Eating For Two: Boosting Female Fertility Through Diet
Creating a new life is one of the most natural things in the world, and for the majority of the population, conceiving a child is a simple process. But what about for the estimated 17% of women who have difficulty in successfully getting pregnant? Well, sometimes nature just needs a little helping hand. Statistics show that only 5% of women are actually medically infertile, meaning the remaining 12% do have a chance of conceiving. So if you've been enjoying your fair share of hanky panky but keep seeing that disappointing single blue line on the test month after month, there may be some natural remedies and easy lifestyle changes you could make to help increase your chances.
The Obesity Crisis
At the peak of the global obesity crisis, the media is having an absolute field day. The 'superfood' of today is tomorrow's devil food and newspapers and magazines are never short of a story. But ignoring the modern fads and trends, what we do know is that sticking to a healthy diet can prevent a number of medical conditions and diseases as well as helping to keep us at a suitable weight. The impact our diets have on our bodies is tremendous and it stands to reason that fertility is one factor that can be influenced by what we eat.
Firstly, let's focus on weight. As we all know, the key to conceiving is to have sex at the time of ovulation. But what if you don't ovulate? Numerous research studies have looked at the link between obesity and ovulation and the results are difficult to ignore; many studies have found evidence that suggests ovulation can be directly affected by weight. These findings have stood the test of both time and medical advancements, with recent studies drawing similar conclusions to those reported 40 years ago. Studies conducted in 1967 and 2007 have both found that women medically classified as being obese (those with a body mass index of 30 or more) were at greater risk of longer and more irregular menstrual cycles which encouraged infrequent ovulation.
The reason behind the link between obesity and ovulation is insulin; the hormone used to manage internal blood sugar levels. Obesity causes a surge in insulin production and the body's way of managing this overload is to shut down 'unnecessary' functions including the release of the ovary-stimulating hormones which promote ovulation.
There is very promising evidence to support weight loss for fertility. A 1996 study not only found that high insulin levels reduced significantly in overweight women who had successfully completed a weight loss program, but that a whopping 80% of these participants reported a far more regular menstrual cycle once they had reached a healthy weight.
So if you've noticed your jeans feeling a little tight, or your favourite shirt isn't buttoning up as easily as it used to, you may want to consider shedding a couple of pounds to help boost your fertility. Cut out the takeaways and fast food and enjoy some healthy, nutritious meals instead. I know it might not sound too enticing, but not only can meals jam packed full of fresh vegetables be tasty, they'll also have you feeling and looking great. And if you were hoping to be spending all your free time in the bedroom with your partner instead of cooking, you still can! Many grocery stores now offer healthy and delicious ready meals you can simply throw into the oven or steamer and forget about until they're cooked - easy!
If you're already a healthy weight but you're not having much luck in the baby-making department, there are some foods you could try incorporating into your diet which are widely thought to have positive effects on female fertility. As with most complementary therapies, there isn't much (if any) medical backing to these claims. So are they effective methods or just a bunch of old hocus pocus? Take a look and decide for yourself!
I know you're rather partial to a nice thick slice of toast in the mornings, and a big bowl of comforting pasta for dinner, and the good news is that you don't need to give them up. What you may want to try, however, is swapping the refined white carbohydrates in your diet for natural wholewheat or brown varieties. Refined carbs wreak havoc when it comes to blood sugar, sending levels rocketing. Insulin production then goes into overdrive trying to cope with the exorbitant levels. And as we've looked at, large amounts of insulin in the body can have a significant negative effect on ovulation and fertility. Whole grains release energy much more gradually over a longer period of time, preventing any huge spikes of blood sugar and reducing the need for such severe insulin production.
Full Fat Dairy
Yes, this completely goes against what I said earlier about sticking to a healthy diet, but hear me out. Research has actually shown that women who eat a single serving of a full fat dairy product each day, and cut back on the low fat varieties are more likely to get pregnant. This isn't an excuse to eat all the ice cream in the freezer in one sitting, but a small bowl for dessert, a fruity yogurt or just some whole milk thrown in with your morning coffee could be the answer you've been looking for. While it isn't clear exactly why full fat dairy boosts fertility (it's been suggested that the 'good fats' in these foods are essential for maintaining healthy eggs and encouraging regular ovulation), a study conducted by Harvard Medical School reported that 'high intake of low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of anovulatory infertility whereas intake of high-fat dairy foods may decrease this risk'. So it's certainly worth a try. And even if it doesn't work, at least you've got an excuse to stock up on Ben & Jerry's!
Regular periods mean that the body can often be low in essential iron and if you have extremely heavy periods you could even become slightly anaemic during your time of the month. Iron is vital in maintaining a healthy and functional reproductive system so many of us could probably benefit from upping our iron intake a little, especially around the time of menstruation. A 2006 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology even found that women who took iron supplements in pill form regularly were less likely to suffer with infertility than women who did not not change their diet. There is so much choice of iron-rich foods there really is no excuse not to indulge in this essential mineral. Dried herbs, roasted pumpkin seeds, apricots and sun dried tomatoes are some easy and delicious choices. And if you're feeling a bit naughty, chocolate is bursting with goodness (just be sure to stop before you devour the entire bar!).
So Can Diet Really Boost Female Fertility?
The evidence to date certainly suggests so. Adopting a healthy diet to lose weight is, without a doubt, very beneficial in increasing fertility. But what about the 'fertility superfoods' we looked at? Until further research is undertaken which can draw strong associations between certain foods and fertility, it's difficult to say with 100% certainty. But whole grains, good fats and iron are all foods which help to promote a healthy body so even if they don't aid fertility directly, incorporating them into your diet is never a bad idea.