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The relationship between diet and fertility

The relationship between diet and fertility

We're all too familiar with the role diet plays in our overall wellbeing - whether it's heart health, weight management, gut function or mental wellness. Yet, less is often said about the influence diet has on fertility. Below we will look at diet and the effect it can have on fertility.

Decoding Fertility and the Dietary Connection

A fertility-supporting diet shares similar characteristics as a diet designed to better feed the reproductive system. However, the goal for many is to increase their odds of conception and contribute to a healthy pregnancy. Scientific research has shown that a healthy diet has an instrumental role in bolstering fertility in both sexes as it’s the supplier of the small nutrients that are integral in reproductive health as well as the energy required to fuel the reproductive system. A balanced, nutritious, varied diet helps regulate hormones, support healthy ovulation cycles in women, and promote increased sperm quality and production in men, all of which are prerequisites for successful conception.

8 important steps to better your fertility

  • Regular eating pattern: Not only are the food choices we make a factor in a healthy fertility diet, but also when we choose to eat. The 24 hour in-built clock in our body, that tells our body when to release certain hormones and trigger the likes of ovulation, needs to be recalibrated often. One of the ways in which we do this is by being predictable. Try to have your breakfast, lunch and dinner at a similar time each day. Eating in this regular pattern can help to regulate some of the wide array of hormones that influence fertility.
  • Consistent sleep: The other trick to recalibrating your 24 hour clock is by going to bed at a similar time every night and waking at a similar time every morning. In other words, aim to have a bedtime and wake-time. Having an inconsistent sleep pattern can have a direct impact on many different aspects of your health. Most of us need 7 to 9 hours each night. Less than 5-6 hours per night could potentially interfere with menstrual cycles, sperm parameters and fertility outcomes. It can also increase stress levels, lower the production of important sex hormones and reduce our sex drive. So, don’t forget the focus on sleep when considering your fertility.
  • The Mediterranean style diet: An adequately balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients, supports overall wellness and promotes fertility. Current research indicates that certain dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean diet, have a positive impact on fertility. The Mediterranean diet is typically characterised by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil and fish. Incorporating more vegetable protein sources in to your diet can help to reduce the risk of infertility. In other words, full to the brim of foods providing nutrients integral in the healthy functioning of the reproductive systems.
  • Folic acid and folate: The terms folic acid and folate are often used interchangeably. Folate is a general term used to describe different forms of vitamin B9. Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate that is often used in supplements and fortified foods. While natural folate is found in leafy greens, citrus fruit and beans, it’s very difficult while pregnant to eat adequate amounts to reach levels that prevent neural tube defects. Folate and folic acid are also integral in fertility. They help to promote healthy ovulation and support progesterone levels. By eating 2 green vegetables each day, 1 citrus fruit and taking a 400mcg folic acid supplement, you’re likely to meet your needs. However, please do note that some people require more folic acid than others. So, please do have a chat with your Dietitian, GP or pharmacist to see how much you should take.
  • Antioxidants: High levels of reactive oxygen species aka free radicals cause oxidative stress in the body, which can impact fertility. They build up naturally in the body due to everyday living. Antioxidants from our food help protect the body against this oxidative stress. This helps to protect all cells in the body but would include our precious eggs and sperm cells. As oxidative stress has been shown to have negative implications on fertility, eating plenty of antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E as well as small but mighty nutrients in plants called phytocompounds is a good idea. Thankfully antioxidant-rich foods are often very tasty so are easy to implement. They include the likes of herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and berries. However, all plants are good suppliers so do try and eat your 5 a day and enjoy some healthy wholegrains.
  • Eating omega 3 fats: Fats are a key macronutrient that help support our organs and cells to function optimally. They’re also required for hormone production and are therefore an important component in a fertility-supporting diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are very special and have been linked with different areas of fertility in both women and men. It is also important for brain and eye development during pregnancy. There are different kinds of omega 3 fats. There is the omega 3 found in fatty fish called EPA and DHA as well as the omega 3 found in plants such as rapeseed oil, flaxseed and chia seeds called ALA. Ideally, we would need to be supplying all three to our body. Oily fish are an excellent source of omega 3, however if you don’t eat oily fish, perhaps consider an omega 3 oily fish supplement or one from algae if you consider yourself to be vegan or if you are following an exclusively plant-based lifestyle.
  • Avoiding vitamin D deficiency: Struggling to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D is all to common, and in Ireland we know that not enough people are taking a vitamin D supplement. It’s recommended that people take a 15 mcg supplement between Halloween and St Patricks Day. However, if your skin colour is darker, you will likely need to take this vitamin D supplement all year round. How is this related to fertility? Well, vitamin D receptors are found in the ovaries, endometrium, sperm cells and testis. Although taking large amounts of vitamin D may not promote fertility, avoiding deficiency is a must. Deficiency can result in fertility challenges in both men and women.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight: Insufficient body fat levels, low BMI and inadequate calorie intake has been shown to negatively impact fertility outcomes in both men and women. For example, having low body fat and a low BMI reduces the amount of oestrogen in the body which can lead to irregular periods and ovulation issues. While a low BMI in men can impact sperm count and semen volume. For those falling into this category, it is important to maintain a healthy body weight as fertility will likely improve by gaining weight and eating enough to fuel your body and all it’s precious systems, including the reproductive system.

While it's essential to include fertility-friendly foods in your diet, moderation is equally crucial. Excess of anything or under-eating in terms of variety can tip the balance and can have a negative impact on your chance of pregnancy. Striking a balance is key to maintaining optimal fertility.

While diet has a profound role in fertility, other lifestyle factors like engaging in regular physical activity (but avoiding excess), quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and effective stress management such as mindfulness and yoga are also worth your attention and some focus.

The intricate connection between fertility and diet is undeniable, with each having a profound influence on the other. By understanding the right nutrients and adopting a balanced diet, one can potentially enhance fertility, creating a more promising path towards reproductive health. Always remember, though, that it's wise to consult with a healthcare professional or dietitian before undertaking significant dietary changes.

The road to potentially improved fertility could be just a few dietary changes away. Remember, your diet can be a strong ally in your fertility journey. Choose wisely and eat healthily to pave the way for successful conception. If you are looking for more information on fertility and reproductive health, speak to one of our teams today.

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