Fertility issues affect up to 15 percent of couples. The road to parenthood can sometimes be a huge challenge, but know you’re not alone in those challenges.
Luckily, there are a few natural ways to increase your fertility. In fact, food choices and lifestyle changes can help boost fertility.
What Is Reproductive Health?
Each year, millions of adults experience fertility problems that make it hard to conceive.
About 85% of couples conceive within 1 year of trying. Often, they’re able to get pregnant within just a few months of trying. The 15% who don’t get pregnant within 1 year of trying have reproductive health or fertility issues, although about half of these couples do conceive within 2 years.
“Usually, when a couple comes to my clinic, they’ve already been trying to get pregnant on their own for 6 months to a year. If you’re over 35, it’s a good idea to come in after 6 months of trying. However, some people don’t like medicalization of their private lives, so they may wait years” to see a reproductive endocrinologist or fertility specialist, says Ruben Alvero, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Stanford Medical School.
A rule of thumb is to see a fertility specialist if you’ve been trying for a year and haven’t conceived, or after 6 months if you’re a woman age 35 or older.Before you see a fertility specialist, use an over-the-counter ovulation test to track when you ovulate. This usually happens around the 14th day of the menstrual cycle, Alvero says. Try to have intercourse at least every other day from day 10 of your cycle, because each viable egg only lasts about 12 hours in your fallopian tube.
What Causes Fertility Problems?
For women, age is the most common reason for fertility issues, but there’s a wide variety of reasons why some couples find it difficult to conceive on their own, Alvero says.
“In about 65% of couples with fertility issues, we do find a physical cause and depending on what it is, we can treat it.” Both partners can have a fertility assessment, including:
- Physical exam, medical history, and going over your sexual habits to spot any potential problems
- Tests to measure hormones, eggs, and semen qualityDNA test to spot any genetic causes of infertility
- Imaging tests like ultrasound of your uterus and ovaries to look for physical causes
Natural ways to boost fertility
Exercise has many benefits for your health, including increased fertility. Increasing moderate physical activity has positive effects on fertility for women and men, especially those with obesity.
The trick is that moderation is key. Excessive high intensity exercise has actually been associated with decreased fertility in certain women.
Excessive exercise may change the energy balance in the body, and negatively affect your reproductive system. If you plan to increase your activity, add it gradually and make sure your healthcare team is aware.
Add in a multivitamin
If you take multivitamins, you may be less likely to experience ovulatory infertility.
In fact, an estimated 20 percent of ovulatory infertility may be avoided if women consume 3 or more multivitamins per week. Micronutrients found in vitamins have essential roles in fertility.
For women trying to get pregnant, a multivitamin containing folate may be especially beneficial.
Have a chat with your doctor about supplements including any multivitamins that could help get you closer to pregnancy.
Choose high fat dairy
High intakes of low fat dairy foods may increase the risk of infertility, whereas high fat dairy foods may decrease it.
One large study from 2007 looked at the effects of eating high fat dairy more than once a day or less than once a week.
It found that women who consumed one or more servings of high fat dairy per day were 27 percent less likely to be infertile.
To reap these potential benefits, try replacing one low fat dairy serving per day with one high fat dairy serving, such as a glass of whole milk or full fat yogurt.
Swap protein sources
Replacing some animal proteins (such as meat, fish, and eggs) with vegetable protein sources (such as beans, nuts, and seeds) is linked to a reduced risk of infertility.
A study showed that when 5 percent of total calories came from vegetable protein instead of animal protein, the risk of ovulatory infertility decreased by more than 50 percent.
A 2018 study concluded that eating more fish correlates to a higher probability of live birth following infertility treatment.
Eat more fiber
Fiber helps your body get rid of excess hormones and keeps blood sugar balanced. Certain types of fiber can help remove excess estrogen by binding to it in the intestines. The excess estrogen is then removed from the body as a waste product.
One older 2009 study associated soluble fiber, such as from avocados, sweet potatoes, oats, and fruits, with lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. Soluble fiber from fruit especially had the strongest association with lower concentrations of estrogen.
Some examples of high fiber foods are whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans. The daily recommended intake of fiber for women is 25 grams per day and 31 grams for men.
One 2009 study found that eating 10 grams more cereal fiber per day was associated with a 44 percent lower risk of ovulatory infertility among women older than 32 years.
However, the evidence on fiber is still mixed. Another study of 250 women aged 18 to 44 showed that increasing fiber by 5 g per day decreased hormone concentrations with a higher probability of anovulation (when ovulation doesn’t take place).
Eat fewer refined carbs
Speaking of carbs: It’s not just the amount of carbs that’s important, but also the type.
Refined carbs may be especially problematic. Refined carbs include sugary foods and drinks and processed grains, including white pasta, bread, and rice.
These carbs are absorbed very quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Refined carbs also have a high glycemic index (GI). The GI tells you if a carbohydrate-dense food will raise your blood sugar significantly.
Insulin is chemically similar to ovarian hormones. These hormones help our eggs mature. Consistent elevated insulin can cause the body to produce fewer reproductive hormones because it thinks it doesn’t need it. This can contribute to a lack of egg maturation and ovulation.
Given that PCOS is associated with high insulin levels, refined carbs can make it even worse.
Cut down on carbs if you have PCOS
Following a lower carb eating plan (where less than 45 percent of calories come from carbs) is generally recommended for women with PCOS.
Several studies have indicated that managing carb intake provides beneficial effects on some aspects of PCOS.
Lower carb diets may help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce insulin levels, and encourage fat loss, all while helping menstrual regularity.
Avoid trans fats
Eating healthy fats every day is important for boosting fertility and overall health.
However, trans fats are associated with an increased risk of ovulatory infertility, due to their negative effects on insulin sensitivity.
Trans fats are commonly found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and are usually present in some margarine, fried foods, processed products, and baked goods. Some of the faves, we know.
Eat a bigger breakfast
Eating a substantial breakfast may help women with fertility problems.
One study found that eating a larger breakfast may improve the hormonal effects of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a major cause of infertility.
For moderate weight women with PCOS, eating most of their calories at breakfast reduced insulin levels by 8 percent and testosterone levels by 50 percent. High levels of either can contribute to infertility.
In addition, by the end of the 12-week study, these women had ovulated more than women who ate a smaller breakfast and larger dinner, suggesting improved fertility.
However, it’s important to note that increasing the size of your breakfast without reducing the size of your evening meal is likely to lead to weight gain.
Eat foods rich in antioxidants
Antioxidants like folate and zinc may improve fertility for both men and women. They deactivate the free radicals in your body, which can damage both sperm and egg cells.
One 2012 study of young, adult men found that eating 75 grams of antioxidant-rich walnuts per day improved sperm quality.
A study of 232 women showed that higher folate intake was associated with higher rates of implantation, clinical pregnancy, and live birth.
The jury is still out on how much antioxidants will or won’t affect fertility, but there’s evidence pointing to the potential.
Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains are packed full of beneficial antioxidants like vitamins C and E, folate, beta carotene, and lutein. Eating more of these healthy foods shouldn’t hurt in the effort.
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Take time to relax
If you’re trying to conceive, stress is probably on the menu, too. As your stress levels increase, your chances of getting pregnant decrease. This is likely due to the hormonal changes that occur when you feel stressed.
Research on the links between stress and fertility are mixed, but there’s evidence that stress can suppress fertility.
Receiving support and counseling may reduce anxiety and depression levels, and increase your chances of becoming pregnant. And don’t forget to take time for you.
Cut the caffeine
The association between caffeine and fertility isn’t very conclusive.
One older 1997 study suggests that women who consume more than 500 milligrams of caffeine daily take up to 9 1/2 months longer to get pregnant.
However, other studies did not find a strong link between caffeine intake and an increased risk of infertility.
Consider limiting your caffeine intake to one or two cups of coffee per day to be on the safe side. Give these non-coffee options a try.
Aim for a healthy weight
Weight is one of the most influential factors when it comes to fertility for men and women. In fact, being either underweight or overweight is associated with increased infertility.
This is because the amount of fat stored in your body influences menstrual function. Having obesity especially is associated with lack of ovulation and menstrual irregularity but also with impaired egg development.
To improve your chances of getting pregnant, work with your healthcare provider to try to lose weight if you’re overweight and gain weight if you’re underweight. They can help you do it in a healthy and sustainable way.
Check those iron levels
It’s time to start pumping iron. The supplement kind, that is. Consuming iron supplements and non-heme iron, which comes from plant-based foods, may decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility.
A recent 2019 study concluded that heme iron (from animal sources) had no effect on fertility and non-heme only had some benefit for women who already had iron deficiency.
More evidence is needed to confirm whether iron supplements should be recommended to all women, especially if iron levels are already healthy. But making sure your iron levels are solid with your doctor is a good step.
Non-heme iron sources are more difficult for your body to absorb, so try taking them with foods or drinks high in vitamin C to increase absorption.
Avoid excess alcohol
Alcohol consumption can negatively affect fertility. However, it’s unclear how much alcohol is needed to cause this effect.
One 2016 study found that having more than 14 alcoholic drinks per week was associated with a longer time to get pregnant.
An older 2004 study involving 7,393 women found that a high alcohol intake was associated with more infertility examinations.
However, the evidence on moderate alcohol consumption is mixed. One older study found no link between moderate consumption and infertility, while other studies report that moderate intake can affect fertility.
Ultimately, avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol is recommended. Talk to you doctor about your own intake to ensure the best outcome for you.
Certain natural supplements have been linked to increased fertility, especially in animal studies. Always check with your doctor before taking of natural supplements as efficacy in humans has not been well studied.
- Maca: Maca comes from a plant grown in central Peru. Some animal studies found it improved fertility, but results from human studies are mixed. Some report improvements to sperm quality , while others find no effect
- Bee pollen: Bee pollen has been linked to improved immunity, fertility, and overall nutrition. One animal study found that consuming bee pollen was linked to improved sperm quality and male fertility. However, human studies are still needed.
- Bee propolis: A study of women with endometriosis found that taking bee propolis twice a day resulted in a 40 percent greater chance of becoming pregnant after 9 months. More studies are needed.
- Royal jelly: Royal jelly, which is also made by bees, is packed with amino acids, lipids, sugars, vitamins, fatty acids, iron, and calcium. Animal studies found it may improve reproductive health in rats.
Good nutrition is vital for a healthy body and reproductive system and to help you become pregnant.
Eating a nutritious diet and making positive lifestyle changes can help boost fertility and prepare your body for pregnancy. Plus, it’s just helpful to you all around.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s important that you begin making healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices today. But don’t let stress and worry get you down. Talk to your healthcare team to find the best choices for you.