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Fertility diet
Conception Jan 25, 2020
7 Minutes

Fertility diet?! What the science says actually works…

Chances are if you’re trying to get pregnant/having trouble you’ve thought about all aspects of your life. Diet is one easy area to make a change. There are lots of theories about the best fertility diet. Lots of companies promising miracle results or influencers talking about whatever they’re promoting that day. It’s a minefield! So, as always, we just go straight to the science. In this article we look at the evidence for a change in your diet relating to getting and staying pregnant. Most importantly we look at what the research suggests actually works. For men too.

Can diet make a difference to our fertility?  

The short answer is yes. The research around this topic has grown a lot in the last few years and there are some clear trends emerging. However, despite evidence that nutrition does matter there are no official guidelines.  That being said, if you want more in-depth reading this research by Harvard (click here) goes through a detailed look at the studies that have been done to date and pulls out some of the conclusions. Don’t worry, we’re going to pull out the key parts for you here.

Let’s start with the obvious wins when it comes to a good fertility diet: 

A few clear tricks and tips that you may not have thought of have emerged through research – read on for those! However, starting with the absolute basics. As usual, it’s really not rocket science. The base for any good fertility diet (or any good diet for health full stop) appears to be pretty sensible. Essentially the Mediterranean diet.

Why is the Mediterranean approach the best when it comes to a fertility diet? 

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of this particular diet for health on the whole. Overall however we can see a relatively clear picture of a diet high in good quality fish, healthy fats, whole grains, fruit and protein from vegetables are the way forward. On the flip side avoiding things like too much animal protein, high trans fats (think cakes, frozen pizza, biscuits, margarine etc). Processed cr@p – even that labelled ‘healthy’.

In fact one study highlighted in the Harvard review (click here) showed that people that followed this baseline Mediterranean fertility diet were statistically 66% less likely to have issues with ovulation and 27% less likely to have infertility issues. So, in actual fact, it really doesn’t have to be super complicated….

Ok, but what about other less obvious things to think about for a fertility diet? 

Most of us now know about how crucial folate (often taken as folic acid) is for pregnancy. Specifically for preventing neural tube defects. What about folate for fertility though?

Folate is a must: not just during pregnancy: 

The current advice is to start taking Folate in advance of conception to reduce the chance of neural tube defect. However, research is also suggesting a higher dose could play a positive role in fertility. There is evidence to support it’s role for fertility, reduction in risk of miscarriage and greater success of infertility treatment.

A number of benefits for Folate to be part of a fertility diet:

Numerous studies have shown benefit to conception, egg quality (click here for more), egg removal and even a reduction in miscarriage rate. Crucially however the amount required seems to be higher than that recommended for during pregnancy with many studies showing positive results at a dose of 800micrograms. As always: chat to your doctor about any supplements before you start.

One thing to watch: 

Some people have a genetic component known as MTHFR which means they struggle to absorb the benefit from the synthetic version of Folate – Folic Acid which is in most prenatal supplements. The best thing to do is to take the natural/food form Folate or Methylfolate. Click here for more. 

What about Vitamin D for the fertility diet? 

There has been a bit of an explosion in the recognition of the power of Vitamin D. Not only for strong bones etc but for it’s role in immunity. Click here for more. There has also been a lot of work done on it’s role in fertility. Whilst the conclusions of this have been less clear, what is more obvious is that a deficiency is not what we want. So, whilst high levels are not necessary going to add to your fertility, not having enough is not what we want. Sunlight is your best bet, failing that, a good supplement (Vitamin D is fat soluble so best have alongside a healthy fat – click here for more). If in doubt, get your levels checked. Many of us are deficient these days!

Antioxidants? 

We know that too much oxidative stress is not what we want. Once again not only when it comes to growing a small person, but also for health in general. Click here for more on what this is. In a nutshell though: it is damage that happens to our cells from too much waste/pollution/toxins/infection and not enough of our body’s ‘mop’: antioxidants on the other side to clean it up. Our reproductive cells are particularly vulnerable to this. Especially men – click here for much more. 

So what are they and do they work?

The Mediterranean diet is naturally rich in antioxidants. Think things like fresh dark coloured vegetables and fruits and less of the elements that can cause oxidative stress (added processed sugar/trans fats). So that’s a good start for both men and women.

What about antioxidant supplements as part of a fertility diet? 

So if antixoidants help protect from cell damage then shouldn’t we have more? The evidence is less conclusive when it comes to female fertility, however, it is much more compelling for male fertility. With evidence around improvement in semen quality and clinical pregnancy rates. Click here for more. 

What kind of antioxidants should I add to a male fertility diet then? 

The studies used have been criticised as there are many used in different combinations with each other. Things like (click on them for more) N-Acetyl Cysteine, Melatonin, L Arginine, Myoinositol,  Vitamin D etc. Have been used in various combinations. Bottom line however appears to be that although it is not conclusive, a combination of antioxidants can be helpful when it comes to male fertility. Our favourites are those listed above. Click on any one of them for more info.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: 

Another reason that the Mediterranean diet is cited as a great approach is because of the focus on healthy fats and oily fish. The flip side as The Harvard meta-analysis discusses is the offset from modern day fish. Specifically mercury/dioxin, so as always its about a balance!

There is supportive research around long chain fatty acids (omega 3) and egg quality and implantation. The flip side is that trans fatty acids (think processed foods, cakes, biscuits, frozen pizza/fast foods) can increase insulin resistance and lead to issues with ovulation. Click here for more. Especially something to be wary of if you have PCOS. 

Omega 3: DHA/EPA are found in fatty fish but also in algae and seaweed for the veggies out there. Click here for much more. 

What’s the deal with dairy: in or out of the fertility diet? 

These days dairy seems to be the enemy. For sure some people are unable to tolerate it. If you think that may be you speak to your doctor about allergy testing. However, the research for the rest of us is not conclusive. The only thing that is clearer is that full fat appears to be much better for you than the low fat version.

Meat/fish/soy? 

One of the main concerns with animal based protein is environmental contaminants. Think added steroids, hormones, antibiotics that are part of modern day farming. Dioxins too: click here for more on those. This is absolutely something to bear in mind.

Moderation appears to be the key (as always). With fish from wild sources low down the food chain showing benefit vs red meat too often unsurprisingly not being what you want.

Soy has been substituted into many ‘free from’ products. There has been concern as it is a phytoestrogen (mimics estrogen). When it comes to women this does not appear to be a problem. The picture is less clear for men however – click here. Once again though, it has to be about moderation and avoiding the processed form. Not really rocket science…

So: is there a perfect fertility diet? 

We can over complicate this as much as we like. But, the reality is your absolute best bet is to eat a balanced Mediterranean based diet. That means whole grains, fresh fruit and veg, oily fish, full fat dairy and meat in moderation. Avoiding environmental toxins in animal based food is smart: so go organic, and when it comes to fish go low down the food chain and wild if you can.

Aside from that – helpful: Omega 3, Vitamin D, Folate for the ladies and for the men out there: the same plus you may want to consider some antioxidants if you’re concerned about your swimmers. If in doubt (and always before taking a supplement) chat to your doctor. Good luck!

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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