The old adage “We Are What We Eat” holds truth in many different healthcare scenarios, not the least of which is when couples are attempting to become pregnant. It has almost become a cliché in the news media that diet, exercise and lifestyle choices will affect everything from the health of your heart to health related issues or the development of cancer. The reality is that all of those things are true. When we feed our bodies the right vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, cells are able to reproduce appropriately and the body has more optimal health.
Fertility is really no different. Interestingly farmers, ranchers and animal scientists know more about how nutrition affects the fertility in their cows and chickens than physicians and researchers know how it affects reproduction in humans.
Using information from the Nurses Health Study, a long-term research project using 18,000 women looking at the effects of diet and other factors on chronic conditions, researchers have found several interesting facts. For instance, women who ate a high amounts of easily digested carbohydrates, such as white bread and sodas, found themselves struggling with ovulatory infertility. But health choices of carbohydrates is not a factor that exists in a vacuum. The study also showed that women who got nearly 60% of their calories from carbohydrates also ate less fat, less animal protein, drank less alcohol and coffee and consumed more plant proteins and fibers. These women were not as likely to smoke or more physically active and weighed less. Choosing the right carbohydrates is more important than eliminating them altogether. (1)
Fertility experts have determined that both men and women who maintain a normal weight range are more likely to become pregnant easily than those who are either underweight or overweight. The amount of fat cells in the body impacts hormonal regulation and balance upon which sperm production, ovulation and conception is determined. (2,3)
According to be American Pregnancy Association which is a nonprofit organization promoting reproductive health, physicians believe that a woman should allow three months to a year in order for dietary changes to have a significant effect on the overall health of herself and her soon-to-be baby. (4)
While an occasional glass of wine or beer won’t impact the odds of getting pregnant, any amount over that can affect the developing baby as well as change the hormonal balance which controls ovulation and menstruation. Caffeine is another drug which can affect fertility. Many experts believe that 2- 8 ounce glasses of coffee each day won’t get in the way of getting pregnant but it can impact women who are going under in vitro fertilization because it constrict blood vessels, slowing flow to the uterus and potentially making it harder for an egg to implant. If drinking caffeine has a negative impact on women undergoing infertility treatments because of a physicians intimate knowledge of how those treatments affect a woman’s body, it only stands to reason that it affects all of us in the same way.
Going through yo-yo dieting can also significantly impact your ability to conceive a child. Eating too much junk food or being overweight will cause fertility problems as well as being underweight or not eating enough. And, the process of yo-yo dieting, weight going up and down over short periods of time, will significantly impact your hormonal balance in a negative way.
We may like to think that there is a fertility pill that we can get over the counter or an herbal supplement which will make all of our problems go away but in reality those fertility diets, which have no research to back them up, are preying on the needs and desires of couples. Instead, eating a balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables and minimal animal fats will help a woman and man to get the vitamins minerals and antioxidants they need in order to produce healthy sperm and eggs.
(1) University of Michigan Health Systems: How Your Diet Affects Your Fertility
(2) Yale Daily News: Study Links Obesity, Infertility
(3) US Department of Health and Human Services: Obesity in Men Linked to Infertility
(4) American Pregnancy Association: Pre-Conception Nutrition