For women who are looking to conceive, what we consume on a daily basis can have a direct effect on reproductive health. In this article we explore best foods for fertility that may help to enhance fertility and a healthy pregnancy.
Fertility is defined as the capability of producing offspring. In humans, women can be described as fertile, or infertile, depending on their state of health and capacity to reproduce. Factors that affect fertility in humans include genetics, age, lifestyle factors such as nutrition and fitness, and instances of illness or disease.
When it comes to fertility in women, there is a range of factors that can contribute to a more healthy environment in the body system for reproducing. One of the main ways that women can boost their fertility is to ensure that their diet is dense in nutrition essential for hormone creation, balance and function to support a fertile environment.s
The Natural Fertility Info website states the number one cause of infertility can be attributed to anovulation (a lack of ovulation) and often just remedying with nutrition can reverse this. Anovulation occurs due to an imbalance of hormones. Hormonal imbalance can be affected by physical and mental stress, and most often, nutritional deficiencies.
There have been many studies examining the role of nutritional intake of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) in supporting a fertile environment for women. Conclusive evidence from a range of scientific research indicates that micronutrient intake can affect fertility as well as preventing illness and disease caused by pregnancy complications.
In review of current scientific literature, there is general consensus on recommended micronutrients and nutritional advice to optimize chances of fertility, healthy pregnancy and child development.
In much of the research, an often cited cause of disorders related to infertility, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, is oxidative stress. Up to 15% of infertilities are considered to be cause by oxidative stress, which was found to be higher in infertile women than those who are considered to be fertile. Oxidative stress is where an imbalance of the production of free radicals in the body affects the ability to neutralize and detoxify with anti-oxidants.
Vitamins and minerals have been researched in relation to how they can combat the oxidative stress that is experienced in order to minimize the risk of infertility. Some of the most potent vitamins involved in hormone regulation, and therefore decreasing oxidative stress include folic acid, vitamins D, E and C, Iron, selenium and more. In just one particular scientific review of all of the relevant literature studies in the past 30 years, it was found that a higher intake of iron, folic acid and vitamins D and E benefit fertility.
The Best Micronutrients to Boost Fertility
The American pregnancy association refers to folate (or folic acid), vitamin D, and Iron as vital micronutrients for health ovulation, an important function affecting a woman’s fertility. Below is a list of these, and other well-researched micronutrients in in the realm of fertility in women.
Folate (or Folic Acid)
The American Pregnancy Association states that there is a link between low folate levels and impeded cell division, oxidative stress and apoptosis, which all affect the development of ovum. In a study of reproductive aged women, those with a low dietary intake of folate were found to have lower luteal progesterone levels and increased instances of complications in conception. In this same study, women attending an IVF clinic who took a folic acid supplement had a higher quality and quantity of oocytes (cell related to ovum formation) compared with those who didn’t take it. Another literature review described folate as a ‘pivotal micronutrient’ in relation to fertility.
Found in many natural sources of foods as referred to as folate, this vitamin of folic aid is one of the most well known vitamins associated with supporting a healthy pregnancy to prevent disease in developing fetuses, as well as pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia and placental abruption. The U.S Public Health Service advises that 400 micrograms of folate is the general daily intake guideline for women looking to support conception.
Natural sources of folate: Lentils, variety of beans, green leaf vegetables, oranges.
The American Pregnancy Association states that there are many reports of infertile women having iron deficiencies such as anemia. In a long-term study, women who consumed Iron supplements daily had a lower risk of ovulatory infertility than those who didn’t use supplementation. Iron is essential for ovum development, as sufficient levels of Iron is required to support increased the demand on this nutrient in the developing follicle in the ovary.
Natural sources of iron: Lentils, spinach, other dark leafy greens and beans.
Omega-3 acids (essential fats)
Essential fatty acids assist in regulating hormones, promoting ovulation and stimulating blood flow to reproductive organs. Healthy sources of fats assist in generating the mechanism by which hormones are produced in the body.
Natural sources of Omega-3: Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax and chia seeds.
Used to regulate hormones, this vitamin is claimed to assist in regulating blood sugar, treating PMS and assisting in defects that can occur in the luteal phase (part of menstrual cycle).
Natural sources of vitamin B6: banana, spinach, leafy greens, asparagus, broccoli and kale.
Often cited as a fertility booster for male sperm quality, it may also assist in creating a thick endometrium lining (needed for ova fertilization). Studies have also found that irregular ovulation may be linked to deficiencies of this vitamin.
Natural sources of vitamin B12: Meats and dairy (for vegans and vegetarians, supplementation is recommended).
Abundant in natural fruits and plants, vitamin C has been linked to increased fertility in women.
Natural sources of vitamin C: Various fruits (such as Kiwi, Berries), Kale and broccoli.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, vitamin D receptors are present in the ovary, endometrium and placenta, which stimulate the production of estradiol and progesterone, which regulates hormones.
Natural sources of vitamin D: Through sun absorption and supplementation.
The powerful antioxidant effect of vitamin E protects sperm and ovum DNA, and directly works with reducing oxidative stress. Vitamin E supplementation studies for women have found associations with this vitamin and increased endometrial thickness, supporting a fertile environment for conception.
Natural sources of vitamin E: Dark leafy greens, sunflower seeds, spinach, papaya and almonds.
Assisting in the mechanism of treating the oxidative stress in hormonal issues, selenium can protect the body from free radicals, which cause chromosomal damage that can result in infertility, miscarriages and birth defects.
Natural source of selenium: Brazil nuts are one of the highest natural sources – just one nut contains the daily-recommended dose of selenium.
A zinc deficiency may affect the healthy functioning of the reproductive system as zinc is required for cell division, which can impact the balance estrogen and progesterone levels if impeded. Low levels of zinc have been linked to miscarriage in early stages of pregnancy, as well as infertility, with zinc deficiencies found to impede hormone balance.
Natural sources of zinc: sesame and pumpkin seeds, green peas.
Directly linked to energy production in the body, studies also revealed that ovum and sperm health have been boosted from supplementation of these enzymes.
Natural sources of CoQ10: Spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and supplementation.
Other Dietary Recommendations to Enhance Fertility
Additional research in the area of nutrition and fertility revealed that macronutrients and other foods were important for supporting the hormonal balance and protecting the body from oxidative stress.
The amino acids of proteins are described as the building blocks for healthy cell functioning in the body. An adequate intake of protein is necessary for a healthy reproductive system. Check with your medical practitioner as to the right amount of protein advised for your particular body type, age, and activity levels.
Fiber is vital for cleansing the body and creating a healthy functioning digestive system. It can also help to rid the body of excess estrogen and other hormones, which may create imbalance in the body, and affect fertility. Fruits and vegetables are all high in fiber, as well as flax and chia seeds as potent sources.
Super foods have been found to boost fertility.
Bee pollen and propolis are rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins. They have been used to treat endometriosis in women, as well as stimulate the immune system for detoxing and balancing hormones. Royal Jelly has been traditionally used to increase ovum health. Royal Jelly is rich in vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. Maca is often used by women to increase progesterone, an important hormone that impacts reproductive health and fertility.
When taking into account your own dietary lifestyle, and any changes you wish to make to boost your own fertility, it is advised to avoid GMO foods, which the Natural Fertility Info website claims that it can affect a mans ability to conceive and a woman’s fertility. Fat-free food also contains processing chemicals that can disrupt the endocrine system. Soy foods may mimic estrogen and impede the body’s ability to produce this hormone naturally.
Beyond reproductive health, and considering the health of the entire body system, it is essential to follow a diet that supports the functioning of all cells, organs and internal systems. The nutritional recommendations here can not only assist in boosting fertility by creating hormonal balance, they will also assist in creating overall vitality and wellbeing.
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Chavarro, Jorge E., et al. “Iron intake and risk of ovulatory infertility.” Obstetrics & Gynecology 108.5 (2006): 1145-1152.
Cetin, I., C. Berti, and S. Calabrese. “Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period.” Human reproduction update 16.1 (2009): 80-95.
Hosseini, Banafshe, and Ghazaleh Eslamian. “Association of micronutrient Intakes with female infertility: review of recent evidence.” Thrita 4.1 (2015).
Kontic-Vucinic, Olivera, Nenad Sulovic, and Nebojsa Radunovic. “Micronutrients in women’s reproductive health: I. Vitamins.” International journal of fertility and women’s medicine 51.3 (2006): 106-115.
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Simpson, Joe Leigh, et al. “Micronutrients and women of reproductive potential: required dietary intake and consequences of dietary deficiency or excess. Part I–Folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B6.” The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine 23.12 (2010): 1323-1343.
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“Preconception Nutrition.” American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association, 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 10 July 2017. <http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/preconception-nutrition/>.