It is undeniable that our food can impact our health and wellbeing, but what has been very interesting to see over the years is research on how our food can impact specific health conditions. From neurological function, gastrointestinal health, chronic pain, cardiovascular function, emotional wellbeing and much more. So it should come as no surprise that our diet can also affect our reproductive health! But this very often does come as a surprise for so many Patients.
In fact, some Patients have shared that other healthcare providers instructed them that diet and food have absolutely nothing to do with reproductive health. Today, I would like to share with you summarized results from a study published in the Journal Frontiers in Nutrition in July 2022 that reviewed around 170 research papers looking at the role of diet and its relationship to reproductive function. And as we will cover below, it becomes quite evident that ignoring the role of diet and nutrition would be a severe mistake for those hoping to conceive.
How does Diet and Lifestyle Impact Fertility?
While we see many observations on how specific dietary patterns, macronutrients and micronutrients can impact fertility the exact method by which they do so we continue to learn in the latest research. Many of these dietary treatments will often be related to levels of environmental toxins (i.e. dioxins, antibiotics, heavy metals, and organochlorines to name a few), their impact on the microbiome and epigenetic changes are some of the main mechanisms being considered.
How does Diet and Nutritional Intake affect Patients going for Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs)?
Red meat is associated with lower embryo development and reduced pregnancy rates. Sources of Omega 3s (seafood) were associated with higher live birth rates (although some research has suggested avoiding certain types of fish due to higher risk of mercury toxicity). Increased plant based proteins have been shown to be associated with increased pregnancy rates, live birth rates, progesterone levels and increased endometrial thickness.
Diets with a lower carbohydrate intake (low glycemic load) were associated with increased number of retrieved eggs, pregnancy and live birth rates. Increased glycemic load in the diet was found to be associated with decreased ovarian response to fertility medications. One study found no correlation between carbohydrate intake and outcomes with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). For Patients trying to conceive naturally it was observed that higher sugar intake was associated with a longer time to pregnancy and increased risk of infertility.
Omega 3s were found to be correlated with improved pregnancy rates, estrogen levels, embryo quality and live birth rates. One study could not find any relationship between Omega 3 intake and IVF outcomes. Trans fat consumption was found to correlate with a reduced IVF fertilization rate and lower number of embryos developing to the blastocyst stage. Trans fats may increase insulin resistance , inflammation and negatively affect normal functioning of the ovary.
In Patients trying to conceive, selenium and zinc deficiency is associated with a longer time to pregnancy. Fertility procedures have been observed to deplete zinc levels in the body and optimal dietary supplementation the following month helps to restore zinc levels to normal range. Vitamin D deficiency may reduce implantation and and increase miscarriage rates. Higher Vitamin D levels are associated with increased pregnancy and live birth rates. Folate intake is associated with increased positive ART outcomes and in Patients trying to conceive is associated with higher progesterone levels. Selenium and copper levels in the follicular fluid of the ovary can help support the microenvironment.
Mediterranean diet has been associated with increased fertilization rates, pregnancy and live birth rates. One study showed Mediterranean diet has no impact on IVF outcomes. Standard American diet has been associated with increased inflammation in the ovary and reduced preimplantation development.
While this review looked at the importance of dietary patterns on reproductive treatments there is also further research available on the role of supplementation of specific micronutrients and their potentially beneficial impacts of particular health conditions, including but not limited to, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, unexplained infertility, sperm-factor infertility, uterine fibroids, low egg quality, recurrent pregnancy loss and much more.
This article is being shared as educational content and is in no way a replacement for medical advice or medical care, it is advised that anyone concerned about their Health should speak with their Naturopathic Doctor. Please discuss with your healthcare provider and only make changes to your medications regimen if recommended by your doctor and under their guidance and supervision.