Diet & Lifestyle for Fertility
With so many options at the grocery store and so many different blogs about various fad diets, it is helpful to see a Naturopath so you can receive evidence-based advice regarding the actual benefits of various foods, superfoods, diets, and lifestyle options.
Research has continued to explore additional treatments which can help support pregnancy and reproductive outcomes. The relative success rate of IVF per cycle still rests under 30% on average in Canada (this number may vary depending on number of embryos transferred, age of patient, and previous fertility treatment history). Some of the modifiable risk-factors which can improve fertility and reproductive health include: physical activity, metabolic health and weight, nutrition, lifestyle, and nutraceuticals. A number of studies have now been published and we are now seeing a clearer image of what an optimal diet can look like for patients struggling with infertility. And more importantly, how an evidence-based nutritional and dietary plan may help optimize fertility for patients trying to conceive naturally or with assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs).
And the numbers did not hold back, in fact, one prospective cohort study following over 18’000 nurses found that following a fertility diet reduced the likelihood of experiencing infertility by 66% due to ovulatory disorders and by 27% for all other causes of infertility! While this is an observational study, the results are significant!
Additionally, a recently published review looked at over 100 research articles published on optimal fertility diet and nutrition to support fertility and pregnancy. You can download a document summarizing the most important points from this research by for free from our homepage.
Naturopaths will work to help identify the best options for you to support your specific body constitution and needs. If you are already following a specific dietary restriction/lifestyle choice (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, gluten free), a Naturopath can provide nutritional testing for Vitamin and Mineral levels in your body to help identify deficiencies or excesses so that you can supplement your diet accordingly without compromising your dietary lifestyle choice.
Specific testing includes Vitamin B12 levels, Iron levels and storage in the body, Antioxidant status in the blood, Heavy Metals, IgG Food Sensitivity Panels, and much more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Food Sensitivities?
Food Sensitivities are different from Food Allergies. Food allergies are a Type 1 IgE Immune response and Food Sensitivities are a Type 3 IgG Immune response. These two immune reactions are very different.
How are Food Allergies different from Food Sensitivities?
Food Allergies usually present with an immediate response, which can be fatal. Examples of this are anaphylaxis, swelling of the lips, mouth, and skin irritation. Food Sensitivities can have delayed responses because Type 3 IgG reactions occur in the blood and the immune deposits occur in various parts of the body (i.e. joints). Patients with chronic diseases may find improvement if the food sensitivities are identified and removed from their diet. The types of Immune Reactions from Food Sensitivities can be immense, as everyone may react differently to different foods. Some may have chronic mucus production and cough, some may have chronic pain, altered vaginal fluid pH, and some may have swelling and fluid retention. It is possible for food sensitivities to affect mood, digestive health, and fertility.
How are Food Sensitivities Identified?
There are two options. A blood test can be done and tested for reactivity to various foods (this is known as Food Sensitivity Testing) and the second option is an elimination diet. Each option has its fall backs, the best way to identify Food Sensitivities is a combination of both options.
Where can I get the Food Sensitivities Tested?
Your Naturopathic Doctor can perform the lab testing for Food Sensitivities for you.
Improving fertility and your chances of conceiving with a healthy baby does not entirely depend on your medications and fertility procedures, such as, in-vitro fertilization or intrauterine insemination. In fact, there is a significant amount of research available looking at a number of lifestyle and dietary factors which can significantly increase and/or decrease your chances of conceiving naturally, conceiving with an assisted reproductive technology (ART), and reducing your chances of complications when it comes to maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
Whether you are preparing to try for your very first fertility treatment cycle or have already tried many treatments that have not succeeded, modifying lifestyle and dietary changes can have a significant impact on supporting you in preparation, during, and after your fertility treatments to optimize your chances for a positive treatment outcome.
Vitamin B9 is essential during pregnancy. It is used in gametogenesis, support fertilization, and reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the baby. Older research had suggested that consumption of folic acid may increase the likelihood of spontaneous abortion, however, newer and better quality studies have suggested that there is no measurable increase in the risk of spontaneous abortion. In fact, newer studies have suggested that there may actually be a decrease in the risk of spontaneous abortion when folic acid was supplemented well beyond the recommended daily dose. It is important to mention that use of folic acid in high doses may lead to digestive upset of a skin rash in some rare cases.
Consumption of carbohydrates that are high in glycemic index (a measure of the impact the carbohydrate has on the blood sugar) and the total glycemic load seem to increase the risk for anovulatory infertility in Women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. It seemed to increase the production of andorgens and potentially reduce ovulation frequency. In Women without PCOS, there was no change in ovulation or fertility based on carbohydrates. However, it should be noted that a higher body mass index (BMI) has been associated with a decrease in fertility rates, and excessive carbohydrate consumption can make it difficult to keep the BMI in a healthy range.
Whole grains contain more vitamins, phytic acid, and selenium. All of which have been suggested to reduce time to pregnancy. This may be due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory impact of these nutrients in the body.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are critical in the production of hormones, supporting energy production in an embryo and in follicle development. Regular consumption of these fats have also been suggested to reduce the risk of insulin resistance and ovulatory dysfunction, support healthier levels of estrogen in the body, a lower risk for endometriosis, and some animal studies and limited human trials suggest a delay in aging of the ovaries and eggs with increased consumption of PUFAs. Their increased consumption has been suggested to increase clinical pregnancy rates with IVF and help develop healthier quality embryos, although they may decrease sensitivity to stimulation medications during IVF.
In contrast, consumption of trans-fatty acids has been suggested to risk of insulin resistance, increase the risk of anovulatory infertility (inability to get pregnant due to lack of ovulation), and potentially increase the risk of developing endometriosis.
The main concerns around meat consumption is the concentration of pesticides and hormone-disrupting chemicals, along with measurable hormones in the meat as well. Higher consumption of animal protein seems to increase the risk for anovulation and infertility, whereas increase plant-based protein seems to decrease the risk of anovulatory infertility.
This is a simplified overview of some of the many factors which can impact fertility outcomes in natural and IVF/IUI cycles. For more detailed information consider scheduling an appointment with Dr. Singh, ND to start on more detailed dietary and lifestyle recommendations for fertility.
The information provided here is strictly for educational purposes. Always consult with your healthcare provider before making any changes to your lifestyle and diet to see what is best suited specifically for you to ensure safety and efficacy.
Antioxidants refers to nutraceuticals/supplements of high-dose active compounds that cannot be achieved through dietary sources alone. The effect a compound has in a dietary dose is different from its pharmacological effect when taken in higher doses. The research has evolved greatly behind this topic, from early studies unclear on whether antioxidants actually had an impact on reproductive health or not to more recent studies finding very exciting improvements in sperm health, uterine/ovarian health and function, and increased pregnancy rates.
For sperm health, antioxidants have been shown to help increase semen quality and can increase the likelihood of a clinical pregnancy that leads to a live birth. For uterine/ovarian health and function, the use of high dose and evidence-based nutraceuticals can improve reproductive outcomes for patients trying to conceive. While available studies are smaller and higher powered and quality studies are required, based on the relative low-risk of harm, patients should have a conversation with their licensed Naturopathic Doctor to discuss if certain antioxidants may be of benefit to them.
Alcohol and Infertility
Studies looking at patients consuming alcohol on a daily basis were found to have lower semen volume and lower normal sperm morphology. Patients that consumed alcohol on a daily basis were found to have worse sperm health when compared to patients that had less.
Higher amounts of alcohol consumption also appeared to negatively affect reproductive health in females.
Caffeine Intake and Fertility
There are conflicting studies on this topic. Overall, we see that consumption of 1 or 2+ cans of caffeinated soda was associated with a 23% and 28% decrease in chances of conception, respectively. Some studies fail to find any correlation between caffeine intake and fertility. Higher intake of caffeine is hypothesized to negatively impact the quality of sperm DNA.
For patients going for IVF, consumption of caffeine was associated with poor egg/embryo health but not impact clinical outcomes. Other studies failed to find an association between caffeine intake and fertility. However, the European food safety authority and WHO recommend a maximum of 200-300 mg of caffeine a day for patients trying to conceive.
One case-control population study that followed over 11’000 patients found that consumption of beverages sweetened with sugar was associated with a decrease in conception rates. Patients included in this study were under 40 years of age.
Two other studies also found that Women who consumed sugar-sweetened sodas or energy drinks had lower chances of conceiving compared to patients who did not drink these beverages. The researchers hypothesized the role of sugar potentially interfering with hormone function and follicle growth/ovulation.
Two studies evaluating for the impact of sugary snacks or drinks on sperm health found that higher consumption of these foods was associated with lower sperm concentration and/or lower sperm health (i.e. motility and morphology).
Chiu, Y., Chavarro, J. E., & Souter, I. (2018). Diet and female fertility: Doctor, what should I eat? Fertility and Sterility, 110(4), 560-569.