Fertility: Do certain foods actually increase your chances of conceiving?

  • Jessica Madet
  • BBC Future

9 minutes ago

image copyright GettyImages

If you visit any of the fertility chat rooms on the Internet, you will most likely find that one of the main topics being discussed is the type of foods that women should eat to increase their chances of conceiving and having children. In addition to the large variety of nutritional supplements touted as helping to increase fertility, there is also a wide range of foods that are supposed to contribute to a healthy pregnancy.

But amid all these myths and marketing slogans, what is the evidence that supports the idea that eating certain foods leads to an increase in male or female fertility and helps in the normal development of the fetus?

First, when it comes to contributing to the health of a pregnant woman or fetus, some nutrients can make a real difference – such as folic acid. It has been proven that taking it before and during pregnancy helps prevent the occurrence of a congenital anomaly called “anencephaly”, as well as spina bifida in the fetus.

Because these defects form early in pregnancy, usually before a woman realizes she is pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States advises all women of childbearing age to take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. Enriching staple foods such as breakfast cereals with folic acid may provide stronger protection against these abnormalities, because many pregnancies are not planned. It is estimated that in 2019, effective programs targeting food fortification with folic acid prevented 22 percent of potential cases of anencephaly and spina bifida worldwide.

Folic acid may have an additional benefit: when taken by women trying to conceive, it may increase the likelihood of them becoming pregnant, although more trials are needed to prove this.

But what about other nutritional supplements? Is there really a diet that will maximize the chances of getting pregnant?

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To answer this question, it is useful to first review the main causes of infertility. In the United States, the percentage of couples who cannot conceive after having unprotected sex for one year is 15 percent. There are many possible reasons for this. On the woman’s side, the ovaries may not be able to produce healthy eggs, or the eggs may not be able to travel from the ovaries to the uterus – because of a blocked fallopian tube, for example. Even if the egg successfully makes that journey, it may fail to attach to the lining of the uterus, or perish after attaching to it.

On the male side, sperm quality is extremely important for fertility. This includes their ability to move effectively, their shape, size, and number. A number of factors may threaten sperm quality, including environmental problems such as pollution. Even after testing, the cause of infertility isn’t always clear — about 15 percent of infertility cases have an unknown cause.

While no single food or supplement can quickly solve these potential problems, experts say the quality of your diet can play a beneficial role during and after trying to conceive.

The most obvious thing is, of course, that proper nutrition is vital. The consequences of malnutrition can be devastating to the health of parents.

It can be said that the most famous results reached in this field were a study that included infants who were carried by their mothers during the so-called “Dutch Hunger Winter” in 1944, when famine prevailed for eight months after the Nazis cut off food supplies from the Netherlands at the end of World War the second. Pregnant women were living on only 400 calories a day, which is a small percentage of the recommended diet for a healthy pregnancy.

Children born during that period faced a number of severe health consequences, as they were shorter and thinner than children born before or after them, and their heads were smaller. As adults, they had higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and schizophrenia, and died younger.

For those who get adequate amounts of food, it is important to eat the right mix of nutrients. While discussions about healthy foods usually focus on female fertility, there is now a growing awareness of how food affects male fertility as well.

A study conducted on couples who resorted to procreation through insemination outside the womb found that men’s consumption of meat, and the type of meat in particular, affected the outcome of these procedures. Eating more poultry had a positive effect on fertility rates, while eating processed meat (such as sausage and cured ham) had a negative effect. The men who ate the least processed meat had an 82 percent chance of conceiving their wives, while the men who ate the most processed meat had only a 54 percent chance.

Even after conception, the quality of foods eaten by the father may indirectly affect the fetus.

A girl preparing food in the kitchen with her father

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A study conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia, found that what parents eat has a lasting impact on the health of their children. The team of researchers analyzed data from nearly 200 couples who received antenatal care at Australia’s largest maternity hospital, Mater Mother’s Hospital in Brisbane. The study found that the foods the men ate had a significant impact on the women, which in turn had an impact on the fetus. Other studies also indicate that the weight of the father may influence the weight of the child for more than one generation.

“The relationship between fertility and men’s health and nutrition is often overlooked, but it is very important,” says Shelley Wilkinson, a nutrition expert and one of the researchers involved in the University of Queensland study. “It may actually have an impact on the health of their grandchildren.”

Wilkinson also stresses the importance of both mothers and fathers making necessary changes to their eating: “If one partner adheres to dietary guidelines, the other is more likely to do the same. We need to focus on helping women as well as men to make healthy changes, or we will lose out.” Half the battle.”

A change that might be helpful is to increase the amount of fat in the couple’s diet – the healthy kind of fat. Healthy fats are found in nuts, seeds, salmon, avocados and olive oil. Saturated fatty acids – which are found in natural and artificial sources, for example margarine, doughnuts, fried foods and other processed foods – increase the risk of infertility.

A diet that includes lots of plants may also help. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the foods eaten by 18,555 women over the eight years during which they became pregnant or were trying to conceive. Researchers found that eating plant protein found in legumes, for example, rather than animal protein found in foods like red meat, was associated with a more than 50 percent lower risk of infertility.

And in 2021, the authors of a scientific review of research conducted on the potential relationship between diet and female fertility concluded that while their recommendations focused on women, “diet and dietary patterns are undoubtedly of great importance in relation to male and female fertility.”

The researchers looked in detail at the effects of individual nutrients, as well as the foods that contain them. They also focused on the importance of hiring a nutritionist as part of the care provided to couples planning a pregnancy.

In general, the researchers recommended eating foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole-wheat pasta and whole-wheat bread (as a source of carbohydrates), sources of healthy fats such as high-fat fish, and sources of protein such as legumes, eggs and low-fat red meat.

They also pointed out the important role played by certain nutrients, although they are often overlooked. This includes iodine, which helps the healthy development of the fetus and the health of the thyroid gland in the pregnant woman.

With regard to alcohol consumption, the advice is clear and consistent across various studies. “There is no known safe amount to take while pregnant or trying to become pregnant,” says the CDC. This applies to all types of alcohol, including all types of wine and beer. The advice is to avoid it completely.

If you have concerns or questions about your diet and how it may affect your fertility, the best course of action is to consult your doctor. And while some foods seem to play a positive role in fertility, it’s important not to exaggerate their capabilities. Infertility is a complex thing, and so are its causes. Worrying about the foods a person eats can lead to stress as well as feelings of guilt and shame. People who are trying to conceive should be reassured that the problem most likely did not stem from something they ate or did not eat.

Wilkinson says that people with fertility issues usually look for one food that supposedly boosts fertility, but it’s better to eat a healthy diet in general. “In fertility chat rooms, there is a lot of talk about pineapple being a magical food that increases fertility if eaten by a woman trying to conceive. However, there is not a single food or supplement that does that.”

*All contents of the article are presented for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice provided by healthcare professionals.healthyH.

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