If you tell your family and friends that you’re TTC (trying to conceive), chances are they will share their words of wisdom about how you can boost your likelihood of successfully conceiving. As attractive or tiresome as it may be, the idea of tailoring your diet and lifestyle for a healthy conception is backed by science.
A healthy conception requires a healthy quality, as well as quantity, of sperm and eggs. The quality, in particular, of the sperm and eggs can be influenced by introducing a healthy diet and healthy lifestyle during the pre-conception phase – at least three months prior to conception.
Don’t worry, we’re not about to encourage you to eat pineapple with every meal – fertility myths have made this spiky fruit a fertility icon – but we are sharing some minor diet and lifestyle tweaks recommended to support your fertility. All of which are backed by science, not your aunt’s old wives’ tales.
Fertility Through Diet Tweaks
A woman’s diet can affect her ovulation, the health of her eggs and the environment of the womb in which the baby grows. A man’s diet can affect his DNA found within the sperm’s head – damaged DNA can influence miscarriage rates – as well as sperm concentration and sperm mortality.
The Three Main Food Groups: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat
The main components to our diets are protein, carbohydrates and fat. Protein supports bodily repair; carbohydrates give us energy and fats support our cells’ energy levels which is important for healthy cell function. The quality of the food we eat, within these three food groups, can affect female and male fertility and subsequently egg and sperm quality.
Studies show that a diet heavily reliant on animal protein can negatively impact fertility, whereas a diet with more vegetable protein than animal protein can have a protective effect on fertility. However, that’s not to say that you should suddenly become vegan or vegetarian; these diets can restrict your intake of vital nutrients, if you are not careful. Aim to make your meals more colourful with a rainbow of vegetables and introduce nuts, seeds, pulses and legumes. Try to limit your intake of animal protein and, if you are going to eat meat, try organic meats – organic food tends to have fewer preservatives and potentially fertility-affecting products.
Now carbs, the staple of most ‘treat’ foods. Whilst we’re not about to tell you to break up your love affair with pizza, there are some simple tweaks you can make to your carbohydrate intake that will decrease your consumption of processed foods and may positively affect the quality of your eggs and sperm. For a healthier ratio of carbs, reduce your intake of simple carbs (white rice, pasta, bread and potatoes) and replace them with complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, wholegrain foods and lentils). In short, swap your processed takeaway pizza for a homemade, unprocessed pizza with a wholegrain base. Your eggs and sperm will do a happy dance!
Last but not least, fat. Fat is vital for the health of our cells, including eggs and sperm, although, it is important to understand the separate types of fat and their different health impacts. Trans fats are found in shelf-stable, processed foods (cakes, cookies, crisps etc.) and they can increase your risk of infertility problems, whereas monounsaturated fats (found in nuts, olive oil and avocados) can enhance fertility by supporting cell function.
Weight Control and the Mediterranean Diet
Speaking of olive oil and avocados, let’s talk about the Mediterranean Diet. Unsurprisingly, the Mediterranean Diet does not mean binging on pizza and wine, sadly. The Mediterranean Diet simply encourages eating the healthy, unprocessed foods found in the Mediterranean such as vegetable proteins, complex carbs and those all-important monounsaturated fats. This barely-a-‘diet’ diet is highly recommended for men TTC due to its association with healthy sperm quality. So, men, feed your sperm quality with wholegrains, nuts, seeds, beans, seafood, olive oil, limited dairy, limited red meat, and plenty of colourful fruits and veg.
Another benefit of the Mediterranean Diet besides potentially increasing sperm quality? Weight control. Obesity is one of the biggest factors contributing to infertility in women and especially men. Obesity is linked to high levels of damaged or abnormally shaped sperm which can increase the risk of baby loss and miscarriage. Watch the scales, boys!
Fertility Supplements: Folate Vs. Folic Acid
Folate and folic acid are terms which tend to be used interchangeably in the world of prenatal vitamins, often leaving those TTC thinking they are the same. In fact, they’re not. Folate is the natural form of the B9 vitamin; folic acid is the synthetic (man-made) version of folate. Our bodies need folate to facilitate cell division and make DNA. Once a woman is pregnant, folate supports brain and spine development. Folate goes hand in hand with fertility.
Folate supports cell energy levels and cell replication – both vital for healthy egg development and conception. It also supports neural tube development, red blood cell formation and healthy gene expression. Folic Acid was created to try to provide the same support; however, some people, especially those with the MTHFR gene struggle to absorb Folic Acid leaving them with an unhealthy build-up in the body.
Folic acid was created to try to provide the same support; it is often found in fertility supplements and prenatal vitamins. Looking at the label of supplements for methylated forms of folate can help ensure you are getting the best form for absorption for you and baby. Even now, the number of women deficient in folate or folic acid is still high.
Though it is less readily available in prenatal vitamins, the natural form of folate, is preferable. Aside from being found in supplement form, folate can be found in foods such as dark, leafy greens, nuts, beans, peas, citrus fruits, seafood and eggs. Whilst taking your fertility supplements as suggested by your fertility specialist, actively increase folate-rich foods in your diet.
With the variety of fertility supplements and pre-natal vitamins available on supermarket shelves, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the myriad of options in the vitamin aisle. Which brand should you trust? Do they have every nutrient your body and baby need? Do they use folate or folic acid? Many of our Fertility Help Hub readers in the US and the UK recommend Beli Vitamins.
Backed by science, the custom formulations of His and Hers Beli Vitamins have plenty of positives – designed to be easy to slot into your everyday regime, they are non-GMO, vegan, keto-friendly, gluten and allergen free, and gentle on the stomach….and, yes, Beli understand the importance of nutritional health and the benefits of pre-natal vitamins not just women but for men too.
The Benefits of Beli:
Help to improve egg quality and increase sperm quality and quantity
Promote hormone balance and the production of estrogen and progesterone
Protect sperm growth and sperm DNA
Support egg penetration and embryo implantation
Protect healthy egg maturation and sperm survival
Use folate, rather than folic acid, and choline to reduce risks of defects and miscarriage
Sperm and egg quality, and your fertility, are influenced by more than what you eat, they’re affected by your lifestyle choices too. From too little sleep or exercise to too much alcohol, tweaking your lifestyle choices for your fertility may increase your egg and sperm quality.
Exercise and Blood Flow
Returning to the mat for yoga or to nature for a walk, it doesn’t matter how you choose to move your body and get your blood pumping, it simply matters that you do. Through exercise and hydration, you can encourage healthy blood flow. A healthy flow of oxygen-rich blood to your ovaries will support your egg quality. Exercise can also help to balance hormones – something that can help women with PCOS manage their testosterone levels.
If you’re going through IVF treatment for your infertility, your fertility specialist might recommend limiting rigorous exercise during the stimulation phase of your IVF cycle and also during the two-week wait. Consider lighter forms of exercise such as fertility yoga; what’s good for the body is good for the mind too, especially during the anxious 2WW (two-week wait).
It’s not only egg quality that can benefit from regular exercise, but sperm quality too. Though, men should be aware about trying to keep the temperature of their testicles cool, when possible. Studies show that increased sperm temperature can have a negative effect on sperm quality. Try swapping tight underwear or tight exercise shorts for looser-fitting options to give your swimmers a breeze.
Toxic Products, Smoking and Alcohol
It may come as no surprise that egg and sperm quality can be negatively affected by smoking and high alcohol intake.
Something that may be a surprise though, is the impact some beauty and household products can have on your egg and sperm quality. Become aware of the beauty and household products you’re using; swap any adverse or potentially harmful products for chemical-free alternatives. Chemicals, like parabens, BPA, dioxins and phthalates, can affect fertility. So, if you can introduce an alternative, do so; if you can’t, wear a pair of rubber gloves when using the products.
When we are stressed, our bodies produce cortisol, otherwise known as our stress hormone. Abnormally high levels of cortisol can negatively impact egg quality and sperm quality, as well as ovulation. But hey, life happens and recommending reducing your stress is easier said than done, right? Of course. Instead, focus on increasing meaningful de-stressors in your life, such as time with family and friends, meditation, afternoon naps and caring for a pet. Time for more? Try aromatherapy and fertility acupuncture too.
In unavoidable periods of stress, support your body with an antioxidant-rich diet. Antioxidant foods, such as darker coloured veggies, nuts and berries, prevent egg damage, reduce the risk of miscarriage and support healthy fertilisation. Foods high in vitamin C support antioxidant levels and reduce oxidative stress – a cause of inflammation, which is known for not being a friend of fertility.
Sleep and The Melatonin Hormone
Between juggling work, family and your social calendar, the opportunities to hit snooze on the morning alarm are slim. As challenging as it may be to get eight hours sleep, it’s important for our overall health, and our fertility in particular.
When we sleep, our bodies produce melatonin – the hormone that naturally occurs to control our sleep patterns, which also has antioxidant properties too. Through getting the right amount of sleep regularly, and stimulating melatonin production, the antioxidant properties can support egg quality and the healthy rhythm of our reproductive hormones and reproductive cycle. It can also support the embryo and implantation. So, press that snooze button, your egg quality will thank you.