“There is strong evidence that complementary treatment with an appropriate nutraceutical improves the natural conception rate of infertile couples and increases the success rate of assisted reproductive techniques” (Comhaire F, 2010, Andrologia, 42, 5, 331-40)
This is a strong statement and something that some people might find hard to believe, that the food you eat on a regular basis can affect your ability to conceive. Studies confirm that addressing lifestyle factors – including nutrition, weight, exercise, psychological stress, as well as environmental and occupational exposure – could have substantial effects on fertility.
It’s unfortunate to say that 1 in 6 coupes in Ireland suffer with infertility, which researchers define as the diminished ability or the inability to conceive and have offspring, or more specifically, failure to conceive after a year of regular intercourse without contraception.
The biggest cause of female infertility is PCOS or Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and for male infertility it is low production of testosterone. Both PCOS and low testosterone need to be properly diagnosed and assessed but you also need to look at getting your metabolism working again in order to increase your chances of conceiving. This is where diet and nutrition comes into play and here’s my top 6 strategies you can implement to help support your conception efforts.
- Fix your gut health – if you suffer with constipation/diarrhoea or feeling bloated on a regular basis, then your digestive system is compromised. Looking at the root cause of WHY you have these issues is exactly where you need to start. Is it your diet, too much stress, not sleeping, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies etc.? Incorporating gut-healing foods like fermented foods and probiotics as well as fibre can have a positive effect on gut health. Working with a nutrition practitioner can help you get to the root cause of these imbalances and ensure the right foods and nutrients are in place to restore balance.
- Remove high GI (Glycaemic Index) carbohydrates – A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates (white flour products, processed sugars etc.) increases insulin levels to create organ fat and belly fat, which drive infertility. (Dr. Mark Hyman) So, remove high sugar and processed foods and replace these with slow-releasing carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, millet, sweet potatoes), good sources of protein (organic poultry, oily fish, nuts and seeds, legumes, beef) and good fats like avocados, walnuts, chia seeds, salmon, olive oil etc.
- Reduce stress – A lot of the time this is ‘easier said than done’ but I think if you have appropriate techniques in place and make a conscious effort to achieve this, it will help. Stress can play havoc with our hormones along with diminishing our sex drive. So, by utilising things like deep breathing techniques, yoga, meditation, journaling, exercise, walking in nature, on a daily basis, you’ll be well on your way to a more ‘zen’ lifestyle.
- Exercise regularly – regular exercise can help to balance hormones, reduce sugar cravings and thereby improve fertility efforts. If you are new to exercise, start off slow and build yourself up, but remember consistency is key.
- Get sufficient sleep – look at your current sleeping patterns. Are they disrupted? Do you have issues getting to sleep / staying asleep? In any case, poor sleeping patterns contributes to hormonal imbalances, stress, as well as weight gain among others, thereby contributing to decreased fertility. In an effort to improve your sleeping patterns
- ensure that you switch off all technology with a blue light (phone, tablet, computer games etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed
- ensure your room is cooler and dark;
- remove caffeine and/or alcohol before bed and also high sugar foods.
- Supplements – As stated by Glenville, M, 2006 “soil depletion, over-farming and transportation of foods, together with the increased use of convenience and fast foods, people can be over-fed but under-nourished in today’s society”. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies which can have an impact on fertility. Evidence shows that supplementation can play a valuable role in the health of the pregnant mother and her baby. Emphasis must always be on eating a good diet, but given the limitations of the 21st century lifestyle and the nutritional content of food, high quality, targeted nutrition supplements can support nutrition gaps in the couple. Figuring out where you’re nutrition gaps lie is key to correcting the imbalance. Work with a qualified nutrition practitioner on this for best results. (Glenville, M, 2006, Curr Opin Obstet Gynae, 18, 642-647)
Struggling with infertility can seem hopeless and disempowering at times, but know that a change in diet, nutrient status and lifestyle can positively impact so many aspects of your health, including your ability to conceive!