Fertility Diet

Definition

A fertility diet is a research-based dietary plan that focuses on what to eat and how to eat to optimize fertility. The fertility diet is based on the important role diet plays in the ovulatory causes of infertility. Comprehensive results from research on the connections between diet and conception have inspired a whole foods, slow carbohydrate, primarily plant-based diet that has been shown to increase fertility by up to six times the normal rate. The dietary plan is designed to help women and couples improve their chances of conception.

Origins

KEY TERMS
Aerobic exercise—
Sustained exercises such as jogging, rowing, brisk walking, swimming, or cycling that stimulate and strengthen the heart and lungs, improving the distribution and use of oxygen in the body.
Body mass index—
A ratio of weight to height used as an indicator of obesity and underweight status. It is calculated by dividing one's weight in kilograms by one's height in meters.
Endometriosis—
Attachment of the endometrial lining of the uterus to other organs outside the uterus making it unable to be shed from the body.
Ovulatory infertility—
Female infertility arising from problems with ovulation, the monthly release of an egg. The absence of an egg to be fertilized.
Slow carbohydrates—
Slowly metabolized carbohydrates, including all fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains or products made with whole grains.
Spermatic cord—
A cord-like structure in the male reproductive system formed by the vas deferens and tissue that connects to each testicle.
Trans fats—
Trans fatty acids are fats created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oils (hydrogenated oils) to make them more solid. Trans fats are the partially hydrogenated oils present in processed foods. As of 2018, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was in the process of banning these harmful fats from manufactured foods.

Description

Fertility refers to the natural ability of humans to reproduce. A fertile human female is able to conceive a child, and a fertile human male is able to impregnate a woman. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their ovaries, and the eggs are released once a month during the childbearing years. A woman's monthly cycle begins with hormonal changes that promote ovulation, the release of an egg by the ovaries. The egg migrates from the ovary, through the fallopian tubes, and down to the uterus, or womb. The hormone progesterone is produced to help thicken the inner lining of the womb to prepare for the possibility of an egg being fertilized in the fallopian tube as it travels. An egg can be fertilized by sperm within 12 to 24 hours after it is released. Because sperm can survive within a woman's body for up to seven days, it is possible for fertilization to occur even if sexual intercourse takes place before the egg is released. A fertile woman conceives when an egg is fertilized through sexual intercourse, resulting in pregnancy.

For most couples, having regular and unprotected sex will lead to pregnancy. About 85% of couples in the developed world conceive naturally within a year, but one in six or seven couples may have difficulty conceiving. A couple may be diagnosed as infertile if a baby has not been conceived after trying for two years or more. Infertility may be caused by irregularities in the man or the woman, a combination of both, or for no apparent reason (in up to 30% of infertility cases). The possibility of infertility in either a woman or a man is influenced by age, heredity, health status, and lifestyle factors. Female fertility is most influenced by age. The father's age may also affect chances of conception, time to pregnancy, risk of miscarriage, and health of the child.

The fertility diet is intended to optimize fertility in women and couples, giving them the best chance for conceiving naturally. The ten steps of the fertility diet are as follows:

Function

The goal of the fertility diet is to boost fertility in women, which will improve the couple's chance of conceiving a child. The premise is that a diet low in trans fats and high in “good” carbohydrates such as oatmeal, beans, and vegetables rather than refined carbohydrates, such as white flour breads, pasta, cakes, pies, and crackers, will decrease the overproduction of insulin and sex hormone proteins that increase testosterone and stop ovulation. Studies have also shown that high-fat diets may alter the expression of genes that are critical to normal ovulation. Therefore, the elimination of trans fats in the fertility diet is a step toward healthy ovulation as well as an aid to weight loss.

For some women who have health issues such as a poor diet, an overweight or obese status, or hormone imbalances, boosting ovulation may be a positive step toward conceiving. Age is also an important consideration. If a woman has reached age 30 before she decides to have a baby, her eggs are also older and the egg quality may be diminished to some extent, which could slow or even prevent conception. The fertility diet is recommended for boosting fertility in women with such ovulation disorders.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR

Benefits

The fertility diet does not guarantee pregnancy, but research has shown that it may boost fertility in women even in the presence of conditions such as ovulation disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroid or uterine polyps, damaged fallopian tubes, endometriosis, or immune system disorders that may interfere with conception.

Replacing meat protein with slow carbohydrates and plant proteins, as recommended by the fertility diet, improves vascular (vein and artery) health and blood flow, which is essential for conception and pregnancy, and at the same time offer protective benefits against heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Consumption of whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates that force the body to produce extra insulin can be a protective measure against developing diabetes as well as preventing vascular problems such as heart attack and stroke. The fertility diet is actually ranked as the #1 Best Diabetes Diet in Easiest Diets to Follow ( https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-diabetes-diets

As other dietary plans, the fertility diet includes aerobic exercise, which has been shown to strengthen the heart and lungs.

Precautions

The fertility diet is not a weight loss diet per se. Although women who follow the fertility diet may lose weight, it is a gradual loss rather than dramatic. The pounds lost are due mainly to reductions in calories, red meat, and refined carbohydrates in combination with aerobic exercise.

Soft drinks such as sugary, carbonated beverages are prohibited in the fertility diet because women in the Nurses' Health Study who drank caffeinated soda every day were 59% more likely to have ovulatory infertility than those who had no more than one of these beverages a week.

Although the fertility diet recommends whole-milk dairy products over low-fat, skim, or other modified dairy products during the childbearing years, women who may be lactose intolerant are advised to consult their obstetrician or gynecologist before making changes to or eliminating the dairy component of the fertility diet.

The fertility diet is not designed to address male fertility issues such as low sperm count, sperm defects, blocked spermatic cords, or immune system disorders.

Risks

No health risks are associated with the fertility diet. Dr. Chavarro, who helped develop the diet during the Nurses' Health Study, published an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (October 2014) that emphasized the safety of the diet in more than 11,000 women who followed the diet prior to healthy pregnancies without miscarriage.

Research and general acceptance

Results of the Nurses' Health Study (I, II, and III) are the main source of data supporting the fertility diet. Although the focus of the fertility diet is healthy reproduction, the benefits to metabolic and cardiovascular health are also supported by the Nurses' Health Study, indicating the diet's suitability for supporting health throughout adulthood.

Although the fertility diet is focused on reproductive benefits, it shares many features with dietary guidelines for preventing diabetes and cardiovascular disease and has been recognized by physicians in other specialities. Because women in the Nurses' Health Study who followed the diet were able to reduce ovulatory infertility by 80% to 90%, the dietary and lifestyle changes of the fertility diet might well be extended for health benefits throughout pregnancy and during middle age and older adulthood.

The fertility diet can be tailored easily to fit individual needs. Vegetarian or vegan women will find the fertility diet easy to modify to accommodate food choices, mainly because red meat is excluded. Full-fat dairy products, of course, may not suit a vegetarian or vegan diet, but eliminating dairy altogether in favor of plant proteins may not compromise the overall effects of the fertility diet on ovulation and health.

Low-salt, kosher, halal, and gluten-free diets can all be accommodated with a range of options compatible with the fertility diet.

See also Adult nutrition ; Fertility ; Folate ; Vitamin B6 ; Vitamin B12 ; Vitamin D ; Whole foods vs. processed foods ; Whole grains ; Zinc .

Resources

BOOKS

Chavarro, Jorge, Walter C. Willett, and Patrick J. Skerrett. The Fertility Diet: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Boost Ovulation and Improve Your Chances of Getting Pregnant. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Fett, Rebecca. It Starts with the Egg. New York: Franklin Fox, 2016.

PERIODICALS

Chavarro, Jorge E., Janet W. Rich-Edwards, Walter C. Willett, et al. “Use of Multivitamins, Intake of B Vitamins, and Risk of Ovulatory Infertility.” Fertility and Sterility 89, no. 3 (May 2008): 668–76.

Garruti, Gabriella, Raffaella Depalo, Maria De Angelis, et al. “Weighing the Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Female Reproductive Function.” Current Medical Chemistry (May 2017). http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/0929867324666170518101008 (accessed May 6, 2018).

Hohos, Natalie M., Kirstin J. Cho, Delaney C. Swindle, et al. “High-Fat Diet Exposure, Regardless of Induction of Obesity, Is Associated with Altered Expression of Genes Critical to Normal Ovulatory Function.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. (October 31, 2017). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.mce.2017.10.016 (accessed May 6, 2018).

Muscogiuri, Giovanna, Barbara Altieri, Cristina de Angelis, et al. “Shedding New Light on Female Fertility: The Role of Vitamin D.” Review of Endocrinology and Metabolic Disorders. 18, no. 3 (September 2017): 273–83.

WEBSITES

Cherry, Tracy. “Fertile Food: Can You Eat Your Way to Pregnancy?” University of Rochester. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/medialibraries/urmcmedia/fertilitycenter/education/documents/fertility-diet.pdf (accessed May 9, 2018).

Kaufman, Caroline. “Foods that Can Affect Fertility.” Eat Right, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-andreproduction/fertility-foods (accessed May 8, 2018).

Rodriguez, Hethir. “The Natural Fertility Diet: How to Eat for Optimal Fertility.” Natural Fertility Info.com . http://www.natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-diet (accessed May 8, 2018).

U.S. News and World Report. “The Fertility Diet.” USNews.com . https://health.usnews.com/best-diet/the-fertility-diet (accessed May 8, 2018).

WebMD. “Infertility and Reproduction Guide.” WebMD.com . https://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/guide (accessed May 7, 2018).

Your Fertility. “A Woman's Age Affects Her Fertility.” YourFertility.com . https://yourfertility.org.au/forwomen/age (accessed May 7, 2018).

ORGANIZATIONS

American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), 409 12th Street SW, Washington, DC, 20024-2188, (800) 673-8444, https:www.acog.org .

American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), 409 12th St. SW, #203, Washington, DC, 20024, (202) 863-4985, https:www.asrm.org .

Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, 6100 Executive Blvd., Rm. 3B01, MSC 7517, Bethesda, MD, 20892-7517, (301) 435-2920, Fax: (301) 480-1845, ods@nih.gov, https://ods.od.nih.gov .

Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), 1209 Montgomery Hwy., Birmingham, AL, 35216-2809, (205) 978-5000, Fax: (205) 978-5018, sart@asrm.org, https:www.sart.org .

L. Lee Culvert

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.