What you eat can either significantly boost or reduce your fertility. The good news is, when you make healthier choices, the benefits can be large. A recent Harvard University study showed a decrease of 80% in infertility levels when coupes switched to a healthier diet. In part one of this series, Live Well Naturopath Shanna Choudhary outlines the foods to avoid. Follow her advice and you’ll be giving your body the best preparation to conceive.
Think outside the box
If there were just one thing you could do that would have a huge impact on your fertility (as well as your health), removing processed and packaged foods from your diet would be it!
If what you are eating comes out of box or a packet it’s likely to be both nutrient poor and chemically laden. ‘Food’ like this places stress on the body by adding to its toxic load as well as depriving it of essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals required for health and fertility.
You know how sugar gives you that sweet sugar “high”, which temporarily boosts your mood and energy levels but quickly gives way to the “crash” that follows, leaving you feeling moody, irritable and not so crash-hot anymore…
You may not know that the rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows disrupts delicate hormonal balance in your body which makes falling pregnant much more difficult. Diets high in sugar affect the pancreas and can lead to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes. Sugar also triggers a stress response in the body; depleting your adrenals, messing with your thyroid and depressing immune function.
It is still possible to have some sweetness in your life, but choose unrefined and more natural sources like maple syrup and raw honey and be sure to avoid the fake sugar substitutes which are very toxic to your health and fertility.
Caffeine seems like our friend at first; as a good caffeine hit boosts our alertness and concentration levels, and can seem like a great pick-me-up when we need one in the morning or when we hit that afternoon slump.
However, caffeine consumption is associated with increased conception time; and has been shown to affect hormonal balance, prevent ovulation and even increase chances of miscarriage.
Even just 2 coffees a day has been shown to exert negative effects on ovulation and can actually increase risk of miscarriage by up to 2x.
Caffeine has also been shown to reduce muscular activity in the fallopian tubes, decreasing follicle function so the ovum may not reach the uterus. This could also be a possible implication in ectopic pregnancies.
Soy pops up in many different forms, and is found in a large variety of foods and food products, such as soy milk, tofu and soya sauce.
Soy has an oestrogen-mimicking effect on the body, which can disrupt your hormonal balance and therefore fertility in both females and males.
A number of studies have shown that soy has a negative impact on reproductive health and fertility; demonstrating significant changes in reproductive organs and the menstrual cycle, such as the development of endometriosis or heavy menstrual bleeding.
Men are also adversely affected by soy, as it has been linked to lowering libido, erectile dysfunction, reduced sperm count, breast enlargement and mood swings.
Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) contain an in-built pesticide in the form of a bacteria: Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). However, Bt is believed to be causing widespread health and fertility issues in populations that have GMOs in the diet.
In Australia we have 43 varieties of GMO canola, corn, potato, rice, soybean and sugarbeet approved for human consumption. GMO ingredients can be found in margarine-type spreads, dairy blends, tinned, processed/packaged, snack and fried foods such as bread, pastries, chocolates, potato chips, cakes and confectionery; they are also widely used in stockfeed, used to feed the animals that are bred for the meat and dairy industries.
Whilst there is not a large body of long-term studies on the fertility effects of GMO foods, one study showed that mice who over a period 20 weeks were fed GMO corn, had greatly impaired fertility when compared with the mice who were fed non GMO corn. Moreover, the offspring of the mice fed a GMO corn diet also suffered from lower fertility rates/were found to be sterile.
Until GMO foods can be proven to be safe for consumption, many countries (particularly in Europe), have banned its use altogether.
Good Fat, Bad Fat
Some fats deserve their bad reputation, however there are good fats out there that are really important to include in your diet to support fertility.
‘Bad’ fats to avoid include hydrogenated fats found in margarines and spreads, biscuits, potato chips, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods.
When good fats turn bad: Fats oxidise easily (become rancid) in which case they become toxic. To avoid this, try to make sure the oils, nuts and seeds that you eat have been packaged in a way that keeps them from exposure to light (dark packaging), air (air tight, and not already ground) and heat (some fats/oils become damaged by heat).
‘Bad’ fats harm fertility by causing inflammation, damaging cell membranes and altering the balance of hormones in the body.
‘Good’ fats on the other hand, are especially important when wanting to conceive, as they are essential for the production of hormones. Keep eating them once you do get pregnant, as they are integral to foetal brain and nervous system development.
Look out for reduced fat or fat free foods, as they are generally highly processed and high in sugar, and can impair the body’s absorption of essential fat-soluble nutrients such as: Vitamin A, Vitamin D and Vitamin E. All of which are important fertility nutrients.