Preparing Your Body for Pregnancy: Nutrition and Lifestyle foundations for Fertility
Preparing your body for the best possible pregnancy involves likely changing a few habits and adopting healthier nutrition and lifestyle habits. You can actually improve egg, sperm, and uterine health by changing your intake of nutrients and removing foods and substances (or habits, or people) that aren’t serving you. You can optimize your chances of conceiving and promote a healthy pregnancy.
How important is Nutrition & Lifestyle to fertility?
Nutrition and lifestyle can play a significant role in fertility. Both factors can affect hormone levels, reproductive health, and overall well-being, which are crucial for conception and healthy pregnancy. Here are some ways in which nutrition and lifestyle impact fertility:
- Hormone balance: A balanced diet and healthy lifestyle choices can help maintain proper hormone levels, such as insulin, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Hormonal imbalances can disrupt ovulation, menstrual cycles, and sperm production, making it more challenging to conceive. Big players here are blood sugar balance -link our article-, and making sure to have enough high-quality, unprocessed calories for your activity level.
- Reproductive organ health: Nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants support the health of reproductive organs. For example, folate is important for fetal development and can help prevent birth defects. The word folate has the same root as foliage: dark leafy greens are a great source of natural folate. Nutrients like zinc, selenium, and vitamin E support sperm health. Fresh nuts and seeds are a good source as well as some seafood.
- Body composition: Maintaining a healthy ratio of fat to muscle is crucial for fertility. Both obesity and being underweight can interfere with hormonal balance and disrupt menstrual cycles in women. In men, obesity is associated with decreased sperm quality and quantity. Fat and muscle tissue is hormonally active, it isn’t just sitting there not participating!
- Ovulation and menstrual regularity: Certain lifestyle factors, such as stress, excessive exercise, and poor nutrition as well as too much or not enough food, can affect ovulation and menstrual regularity. A balanced diet - for you - and a healthy lifestyle can help regulate these processes and increase the chances of conception.
- Oxidative stress: Poor nutrition and unhealthy lifestyle choices can increase oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress can damage reproductive cells, including eggs and sperm, and affect fertility. This is where “eating the rainbow” comes in colors in vegetables and fruits are antioxidants. They put out the fires of oxidation in the body. A diet rich in vegetables, at least 5 servings a day, and includes some fruits, depending on your digestion and blood sugar, especially blueberries and other dark-colored fruit which are rich in antioxidants.
- Mental and spiritual well-being: Stress, anxiety, and depression can negatively impact fertility by affecting hormonal balance and reproductive function. Adopting a healthy nutrient-dense diet, including regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques, can promote emotional well-being and support fertility. Exercise has repeatedly been shown in research to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression.
Research linking Nutrition and lifestyle to fertility health.
Some key findings support the importance of nutrition and lifestyle in fertility. Here are a few notable studies:
- Chavarro et al., 2007: This study examined the impact of diet on fertility in women. It found that a "fertility diet" consisting of a high intake of monounsaturated fats, vegetable protein, high-fiber, low-glycemic carbohydrates, and full-fat dairy products was associated with a reduced risk of ovulatory infertility. At Holistic Fertility Institute we do not recommend dairy to clients, for a number of reasons (an article for a different day), but this shows how important fats can be for fertility. If you do eat dairy, know that “Low fat” dairy is actually a highly processed food, and this also points to the importance of minimally processed foods supporting fertility.
- Gaskins et al., 2012: This study investigated the association between lifestyle factors and semen quality in men. It found that a healthy diet, characterized by a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, was associated with better semen quality parameters, including sperm concentration and motility.
- Vujkovic et al., 2010: This study examined the impact of preconceptional lifestyle factors on fertility outcomes in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). It found that women who adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet, characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fish, had higher chances of achieving a successful pregnancy and live birth through IVF.
- Gaskins et al., 2016: This study explored the association between physical activity and fertility in women. It found that engaging in regular moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, was associated with a shorter time to pregnancy in women trying to conceive.
- Hammiche et al., 2012: This study investigated the impact of body mass index (BMI) on fertility outcomes in couples undergoing fertility treatment. It found that both overweight and underweight women had reduced fertility, with longer time to pregnancy and lower pregnancy rates compared to women with a normal BMI.
General strategies for supportive nutrition and lifestyle habits for fertility:
Optimizing nutrition and lifestyle for fertility health involves making positive changes that support reproductive function and overall well-being. Here are some tips to help you optimize your nutrition and lifestyle for fertility:
- Eat a balanced diet: Focus on a diet that includes 5+ servings of vegetables per day, 1-2 servings of fruits, a variety of whole grains as a complement, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil, and ghee (avoids dairy proteins), coconut oil and cold pressed nut and seed oils for dressings. Include foods rich in antioxidants, such as berries, leafy greens, and nuts, to help combat oxidative stress. Avoid processed foods, sugary snacks, and drinks.
- Maintain a healthy body composition: Aim for a healthy weight range by adopting a balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity. Both overweight and underweight conditions can affect fertility, so finding and maintaining a healthy weight is important.
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day to support overall health and maintain optimal bodily functions. Avoid excessive intake of caffeinated beverages, as they may have a negative impact on fertility.
- Optimize nutrient intake: Ensure you're getting essential nutrients for fertility, such as folic acid, iron, zinc, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients can be found in foods like leafy greens, legumes, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
- Minimize alcohol and caffeine: Limit your alcohol intake, as excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to reduced fertility. Moderate caffeine consumption (up to 200 mg per day) is generally considered safe, but we like to gauge whether you can function without caffeine. If you need it to function we want to help you increase your natural energy!
- Quit smoking: Smoking has a detrimental effect on fertility, both in men and women. If you smoke, quitting is highly recommended to improve fertility outcomes.
- Manage stress: Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies you enjoy. Chronic stress can disrupt hormone levels and affect fertility.
- Exercise moderately: Engage in regular moderate-intensity exercises, such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, for at least 20 minutes a day. Avoid excessive exercise, which can disrupt menstrual cycles and ovulation.
- Get sufficient sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Proper sleep is important for hormone regulation and overall well-being.
- Seek support: If you're having difficulties conceiving or making lifestyle changes, consider seeking support from healthcare professionals, like us, and other fertility specialists, nutritionists, or counselors. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific needs.
While nutrition and lifestyle choices can impact fertility, it's crucial to understand that they are not usually the only factors in fertility challenges. Fertility is impacted by so many things, including medical conditions, genetics, age, and environmental factors. If you're facing difficulties conceiving, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals or fertility specialists is needed for personalized support. Numerous studies provide evidence supporting the influence of nutrition and lifestyle on fertility outcomes. Nonetheless, it's important to recognize individual variations and the complexity of fertility, which is influenced by multiple factors. Consulting with healthcare professionals can offer personalized recommendations tailored to your specific circumstances. Remember, optimizing nutrition and lifestyle for fertility is a gradual process, and sustainable changes should be made according to your needs and preferences.