Nutrition's Role in Your Fertility
July 28, 2016
By Christina Swigart, MS, LN
Infertility is a growing problem for many people in our country; maybe you are one of them. As a nutritionist, I’ve seen many people struggling to have a baby and it breaks my heart. Too often, people are told they cannot get pregnant on their own and that their only option is treatment, but that is not true! What really frustrates me is that people don’t realize that there are many things they can do before turning to reproductive medicine. One piece of advice I have for couples with fertility problems is to explore all of the options carefully before making the huge investment in medications and treatments. One of the options most commonly overlooked is nutrition.
I am not guaranteeing that everyone who addresses the nutritional links to fertility is going to have success, but it does work for many people. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have helped dozens of couples become parents. Our greatest reward is meeting the babies when the happy parents return to show them off!
With fertility, like many other health epidemics facing our nation, there is a disconnect between what a person puts in his/her mouth and how it affects the body. If your body is deficient in certain nutrients, you are going to experience biochemical imbalances. Various bodily processes will begin to slow down and will not function normally until the imbalances are addressed.
Start With The Basics
So, what can you do nutritionally? It really does start with the basics. Are you living off processed, convenience foods or are you filling your diet with plenty of real foods that are rich in the nutrients necessary to keep your body balanced? Do you have a history of low-fat eating? Are you consuming excess sugar on a regular basis? Have you ever been told that fatty acid deficiencies greatly affect your hormones and your ability to become pregnant? Did you know that hormones can be rebalanced without taking synthetic hormone medications? These are some of things that need to be considered when addressing fertility naturally.
What are you eating? Making sure that the foods you are putting in your mouth are nourishing your body is one of the most important things you can do. If you are consuming foods that are full of sugar, chemicals, preservatives, artificial ingredients, and unhealthy fats, you are undermining your efforts to become pregnant. You may not realize the negative impact this has. Even drinking one can of soda per day can reduce a couple’s fertility! You cannot expect your body to do the things it should if you do not give it the tools it needs. In order to start repairing imbalances, you need to be sure you are getting real proteins, real carbohydrates and real fats four to five times per day.
Get the Right Kind and Right Amount of Protein
Proteins are essential for hormone balance and healthy pregnancies. People are most successful with fertility when they get the majority of their protein from animal sources (I have seen a number of women struggle to get pregnant when they rely on vegetarian proteins). You also need to be sure that you avoid preservatives and flavorings in proteins, such as nitrates and MSG. If you can find grass-fed meats and wild caught fish, you will not only be getting good protein, but also essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation and balance hormones. Healthy protein choices include chicken, beef, turkey, organic free-range eggs, cheese, and fish. If you have only been eating protein once or twice per day, increase your intake of animal proteins as a starting point.
Choose Healthy Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are a necessary part of a balanced eating plan, but it is important to choose the right types. Vegetables and fruits are healthy carbohydrate choices. Choose these and you won’t have to fill up on grains. Eating a lot of cereal, bagels, and pasta raises your blood sugar and insulin levels, resulting in excess estrogen in the body. When estrogen levels get too high, your progesterone and testosterone levels drop (in men, too) and it is difficult to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy. Also, sugar produces a lot of inflammation and insulin resistance in the body, which plays a role in every health problem, including PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and infertility. Fill your meals and snacks with lots of fresh vegetables and smaller amounts of fruit. Organic fruits and vegetables are ideal, if possible. Besides keeping your blood sugar stable, vegetables provide you with a wealth of vitamins and minerals that are essential to your health.
Opt for Plenty of Beneficial Fats
When it comes to fats, there has been a lot of misinformation. I believe the misinformation and avoidance of beneficial fats have been major factors in creating the significant hormonal imbalances present today in both women and men. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are all made from healthy fat and cholesterol—the two things that you have been told for years to keep at a minimum in your diet. If avoiding fats is something you have been doing, begin adding fats back into your diet. To ensure you are getting adequate amounts of fat, make sure you eat some at every meal and snack. I have seen some women become pregnant after adding healthy fats back into their diets along with a couple of key nutrients. Fats to include would be olive oil, avocados, nuts, butter, cream, coconut oil, and olives. Adding fat into your diet may be hard to wrap your mind around because it goes against some of the nutrition advice that you may have heard in the past, but when you look at the body’s biochemistry, it makes sense.
Supplements That Can Help
In addition to balanced eating, when I work with people struggling with fertility, I recommend a few supplements to help them rebalance their biochemistry sooner.
- GLA (gamma-linolenic acid): This activated Omega-6 fatty acid is at the top of my list. This fatty acid is essential to hormone balance in the body and really works.
- Omega-3 fish oil: I also frequently recommend adding Omega-3 fish oil to address inflammation in the body, especially if the person is dealing with PCOS.
- Natural progesterone cream: Progesterone cream is often helpful as well, especially for those women who struggle with maintaining pregnancy. Many women who struggle with fertility have a high estrogen level and low progesterone, which is a big part of the problem. (That is why synthetic hormones are used as a treatment. However, synthetic hormones have side effects that natural methods do not have.)
Make Nutrition Your First Step Toward Fertility
So, how important is nutrition to fertility? It’s critical. If you are having fertility problems, nutrition is a great place to start for both women and men. Support your body by eating real foods that balance your biochemistry and provide your body with the nutrients essential for fertility. I understand that this may sound overwhelming at first. If you would like help, a nutritionist can start you on the road to pregnancy with a personal fertility plan. I wish you the best and hope that you make nutrition part of your strategy for fertility.