Nutrition for Infertility

A proper diet and maintaining optimal body weight are important factors in preventing infertility. There is no substitute for receiving important nutrients through fresh, whole-food choices. A balanced diet includes the essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals that work synergistically to promote optimal reproductive health. A corrective diet can even reverse infertility caused by deficiencies in certain nutrients.

Basic Nutrition for Preventing Infertility

All food is made up of combinations of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds derived from plants or fruits.

Protein
Protein repairs cells and produces hormones. The building blocks of proteins, called amino acids, are necessary for proper building and functioning of a woman’s eggs and reproductive hormones. Both women and men need 60-70 grams of protein per day, spread throughout the day for maximum absorption. Sources can include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, brown rice, seeds and quinoa. Too much protein, however, can deplete your body’s stores of calcium. One study found that consuming 5 percent of total energy intake as vegetable protein rather than as animal protein lowered the risk of ovulatory infertility by more than 50 percent.

Fats
Fatty acids are used to create hormones, transport cholesterol and help reduce inflammation. Sources include butter, margarine, vegetable oils, milk products, meats, nuts and seeds. Unsaturated fats found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and fish are essential for certain bodily functions. Good sources include flaxseed oil, pumpkin seeds, evening primrose oil and fish oils. Saturated fats, found in meat and dairy products, should be kept to a minimum.

Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates provide the body's basic fuel. They are found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, which also provide fiber, as well as in sugar, syrup and honey. Fiber assists with bowel movements, which help rid the body of old hormones.

Fruits and Vegetables
Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit should supply sufficient vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Dark leafy greens are excellent sources of these vital nutritents.

Water
Every bodily system depends upon water. Alcohol, coffee and caffeinated tea increase the body’s need for water. When dehydrated, the body will increase its production of cholesterol, which surrounds cells to seal in and conserve water. This inhibits nutrients from entering the cells and traps toxins inside the cells. The ovaries and testes are of the first organs to have the water cut off from them when the body becomes dehydrated.

How Specific Nutrients Affect a Woman’s Infertility

Folic acid, vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium deficiencies have been known to cause infertility that can easily be reversed through supplementation.

One study says women with a higher intake of iron may have a lower risk of infertility. Up to 12 percent of all women of child-bearing age have an iron deficiency. Infertility can be reduced by consuming non-heme iron, which is found in iron supplements, multivitamins, legumes and spinach. Women who used iron supplements had about a 40 percent lower risk of experiencing an ovulatory disorder.

Antioxidants prevent free-radical damage to reproductive organs, ova and sperm, especially within an aging body. Vitamins C, vitamin E and selenium are useful antioxidants, but green tea further assists antioxidant capacity. Green tea also may be a stronger antioxidant than vitamin C or vitamin E. Vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium are all important to build up the endometrium.

CoQ10 assists with moving and oxygenating the blood, and vitamin B1 helps build blood. B vitamins are essential for proper release of the egg, along with synthesis of RNA and DNA. Zinc, magnesium, selenium and vitamin A assist with cell division and egg production. Selenium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E are important for the follicular fluid surrounding the egg. Zinc and vitamin A help produce progesterone. Vegetarians might need to supplement with zinc. Vitamin C is important for the corpus luteum and its release of progesterone.

How Does a Woman’s Weight Affect Infertility?

Twelve percent of all infertility cases are a result of a woman either weighing too little or too much. In overweight women, the body produces too much estrogen and begins to react as if it is on birth control, limiting her odds of getting pregnant. A woman with too little body fat can’t produce enough estrogen and her reproductive cycle begins to shut down.

Obese women might benefit from additional education, counseling, encouragement and understanding with praise for accomplishments for weight reduction. Slender women should shoot for gaining weight at the rate of one-half pound per week. Weight gain might take half a year to overcome infertility. The good news is that 70 percent of weight-induced infertility in women can be corrected when a woman’s optimal body weight is restored.

How Does a Man’s Weight Affect Infertility?

Men with optimal weight had higher semen volume and higher levels of normal sperm than those who were either overweight or underweight. Scientists have found that overweight men had more abnormal sperm and less seminal fluid. In most cases of low male fertility, an abnormal sperm count or low sperm motility are displayed. Low sperm count or motility dramatically reduces the chances of the sperm reaching and penetrating the egg.

In 90 percent of the cases of low sperm count, the cause cannot be identified. Often, a reduction in intake of alcohol, tobacco, prescription or nonprescription drugs, or an avoidance of environmental contaminants can enhance sperm production. Reducing excessive heat in the testicular area can also be effective.

Nutrition also affects sperm health. Vitamins E and selenium can help improve sperm counts and quality. Vitamin C supplementation can improve the sperm quality of smokers. Ferulic acid, an antioxidant found in Dong quai, can enhance sperm quality. It is best to take different antioxidants together at the same time for maximum benefit.

Zinc and B vitamins are critical for sperm formation and motility and hormone metabolism. Folic acid and/or zinc sulfate treatment can increase sperm counts in subfertile men by 74 percent. The amino acid L-carnitine is critical in the formation of healthy, active sperm. Consuming omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, evening primrose and flaxseed, contributes to healthier cell membranes, including sperm.

Diabetes also can result in infertility. Semen samples from diabetics show DNA damage. Diabetics have a significant decrease in their ability to repair sperm DNA. Once this is damaged, it can’t be restored. Sperm DNA quality is tied to low embryo implantation rates, decreased embryo quality and higher miscarriage rates.

Additional Resources

Pre-Conception Nutrition from the American Pregnancy Association.

The Impact of Nutrition on Fertility- Natural Alternatives

American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Somer, Elizabeth. Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy

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