trying to lose 5 pounds or 100, losing weight can be a special challenge -- especially during this time of year. Even though the ‘95% of diets fail’ statistic is a myth (Fritsch 1999), diets don’t work for many who try them. Counting calories, putting food on scales, or keeping a food journal can be even more stressful when trying to conceive.

How likely is pregnancy in 20s? 30s? 40s?

How likely is pregnancy in 20s? 30s? 40s?

It may be believed that only the parts of the United States where sex education that involves scare tactics to promote abstinence until marriage results in adults with a poor understanding of contraception and reproduction, but actually, it’s a global problem. Women all over the world, have poor understanding of their fertility. Amy Klein, writer of the fertility diary for the New York Times wrote, “A global study published for World Fertility Awareness Month in 2006 surveyed 17,500 people (most of childbearing age) from 10 countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America, revealing very poor knowledge about fertility and the biology of reproduction.”

Prenatal Vitamins 101: How They Work and How to Choose the Right One

Prenatal Vitamins 101: How They Work and How to Choose the Right One

Prenatal vitamins are recommended to women in order to assure healthy embryonic development. However, the vast selection of brands and endless varieties of pills can make it hard to pick the best one. Adding to the ambiguity is that the effectiveness of certain vitamins is tied to lifestyle factors such as weight, exercise, and quality of nutrition. There are some things to keep in mind as you decide which vitamins you need. This article will cover the scientific reasoning for why prenatal vitamins are essential, and how to optimize the effects of taking them by choosing the right ones.

Signs of Fertility: What your body can tell you about your fertility

Signs of Fertility: What your body can tell you about your fertility

In biology class you may have learned about your reproductive organs and hormones, but it’s unlikely that you learned about how your cervical fluid, temperature, urine and saliva all can be used to indicate your fertility. Women can learn about their unique cycles using their own physiological signs to predict and determine ovulation.

PCOS and Infertility: Signs, Symptoms, and Trying to Conceive

PCOS and Infertility: Signs, Symptoms, and Trying to Conceive

Caroline is 20 years old, a normal weight, and has mild acne. She experiences mood disruption on occasion and has light periods. Her body shows no signs of excess hair growth. Her friend Kayla is 35 years old, is slightly overweight, and experiences moderate acne. She has some excess hair on her face, chest, and abdomen. Her periods are heavy, irregular, and usually accompanied by painful cramps. Though the two women have vastly differing symptoms, they both share a diagnosis of Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS. Here we explore current information on signs, symptoms and trying to conceive.

Common Questions About Conceiving After the Birth Control Pill

 Common Questions About Conceiving After the Birth Control Pill

Is it a myth or fact that oral contraceptives (OC) affect fertility? Truth be told, since hormonal birth control continues to evolve, we are still learning about how fertility is impacted. While fertility was found to be delayed in a study performed in 1997, more recent studies show that fertility is not impacted.

A significant number of women in the US use OCs. Recent data from the CDC shows that 99.3% of women aged 15-44 have tried a type of birth control, with 79.3% having tried oral contraceptives (OC). Since a high percentage of women use, or have tried the pill, it is understandable many question any possible side effects that may affect fertility.

The Fertility 'Cliff'- When is it Too late to Conceive?

The Fertility 'Cliff'- When is it Too late to Conceive?

By the time a woman reaches the age of 35, her chances of getting pregnant in a single cycle drop even more significantly. After the age of 40, women have less than a 5% change of getting pregnant in a cycle. Still, we all personally know women and see celebrities that get pregnant later in life. Though getting pregnant later in life isn’t the norm for everyone, you may wonder how far the fertility cliff actually drops.

Ovulation Calculators, What to Know When Trying to Get Pregnant

 Ovulation Calculators, What to Know When Trying to Get Pregnant

Timing the fertile window is one of the most important steps to take to get pregnant. Outside of a woman’s fertile window, there is nearly a 0% chance of getting pregnant. There are several methods out there to find this elusive window, including ovulation calculators. How often can a calculator reliability determine when a woman is fertile?

Test your Fertility Expertise

Test your Fertility Expertise

How much do you really know about fertility? Perhaps you are nearly an expert from all the research you've done online about how to get pregnant faster, or perhaps you are a healthcare professional who advices women on best practices when it comes to trying to get pregnant. Regardless of who you are, it's fun to test our knowledge base on questions about our incredible bodies and the miracle of conception.  Go ahead, give it a go. 

How to know when you are fertile

How to know when you are fertile

Outside of the ‘fertile window’, a woman has a 0% chance of conception. Medical opinion tells us that our fertile window is about 6 days long.  More specifically, the ideal time for conception is 1-2 days prior to ovulation.  That’s because a woman’s egg typically lives for 12-24 hours and sperm typically live 1-3 days inside a woman’s body. Therefore, the highest pregnancy rates seem to be when there is sperm waiting for the egg during this ‘fertile window’ time frame. In this post we explore the current methods to detect the elusive fertile window. 

New Year Resolutions That May Help With Getting Pregnant Faster

New Year Resolutions That May Help With Getting Pregnant Faster

Any day of the year can be a new day to start a goal. New Years Day is simply another day on the calendar, but there is something special about having a designated day where millions of people around the world start (or revisit) goals. If you are thinking about or currently trying to get pregnant, there are lifestyle habits that can make a significant difference on your fertility, as well as the health of your pregnancy. Here we address 3 modifiable lifestyle factors that can help you get pregnant faster and are fantastic New Year Resolutions (or any day goals) for a healthier version of yourself. 

Lifestyle Factors to Help Regulate your Menstrual Cycle

Lifestyle Factors to Help Regulate your Menstrual Cycle

After years of struggling to figure out what was wrong with her body, Dr. Kyle Willets ditched birth control and completely changed her diet. By eliminating  foods such as sugar, Dr. Willets healed her body from PCOS and no longer needed to be on medication to regulate her cycles. As hard as it may be to believe, it’s been scientifically shown that by making changes, such as adding 30 minutes of walking a day, to losing 10 pounds, hormonal imbalances can be fixed and therefore, lead to regular cycles in some women. Here we address 5 common causes of irregular cycles in which lifestyle changes may help to regulate your period.

Do Irregular Periods Cause Infertility?

Do Irregular Periods Cause Infertility?

There are several things that have to happen to get pregnant. One, a woman needs to ovulate; two, a man needs to have viable sperm; and three, the two have to get together. If you have very irregular periods, it’s hard to know when you are ovulating or even if you are ovulating.   Having irregular cycles may make it more difficult for a woman to become pregnant than it is for a woman with regular cycles. Dr. Don Aptekar, MD FACOG, explains, “a woman that has regular periods may ovulate 12 times in a year, while a woman with irregular periods may ovulate 6 times a year. Since she has fewer chances per year, it may take her longer to get pregnant.”