5 Nutrition Tips to Increase Fertility in both Men and Women
This article is aimed at both men and women who are either planning on getting pregnant in the future, currently trying to get pregnant or are experiencing issues with fertility which relate to ovulatory fertility or poor sperm quality. The tips here do not relate to any other type of infertility and cannot guarantee pregnancy. However, they can provide nutrition support to increase the chances of getting pregnant and conceiving a healthy baby.
Nutrition is an extremely important component of fertility and pregnancy, and with exceptions of telling women about foods that they aren’t allowed to eat, diet is often overlooked. Nutrition for fertility is not only about increasing chances of getting pregnant, but the preconception diet of both parents can play a part in the health of the baby once conceived, both in pregnancy, after the baby is born and even into later life. This is shown in research through the evolving field of epigenetics. Epigenetics is the study of how the presentation of our DNA is changed positively or negatively by environmental factors. A simple way to understand this uses an analogy of building a house. If you use quality materials to build a house, the house is likely to last longer and endure more without falling down compared to a house that is built using poor quality materials. The blueprints to the house (in our case our DNA) remains the same.
Spermatogenesis (the process of making sperm) is a 90-day process. This means that the diet of a man up to 90 days before conception can influence the health of the newly conceived baby. This highlights the importance of early planning. Similarly, women should ensure that they are consuming a healthy diet for at least a few months prior to conception.
There is a lot of emerging evidence surrounding nutrition and fertility, but there still needs to be some further research in regard to some of the newer recommendations. This article highlights the nutrition tips with the strongest evidence to back them up.
The quantity of carbohydrates in the diet is far less relevant that the quality. Slow digested, low glycaemic index carbohydrates have been shown to increase ovulatory fertility and reduce the risk of gestational diabetes according to the Nurses’ Health Study. For men, diets rich in carbohydrates and fibre have been correlated with improved semen quality. High fibre carbohydrates can be found in whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. Foods that should be reduced are highly refined carbohydrates such as white bread and potatoes, confectionery and sugar sweetened beverages.
Trans fats can negatively affect fertility. Research has shown that women consuming trans fats instead of monounsaturated fats are at double the risk of ovulatory infertility. In addition, men have shown poorer semen quality and poor testicular function. Foods to be avoided are fast food, commercially prepared products and baked goods. For women, monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados, legumes, pulses, tofu and wholegrain foods. For men however, polyunsaturated fats are helpful for semen quality and quantity. This includes omega-3’s which are found in walnuts, spinach, chia seeds, flax seeds and algae oil (or supplement).
Research has shown that where women have chosen plant protein over animal protein, the risk of ovulatory fertility has decreased by 50%. Therefore, women may benefit from prioritising consumption of plant protein in their diet. Sources of plant protein include lentils, quinoa, nuts, seeds, beans, tofu and edamame. In addition to its effects on ovulatory fertility, higher consumption of animal protein has also been associated with increased obesity in the subsequent children at 20 years of age.
Folate or Folic Acid is commonly known as an important supplement for women to take prior to conception to prevent neural tube defects. Not only is this important, folate also has an effect on oocyte quality and maturation and the synthesis of DNA in sperm. It is recommended that women take 400mcg of folate daily prior to and twelve weeks following conception. In addition to this recommendation, both men and women can benefit from high folate containing foods which include fruits and vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli and spinach, legumes and cereal products.
Antioxidants can be greatly beneficial to sperm following formation. They can act to protect sperm from oxidative reactive species which come from things such as pollutants, smoking, alcohol and much more. Oxidative reactive species can cause sperm protein, lipid and DNA damage and sperm dysfunction. Research has shown that men who consume a diet high in antioxidants have produced sperm with less DNA damage and oxidative stressors than those who consume a low amount, particularly in older men or those undergoing reproductive treatment. Many nutrients come under the umbrella of antioxidants. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and many others found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and walnuts. In addition, antioxidant supplementation in men has shown a significant increase in pregnancy rate when compared to a control group in a multitude of studies.
Considering these five nutrition tips, foods to focus on for a fertility boosting diet are; whole grains, fruits and vegetables, in particular cereal products, nuts, walnuts seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, beans, legumes, pulses, lentils, quinoa, edamame, tofu, avocados, dark leafy vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and oils such as olive oil, canola oil and algae oil. In addition, for men, an antioxidant supplement.
These five tips can give a great start to anyone looking to improve their pre-conceptual diet. For anyone considering getting pregnant or struggling with ovulatory infertility, I also offer a fertility and pregnancy specific workshop, aimed at couples to improve their chances. If you are interested please get in touch.
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