Embarking on the journey to start a family is an exhilarating chapter, and ensuring your body is in its best possible state is paramount. Among various factors influencing fertility such as age and underlying medical conditions, there exists a lesser-known yet impactful contributor: nutrition.
In this article, distinguished fertility specialist Dr Irfana Koita delves into the link between fertility and nutrition. She helps you to discover how your dietary choices can influence ovulation and learn about essential nutrients that can strengthen fertility.
Fertility and diet: is there a connection?
Numerous studies have unearthed a significant connection between fertility and diet, affecting both women and men. A balanced diet has been shown to enhance fertility by regulating hormones, supporting ovulation, and reducing inflammation.
Research indicates that women following diets high in saturated fats, processed foods, and sugar face a heightened risk of infertility. Conversely, a diet enriched with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is associated with improved fertility. Moreover, studies highlight that the consumption of trans fats, commonly found in fast and processed foods, may contribute to ovulatory infertility.
Men's fertility is also impacted by dietary choices. A diet abundant in antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can positively influence sperm quality and motility.
The impact of diet on ovulation
Ovulation is the process where a mature egg is released from the ovaries to be fertilised by sperm. Many different hormones, such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinising hormone (LH), oestrogen and progesterone work to regulate this complex process.
Insulin and blood sugar levels also play a role in ovulation. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, works to regulate blood sugar. High blood sugar levels trigger insulin release to facilitate glucose absorption by cells.
Persistently elevated blood sugar levels, as seen in individuals with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, can impede ovulation. This disruption upsets the intricate hormonal balance governing the menstrual cycle, potentially leading to irregular or absent ovulation.
Diet wields influence over insulin and blood sugar levels, subsequently impacting ovulation. A diet abundant in refined carbohydrates, like sugar and white flour, can induce rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, fostering insulin resistance and disrupting ovulation. Conversely, a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fibre, and protein aids in stabilising blood sugar levels, fostering healthy ovulation.
Nutrients that impact fertility
Certain pivotal nutrients can significantly impact fertility, including folate (folic acid), iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Folate: This nutrient is vital for both healthy foetal development and ovulation. Sources include leafy greens, citrus fruits, fortified grains, cereals, beans, and lentils.
Iron: Iron is essential for haemoglobin production, which carries oxygen to body tissues. Sources encompass red meat, poultry, seafood, beans, and fortified grains.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These are beneficial for both male and female fertility, contributing to enhanced sperm quality and regulated ovulation. They can be found in fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Vitamin D: Plays a pivotal role in hormone regulation, and may aid fertility in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and are found in fatty fish, egg yolks, fortified dairy, and through exposure to sunlight.
Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 regulates hormone production and can enhance progesterone levels. Poultry, fish, potatoes, and fortified cereals are good sources.
Zinc: Zinc is crucial for DNA production and the development of eggs and sperm and can be found in oysters, beef, pork, beans, and fortified cereals.
Weight and fertility
Body weight significantly influences fertility; being underweight or overweight can adversely impact reproductive health.
Being underweight can disrupt hormone production, cause irregular periods, prevent ovulation, decrease oestrogen levels, and lead to nutrient deficiencies.
On the other hand, being overweight can disrupt ovulation and increase insulin resistance.
A diet comprising processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and sugar can contribute to weight gain, negatively affecting fertility. Conversely, a diet rich in whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats can promote a healthy weight and enhance fertility.
Can diet enhance fertility?
A balanced diet is fundamental for overall health, and a nutrient-rich diet can aid reproductive health, hormonal equilibrium, and fertility. Recommendations for fostering fertility through diet include:
- Consuming abundant fruits and vegetables.
- Opting for whole grains.
- Prioritising lean proteins.
- Incorporating healthy fats.
- Limiting processed foods and added sugars.
Nutrition plays a crucial role in fertility. A well-rounded diet filled with essential nutrients is key to optimal reproductive health.
If you are concerned about your fertility and would like to book a consultation with Dr Koita, simply visit her Top Doctors profile today.