Does Diet Affect Fertility?
It is almost a cliché that diet and lifestyle choices affect how long you live, the health of your heart, the odds to develop cancer and a host of other health-related issues. Is fertility on this list? Is there any proof that normal diet variations affect women with a normal weight (body mass index 19-25)?
Body fat plays a critical role in human reproduction. Both excess and deficiency of body fat may lead to reproductive failure. Body weight disorders are one of the first potential causes of reproductive failure in both men and women. One of the most common causes for the inability to conceive is ovulatory disorder, meaning you ovulate infrequently or not at all, a condition with often unknown cause. Poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle might be one of the main reasons for infertility, as being overweight or underweight has been shown to interfere with ovulation. Eating more complex (“slow”) carbs and limiting highly processed ones, avoiding trans fats and eating more healthy unsaturated fats, getting more protein from plants foods like beans and less from red meat might improve ovulation disorders. Primary infertility resulting from deviations in body weight from established norms can be corrected by restoring body weight to within normal established limits.
For women having normal weight and regular periods, there is little evidence that dietary variations such as vegetarian diets, low-fat diets, vitamin-enriched diets, antioxidants, or herbal remedies improve fertility. Exception is that a diet rich in mercury (found in some seafood) might be related to infertility. Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption (> 2 drinks per day), heavy caffeine consumption, and the use of recreational drugs have all been associated with reduced fertility and should be avoided. Government guidelines advise no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week for women and two to three for men.
Folic acid helps to prevent serious birth defects affecting the brain and spinal cord. These are known as neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida and anencephaly and occur in 1 every 1000 pregnancies. It is recommended that women who might become pregnant should take 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid daily for three months or more, in order to reduce the risk of NTDs by up 72%.
Although there is no recommended diet to improve fertility, a balanced diet will help ensure your body is healthy enough to become pregnant and nourish a developing baby. A healthy diet can also help to keep sperm production at optimum levels.
By Dr Nikolaos Tsampras, Clinical Fellow