Today, more and more couples are waiting longer to start growing their families, which could be contributing to the rise in infertility rates. The CDC currently recognizes infertility as a common problem, as about 10% of women (6.1 million) in the United States ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant. While age is certainly a contributing factor, there are many other contributing factors like stress, toxic burden and inadequate nutrition. Let’s talk about nutrition’s role in fertility.
It’s customary for women to start taking a prenatal vitamin when they are considering pregnancy or when they find out they are pregnant. Taking a prenatal provides some peace of mind, making sure the baby is getting nutrients that could be missing in the diet. While many doctors strongly encourage and educate around this supplement ritual, it’s rare for the medical establishment to discuss in detail an eating plan that promotes fertility. A prenatal vitamin can help prevent nutritional deficiency, but it’s also important for women to prioritize nutrient-rich diets to truly optimize their fertility and general health and wellness.
Fertility isn’t just a women’s job
And let’s not forget about the men! Getting pregnant shouldn’t only be considered the woman’s responsibility. It takes two to tango, right? In fact, in one-third of infertile couples, infertility is linked to the man. Here is my list for top fertility food groups and superfoods that prepare both the male and female bodies for baby making.
Healthy Fats: The human brain is nearly 60% fat and is one of the main building blocks in the body including in cell walls and hormones. Having foods that support these in the body also supports fertility by saying, “Hey! We have lots of raw material to build a new human!” and encouraging the ability to conceive. If you have concerns about eating more fat, consider reading Dr. Mark Hyman’s book: Eat Fat, Get Thin. Here are some examples of healthy fats and their connection to fertility:
- Nuts, avocados and extra virgin olive oil can reduce the inflammation in the body, which helps promote regular ovulation.
- Brazil nuts are the richest source of selenium. Just one Brazil nut contains 90 micrograms of selenium—having 200-225 mcg/day can help increase motility in sperm.
- Adding coconut oil to your diet can help maintain a pH that promotes vaginal health, which is essential for fertility.
- Fish oil, flax oil and wild-caught fatty fish are all good sources of omega 3-fatty acids. Omega 3s may help improve egg quality and lower inflammation in the body which help promote conception. Omega 3s might almost have a better effect on men, improving sperm morphology and motility.
- Egg yolks are nature’s vitamin! Pasture-raised (not free-range or cage-free) eggs are richer in valuable nutrients in their conventionally raised counterparts: higher in folate and B12, 30% higher in vitamin E, 66% more vitamin A, 2x the amount of omega-3s and 7x more beta-carotene. In addition, two eggs supply 250-300 mg of choline, which primes your body for pregnancy and can make a smart baby. It is said that in some traditional cultures women ate 5-7 egg yolks daily during pregnancy. The National Academy of Sciences suggests 450 mg of choline/day for pregnant women and 550 mg/day for breastfeeding moms. A published study from January 2018 found that even higher amounts were better. They stated: “While offspring in both groups showed cognitive benefits, information processing speeds were significantly faster for the group of expectant mothers who consumed 930 mg/day when compared with the group that took 480 mg/day over the same period…Though the study has a small sample, it suggests that current recommendations for daily choline intake may not be enough to produce optimal cognitive abilities in offspring.”
Studies show that people who eat a diet rich in MUFAs such as from olive oil and avocados have better ovulation and almost 3½ times higher odds of success with in vitro fertilization.
Cilantro and parsley are natural chelators, which means that they may protect from heavy metals like mercury and lead. Research from the National Institutes of Health suggests that exposure to heavy metals in their environment (for men or women) can make it more difficult for a woman to get pregnant. Fresh herbs are ideal and can be added to salads, meats, sides and anything you want to give flavor.
Vitamin C protects sperm from oxidative damage and is especially helpful for sperm quality in smokers. It also improves count, motility, and structure of sperm. A daily dose of 1,000 mg is recommended. Foods high in vitamin C include: tomatoes, papaya, grapefruit, mango, peppers, guava, kiwi, pineapple, orange, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, strawberries, and more.
Low sugar fruits complement a low sugar diet which can help keep blood sugar levels stable. Stable blood sugar alleviates stress on the body and keeps inflammation in check. The lowest sugar fruits are lemons and limes, followed by blackberries, cranberries, grapefruit, passion fruit, raspberries, and strawberries.
Dark chocolate has been proven in several studies to increase the semen quality in men. The sweet contains an amino acid, L-arginine, that has been proven to increase sperm count, sperm motility, and semen volume. In women, too much stress can delay ovulation, but dark chocolate can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing the “feel good” neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Eat dark chocolate, feel good, and be fertile!