It’s Nutrition & Hydration Week – a global event to focus on improving the health and wellbeing of everyone through what we eat and drink. It’s the perfect opportunity to look at the link between our diet and our fertility, whether trying to conceive naturally or with fertility treatment. Can changes to our diet really increase the chance of conception?
For many people, their infertility is beyond their control. Not being able to conceive, or to create a pregnancy, may be caused by medical or genetic conditions, rather than lifestyle choices. But what we eat and drink every day does have an impact on our fertility – and this IS within our control.
“Maintaining a healthy weight is important before trying for a pregnancy, for both sexes, said Dr Martin DeBono, Fertility Consultant at RHG-IVF Life.
“Underweight women are more likely to give birth to underweight babies, and overweight women are at risk of gestational diabetes or high blood pressure during pregnancy, both of which increase the risks to the unborn baby.
“For men, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark found that a man’s sperm count decreases as his BMI increases over 25.”
Our favourite foods?
Modern life convenience foods, unsurprisingly, do us no favours when eating to conceive. Excessive consumption of foods that are rich in red and processed meats, potatoes, sweets, and sweetened drinks, all have a negative effect on both men’s and women’s fertility.
The fertility diet foods which are beneficial to any man or woman planning on getting pregnant include:
- those rich in vitamin B12 – including beef and chicken; trout, salmon, and tuna; fortified cereals; low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese; and eggs
- those that are rich in omega 3 – including salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines; flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts; and plant oils including flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
- ingredients and cooking styles common to the Mediterranean diet – using olive oil instead of butter; high number of fruits and vegetables; wholegrains instead of refined breads and pastas; fish (especially those high in omega 3) at least twice a week; and limiting dairy, or switching to lower fat alternatives
In addition, a woman should include in her fertility diet:
- foods that include folic acid, including leafy green vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, spinach, and peas; chickpeas and kidney beans; and fortified breakfast cereals
- iron-rich foods, such as dark meats; sardines, anchovies, mussels, and oysters (but be careful with shellfish that contain high mercury levels); leafy greens (see folic acid-rich foods above); legumes and beans including black-eyed peas, canned baked beans, and peas; wholegrain pasta and bread
- foods rich in calcium – for building healthy bones, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
And for men, a diet rich in fruit and vegetables including vitamins C and E, selenium, and zinc, can improve the quality of sperm.
Fluids for fertility
But it’s not only about what we eat. Small improvements to what we drink can have a positive impact on our ability to conceive. And this is all about increasing the amount of water we drink – but not upping whatever our other favourite tipples might be!
A 2018 Danish study concluded that caffeine has little or no effect on female fertility. But a 2017 study published in Nutrition Journal revealed that men who drink more than four cups of coffee a day have a higher proportion of damaged sperm.
Increasing the amount of water we drink can only be a benefit.
For women trying to conceive, drinking more water helps to improve blood circulation, which is beneficial to your uterus and fallopian tubes. It also helps to improve your cervical mucus, to provide the right environment for sperm to successfully travel through the vagina, and uterus, and into the fallopian tubes.
Water consumption also helps to ‘plump-up’ your egg follicles and improve the uterine lining that any embryo will need to nestle into during the implantation stage of conception.
The amount of water in a man’s body also affects both the function of male sexual hormones and the quality of his sperm. And dehydration may cause his blood vessels to contract, so it will be more difficult for sexual hormones to reach the testicles where sperm is produced.
“The recommended water intake for an adult is two to three litres a day, depending on your age, activity level, the weather, and what else you consume,” added Dr DeBono. “All men and women benefit from drinking more water, but increasing their daily intake is vital for couples trying to conceive, either naturally or with IVF or ICSI treatment.”