The topic of female fertility is a complex one, and dietary choices are one of only a number of relevant considerations that can be intervened upon to enhance the likelihood of conception.
Given that a number of my clients are increasingly curious about this topic, the only logical course of action was to write today’s article in order to offer you guys a glimpse into the world of fertility nutrition.
Let’s get right to it.
Nutrition & Female Fertility
The most common cause of female infertility is anovulation, or failure to ovulate.
It may occur as a result of a number of factors such as PCOS, aging, thyroid issues and dietary/lifestyle factors.
PCOS is generally considered among the more common causes of fertility issues.
Improvements in blood glucose management and insulin sensitivity is a very relevant consideration in PCOS, and you can read more about dietary strategies to support that cause in another of my most recent articles.
Let’s now focus our attentions on the specific foods/nutrients and more broad dietary patterns that are most strongly associated with improved fertility.
Part 1 – Specific Foods/ Nutrients And Female Fertility
Each of the foods and nutrients identified below have been recognized as being potentially protective against infertility as part of the well known Nurses’ Health Study.
Monounsaturated Fats – Well known for their LDL cholesterol lowering capabilities, these types of “healthy” fats are found in large supply in olives/avocado and their oils as well as tree nuts (almonds, pecans, pistachios) as well as peanuts and their butters.
Plant Protein/Non-Heme Iron – Plant-based protein sources such as nuts, seeds,whole grains and all types of legumes ( lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans) are rich in what is known as non-heme iron.
Low GI Carbohydrates – Emphasizing the inclusion of carbohydrates that are lower in glycemic index ( such as all bran cereal, quinoa, barley, steel cut oats, sweet potato) may be protective against infertility and certainly of benefit for blood glucose management in those living with PCOS.
For more information on the GI, have a look at this Diabetes Canada resource.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – It’s well understood that adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA, is very important for the proper development of the fetus, but what role does the intake of these essential nutrients play in fertility?
Omega-3s are found primarily in flax, chia, hemp, walnuts and perhaps most notably in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel and so on which contain what are known as long-chain omega-3s.
Folate – Perhaps the most oft spoke of pre-conception nutrient owing to its role in the prevention of neural tube defects, adequate folate intake in the pre-conception period may also have an important role to play in improving fertility.
Commonly available foods that are exceptionally high in folate include edamame, lentils, black eyed peas, asparagus, broccoli, avocado, mango, oranges.
Folate’s supplemental form, known as folic acid, will be discussed further in the Supplements section of today’s article.
There are important differences between folate and folic acid and genetic considerations may also play a role warranting further consideration by your healthcare team.
Part 2 – Specific Dietary Patterns And Female Fertility
The aptly named “Fertility Diet” pattern is largely characterized by a diet robust in the nutrients identified in the section above.
Taken together, the regular inclusion of these foods as part of a consistent dietary pattern may contributes to a lower risk of infertility due to ovulatory and other issues.
Following a dietary pattern that is highly divergent from this style of eating is likely a meaningful dietary risk factor for infertility.
Mediterranean Diet Pattern
The Mediterranean diet principles are not overly divergent from the aforementioned fertility diet pattern.
You can take a closer look at the Med Diet Food Pyramid here.
Bonus Content – Supplements
Supplements are a topic of great interest when it comes to all things health, and the case of fertility is certainly no different.
But which, if any, hold reference in the world of fertility discourse?
There are certainly a few.
COQ10 – One of the more popular selling supplements globally, there is some evidence that COQ10 supplementation may be uniquely relevant in the context of PCOS and may help support improved insulin sensitivity.
Vitamin D – We are only a few days removed from World Vitamin D day and my extensive post on the subject explaining the salience of vitamin D supplementation in the Canadian context.
There is limited observational evidence suggesting that an adequate vitamin D status preconception was associated with an increased chance of becoming pregnant.
Psyllium Fibre – This powerful plant fibre has been positively associated with improved outcomes in a variety of conditions including IBS & GERD, but most importantly in the context of PCOS, this supplement can play a meaningful role in blood glucose and cholesterol management.
The supplementation of these nutrients may also protect against infertility.
Some women, depending on the context, may also consider taking folic acid supplement beyond these levels – however this is contingent on contextual factors which should be discussed with your healthcare team.
This is because intake of supplemental folic acid at higher than recommended levels may confer additional fertility benefits in certain contexts.
I truly hope that you’ve found today’s article insightful.
To be fair, I’ve only just scratched the surface of what is an incredibly complex topic.
I’ve chosen to focus specifically on the evidence surrounding female fertility today, having already dedicated an article previously to men’s sexual health in a slightly different capacity.
That is not to say, however, there are no dietary implications for men’s fertility.
This will inevitably be a topic warranting further exploration in a future article.
Andy De Santis RD MPH
Bonus Content – PCOS & Endometriosis
PCOS is a leading cause of female infertility with endometriosis not far behind, I’ve written at length on the nutrition and supplemental considerations for women living with these conditions – you can find them below.