Fertility Diet & Pregnancy
The combination of adopting a healthy diet and taking supplements can greatly improve a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, staying pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Some refer to such a nutritional focus as a fertility diet, in that it may help a woman become pregnant. Integrative medicine’s focus on vitamin and nutrient intake prenatally and during the pregnancy builds better brains and nervous systems. while protecting children from developing birth defects and long-term outcomes such as cancer.
Healthy diet, proper nutrition
Twenty-five years ago, physicians and fertility specialists rarely discussed the perils of improper nutrition for women trying to get pregnant. Recently there has been a large movement toward understanding the benefits of a proper eating regimen. During pre-pregnancy and especially during the formative months in a mother’s womb, nutrition plays an important role. With integrative medicine, physicians can offer more education and tools to give patients nutritional guidance.
Many women seeking fertility don’t always recognize the need to have a healthy, “pregnancy-focused” diet before they even conceive. It’s best to think of pre-conception as setting the stage for success. It takes months to ensure you’re well nourished and are sending the right physiological messages to your body to tell it you’re ready for pregnancy. Research has shown that what you eat in the months prior to conception will aid your baby in the most crucial weeks during early development.
Eating right increases pregnancy chances
- Seek out natural sources of B vitamins. Eating citrus fruits, broccoli, green leafy vegetables and tomatoes high in folate – and other foods naturally rich in vitamin B – has shown to decrease by 40 percent the chances of being unable to ovulate.
- Find more protein in plants. Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found that in 19,000 women trying to get pregnant, women eating a diet high in animal protein had a 39 percent risk for infertility. Women who ate plant protein such as beans or lentils had an improved chance of becoming pregnant.
- Choose foods rich in iron. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, studies have demonstrated that an iron-rich diet may lower ovulatory infertility. Foods with lots of iron include spinach, whole grains, eggs, beans and lentils. Pair these foods with fruits containing high levels of vitamin C, such as citrus, to aid the body in absorbing iron.
- Men’s diets matter! Many people don’t realize that male factors account for about 40 percent of all infertility. Diets high in zinc (cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, oysters and crab meat) may enhance sperm quality. Vitamin B12 (lamb, egg yolk and sardines) may increase sperm concentration.
- Maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Infertility Association, 30 percent of infertility cases are due to weight-related issues. If a woman is overweight or obese, hormonal issues affecting fertility may result. Underweight women may have difficulty ovulating at all or do so at an irregular rate. Male obesity can also contribute to infertility, as it adversely affects sperm count and motility.
In 2009, Americans fueled the supplement industry by spending $26.7 billion to stay healthy, lose weight and sidestep prescription drugs. That’s big business: one largely unregulated by government agencies not required to post warning labels on pill bottles. As a result, many people don’t fully recognize what they are taking and how it will affect their bodies. For a more thorough exploration of this issue, see our integrative medicine blog post, “Do You Really Know What’s In Your Dietary Supplement?”
Following are a few practical supplements that an integrative medicine specialist may prescribe to aid in getting pregnant.
Supplements for fertility enhancement
- The two most popular fertility supplements are Coenzyme Q10 and DHEA hormone. Both are naturally occurring chemicals in the body. Learn more.
- The amino acid L-arginine can improve blood flow to the uterus and ovaries and also aids in the production of cervical mucus.
- Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil help control reproductive hormones and promote blood flow to the reproductive organs.
- Several clinical studies have shown that the herb chaste tree (also referred to as chasteberry or vitex agnus-castus) increases hormone production and successfully improves fertility. Learn more.
- For women with hormonal imbalances due to such conditions as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), royal jelly (sold as a supplement) is high in vitamins D and E, helping to regulate the endocrine system and improve the quality of eggs.
- Vitamin D can play an important role in increasing fertility, particularly for women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF). For more info, check out RSCBA’s latest review of the current Vitamin D fertility research.