If you go to a Western trained physician for fertility advice, they may talk to you first about the fertility drug or procedures available to you. Too few address the connection between nutritional habits, lifestyle and fertility success rates. Integrative medicine combines Western and Eastern perspectives on how to achieve optimal health. And when we do that, everything in our bodies work better…including our ovarian health, which of course makes making babies possible!
See what Dr. Joel Furhman, a board-certified family physician, NY Times best-selling author and nutritional researcher who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional and natural methods, has to say about the relationship between nutrition and fertility…
March 6, 2013 (Newsletter)
Approximately 12% of women of childbearing age, or 7.3 million women in the U.S. have impaired ability to become pregnant, and 10-17% of couples experience infertility or subfertility at some time.1,2
Fortunately, there are a number of diet and lifestyle behaviors that can positively affect fertility in women:
Avoid refined carbohydrates
Women whose diets were high in glycemic load, indicative of more refined carbohydrate – white flour, sugar, white pasta, etc. – were almost twice as likely to experience ovulatory infertility.3 Similarly, consumption of soft drinks is associated with compromised fertility.4 This is likely because insulin serves a number of functions in the ovary, including production of hormones and hormone receptors – hyperinsulinemia, caused by excessive refined carbohydrate intake, can interfere with normal ovulation.5,6
Consume plant sources of protein and iron
Protein intake is thought to affect hormone levels, and these hormonal effects are likely to influence fertility. Researchers have found that women with high animal protein intakes were 39% morelikely to experience infertility than women with lower animal protein intake. In contrast, women with high plant protein intake were 22% less likely to experience infertility than women with lower plant protein intake.7 Similarly, intake of nonheme iron (the type of iron found in plant foods and supplements) is associated with a reduced risk of infertility, whereas heme iron (found in animal foods) intake showed no association.8
Get adequate micronutrients
Micronutrient adequacy is crucial for optimal fertility and during pregnancy for overall maternal, fetal, and child health.9 B vitamins are important for development of sperm and egg cells.1 Folate, a B vitamin, is crucial for preventing neural tube defects, and may also help to maintain regular ovulation.10 Comprehensive micronutrient adequacy promotes fertility and this is most effectively achieved by eating a variety of colorful, natural plant foods Combining a micronutrient-rich eating style with a high quality supplement to assure adequate, Vitamin D, iodine, zinc and B12 also helps to protect against deficiencies.1 Multivitamins should be chosen carefully, since most contain potentially harmful ingredients. Read Dr. Fuhrman’s recommendatio ns on supplement use for women who are planning to become pregnant.
Avoid dairy products
Two or more servings per day (compared to 1 or less per week) of low fat dairy foods was associated with an 85% increased risk of infertility. Apparently it was the dairy protein that had the most detrimental effects because the decreased fertility was seen only for low fat dairy. Galactose, a component of lactose, is known to interfere with ovulation, and dairy foods are also thought to contribute to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility.11
A sedentary lifestyle is likely a risk factor for infertility. Each hour per week of vigorous exercise is associated with a 5% decrease in risk of ovulatory infertility.12 Although moderate intensity exercise is not associated with fertility, of course it is still beneficial for overall health and weight maintenance.13
Maintain a healthy weight
Weight loss in overweight and obese women can improve reproductive function.14 More importantly, maternal obesity is associated with increased risk of complications and birth defects.15
Veronica overcame infertility with a nutritarian lifestyle:
“…Eleven months into my new way of eating, I met Dr. Fuhrman at one of his conferences. I couldn’t wait to share my story with him. I had to tell him how he saved my life, how he made me healthy and best of all how he made me get pregnant! So, I told him, ‘Dr. Fuhrman, you are the reason I am now pregnant!’ I’m sure this came as a little surprise to him being that I was an unknown beaming pregnant lady standing next to her her husband. So, he cleverly said, ‘I’m sure your husband had something to do with this too.”
1. Ebisch1 IMW, Thomas CMG, Peters WHM, et al. The importance of folate, zinc and antioxidants
in the pathogenesis and prevention of subfertility. Hum Reprod Update. 2007 Mar-Apr;13(2):163-74.
2. U.S. Centers for Disease Control. FastStats – Infertility.http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fertile.htm
3. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;63(1):78-86. Epub 2007 Sep 19.
4. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Caffeinated and alcoholic beverage intake in relation to ovulatory disorder infertility. Epidemiology. 2009 May;20(3):374-81.
5. Chakrabarty S, Miller BT, Collins TJ, et al. Ovarian dysfunction in peripubertal hyperinsulinemia. J Soc Gynecol Investig. 2006 Feb;13(2):122-9.
6. Poretsky L, Cataldo NA, Rosenwaks Z, et al. The Insulin-Related Ovarian Regulatory System in
Health and Disease. Endocrine Reviews 1999;20(4):535–582.
7. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Feb;198(2):210.e1-7.
8. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Nov;108(5):1145-52.
9. Cetin I, Berti C, Calabrese S. Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period. Hum Reprod Update. 2010 Jan-Feb;16(1):80-95.
10. Forges T, Monnier-Barbarino P, Alberto JM, et al. Impact of folate and homocysteine metabolism on human reproductive health. Hum Reprod Update. 2007 May-Jun;13(3):225-38.
11. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner B, Willett WC. A prospective study of dairy foods intake and anovulatory infertility. Hum Reprod. 2007 May;22(5):1340-7. Epub 2007 Feb 28.
12. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2007 Nov;110(5):1050-8.
13. Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 2007 Nov;110(5):1050-8.
14. Zain MM, Norman RJ. Impact of obesity on female fertility and fertility treatment. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2008 Mar;4(2):183-94.
Norman RJ, Noakes M, Wu R, et al. Improving reproductive performance in overweight/obese women with effective weight management. Hum Reprod Update. 2004 May-Jun;10(3):267-80.
15. Walters MR, Taylor JS. Maternal obesity: consequences and prevention strategies. Nurs Womens Health. 2009 Dec;13(6):486-94; quiz 495.
Satpathy HK, Fleming A, Frey D. Maternal obesity and pregnancy. Postgrad Med. 2008 Sep 15;120(3):E01-9.