Today more than ever, women are experiencing fertility issues and turning to natural remedies for womb health. In this guide, we are talking about the optimal fertility diet to support a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
How Nutrition Impacts Fertility
There are a lot of reasons for fertility challenges, and today more cases than ever: PCOS, endometriosis, anovulatory infertility. The good news is that tons of data shows our diets can have a profound positive impact on the root causes of fertility issues, getting pregnant, and staying pregnant.
Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health looked at the fat consumption of 147 women undergoing IVF treatment and found that the women who ate the highest amounts of monounsaturated fat (especially avocados, which not to mention are shaped like ovaries!) were 3.4 times more likely to have a child after IVF! Increased red meat consumption (greater than once a week) is associated with a longer time to conception.
Another study found that 39 percent of 5,598 first-time mamas in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand who avoided fast food in their diets conceived within one month of when they began having unprotected sex. Those who included fast foods in their diets four times per week had double the chance of still not getting pregnant at 12 months compared to the no fast food consumers.
Other research shows that low vitamin C is associated with poor ovarian function and progesterone levels. A study found that women who supplemented with ascorbic acid
(vitamin C) saw an increase in progesterone levels, a lengthening in their luteal phases (ovulation), and an increase in pregnancy rates.
Low B12 or folate levels are associated with an increased risk of recurrent miscarriage. Low folate or folic acid levels are connected to a 33% increase in chances of anovulation. Higher folate levels are associated with higher progesterone levels.
Low B6 levels have also been found in women who experienced miscarriage. Read more about the importance of B12 and B6 levels and other B vitamins here.
Other crucial vitamins and nutrients for pregnancy and fertility:
- Vitamin E: low vitamin E levels are associated with an increased risk of anovulation
- Vitamin D: plays a crucial role in helping women on IVF conceive
- Selenium: low selenium levels are connected to an increased risk of miscarriage
The unfortunate fact is that most women in child-bearing age in the US are low in these essential vitamins and nutrients. As well as other nutrients including iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, and protein.
Is there an optimal fertility diet?
What we eat—and what we don’t eat influences the menstrual cycle, ovulation, egg health, uterine lining health, immunity, vaginal and gut microbiome, and more. The most nourishing foods for fertility and womb health should positively impact cells and the endocrine system. Your endocrine system needs specific nutrients and information to help keep hormones functioning correctly and blood sugar levels balanced.
There is a lot of research that shows the Mediterranean-style of eating covers all the basics when it comes to supporting optimal womb and fertility health. Here are the core principles:
- Fresh, whole foods
- 8 servings daily of vegetables and fruits
- Healthy oils and fats especially avocados and high-quality olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Good quality protein like fish and legumes
- Slow-burning carbs in moderation
Fresh, whole foods
We know that consuming fast food decreases a woman’s ability to conceive. Adding in fresh, whole foods will help create a nourishing environment for baby. It’s important to choose organic whenever possible. Many conventional foods are sprayed with pesticides and other fertilizers that contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. When we consume these foods, it can lead to estrogen dominance and throw our hormones out of whack.
Research shows fatty fish can improve gynecologic health and fertility, including PCOS, endometriosis, ovulatory infertility, and menstrual cycle problems. Stick to low mercury forms of fish (small fish as a good rule of thumb!) and no more than 12 oz of the recommended varieties.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 2% of your daily calories in trans-fats increases infertility risk by as much as 70%. That’s insane! That’s the equivalent to a medium serving of fast-food fries or a small donut.
On the other hand, healthy fats like avocado and high-quality olive oil can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, and support healthy fertility and menses.
Add more plants
We learned that an increase in animal protein resulted in a higher percentage of ovulatory infertility. Consuming less animal protein and eating more plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans is great for reducing the likelihood of ovulatory infertility! Add lots of greens and low-glycemic fruits to your diet.
Ditch the Soda
Soft drinks have a negative effect on fertility. According to the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, women who drank 2 or more sodas per day were 50 percent more likely to experience ovulatory infertility than women who drank less than 1 soda per week.
Say No to gluten
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten intolerance can impact fertility and increase your risk of miscarriage. Gluten also plays a huge role in endometriosis, Hashimoto’s, and leaky gut, all of which impact pregnancy outcomes.
How to Improve Womb Health & Fertility
First things first, start taking a prenatal vitamin. A high-quality, food-based prenatal is essential. It’s also connected to healthier pregnancies and lower rates of birth defects, preterm birth, and stillbirth. Make sure you check the label to make sure that it includes these nutrients below:
Methylfolate: for those with the MTHFR gene, you can’t fully absorb and assimilate folate. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure you are getting methyl folate, which everyone can metabolize. Methylfolate helps to improve egg quality, prevent miscarriage, defects, and even autism. The dose is 400 to 800 mcg of methyl folate daily and especially the first 28 days of pregnancy.
Iron: Although you will be getting iron from plant-sources in your diet, it’s important to find a prenatal with 27 mg of iron to reduce ovulatory infertility. Iron chelate is a good form and will not make you constipated.
Iodine: Healthy thyroid function is so important for fertility, as well as baby’s development. Find a vitamin with 200 to 250 mcg of iodine.
Choline: found in eggs and necessary for baby’s neurological development, choline can prevent birth defects and make baby stress resilient. Find a prenatal with 400 mg/day.
Vitamin B6: as we learned, B6 is essential for adequate progesterone levels. Find a B6 in active form Pyridoxal-5-phosphate or P5P and get in 5-10 mg per day.
Vitamin D: this hormone plays a huge role in sex hormone production and has been connected to improved fertility. While it’s great to get it from sunshine, you should also get in 2000 iu daily via prenatal vitamin to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Zinc: this nutrient isn’t just amazing for immunity, but it’s also fabulous for ovulation, health estrogen and progesterone levels, and fertility. It helps to protect the developing egg against oxidative damage. You can get zinc from food sources like seafood, oysters, shellfish, pumpkin and sesame seeds. Your prenatal should have between 15-45 mg of zinc.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Higher intake of omega 3s helps with ovarian reserve and is associated with higher rates of conception. Take a combination of DHA/EPA from either fish oil or a vegan source. Make sure to check the quality of your fish oil supplement as it can contain heavy metals.
Look to Herbal Allies
Herbs like red raspberry leaf, yarrow, motherwort, and blue cohosh are all amazing herbs for womb health. Talk to your functional doctor or local herbalist for more info on how to use these ancient healers.