For those with a clear-cut fertility problem such as blocked fallopian tubes or sperm duct defects, diet isn’t going to make much of a difference. “But there are many shades of gray in fertility issues,” says Beth Weinhouse, editorial director for Conceive magazine. In unclear instances, sometimes consuming certain nutrients may actually help a couple get pregnant a little faster.
Here are six helpful nutrients to get via grub.
Many women suffering from infertility need to lose weight, says Melinda Johnson, registered dietician and owner of Nutrition For Slackers (NutritionForSlackers.com), a personal counseling service for would-be dieters.
Fat cells produce estrogen; if the body produces too much of it, it can react as if it was on birth control and ovulation may be inadequate or not occur. Excess weight also is frequently a factor in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, an endocrine disorder in which an abundance of small cysts on the ovaries can lead to hormonal imbalances that can interfere with egg development and release.
Johnson recommends eating foods high in fiber, such as oatmeal, whole grains, whole fruits, veggies and beans, as they are usually loaded with vitamins, low in fat and can help fill the belly so that dieters end up consuming less calories throughout the day.
According to research, hopeful mothers-to-be who are concerned about carbs really shouldn’t be. The results of the famed Harvard University Nurse’s Health Study, published in 2006, showed that among the approximately 18,000 women observed over eight years, the amount of carbohydrates in their diets didn’t affect fertility; what mattered immensely was the quality. Eating lots of easily-digested carbohydrates, such as white bread and potatoes, can increase blood sugar and insulin levels, which, in turn, can disrupt hormonal balance and throw off ovulation. But slowly digested, high-fiber carbohydrates can improve chances of getting pregnant.
Repeated studies have shown that women who get at least 400 micrograms of folic acid (vitamin B9 or folate) daily, prior to conception and during early pregnancy can reduce the risk that their baby will be born with serious neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, by up to 70 percent. Recent research suggests that it also may help prevent severe congenital heart disease, Weinhouse says.
Chances are a medical adviser will recommend a prenatal vitamin that contains folic acid, but Weinhouse notes that citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes also are good sources.
To promote sperm count, quality and mobility, feed daddy some kiwifruit, Johnson says. These edible berries are an exceptionally rich source of vitamin C, a nutrient that research suggests may aid male fertility by preventing sperm from clumping together.
Papaya, red bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries and oranges are also C-heavy options.
Another finding of the Nurse’s Health Study was that women who took extra iron experienced less ovulation-related infertility. In addition, the women who consumed nonheme iron (found in plant sources) had a significantly lower risk of infertility due to ovulation than those who were consuming heme iron (found in animal sources).
It is possible to overdo it with iron, so check with a doctor before taking a supplement. But when it comes to making smart dining choices, Weinhouse suggests limiting the meat and beefing up on nuts, seeds, dried fruit, watermelon and leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens.
Protein does help to regulate insulin function and is important for early fetal development, but now is not the time to start the Atkins program. According to the Nurse’s Health Study, the women who ate the most protein were 41 percent more likely to have problems with ovulatory infertility than women in the group that ate the least protein. And just as with iron, the women who got the majority of their protein from plant sources had substantially less problems than women who favored red meat and poultry.
Try to limit meat to occasional small portions and consume more beans, peas and nuts, Weinhouse says. Brazil nuts are an especially good buy for him, adds Johnson, as they are rich in vitamin E and selenium, two nutrients that have been shown to boost sperm production and motility.
Multiple studies have found that a deficiency in this mineral can lower testosterone and diminish both sperm count and quality, Weinhouse says. Make sure he’s getting his fill by feeding him pumpkin and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, chickpeas, mushrooms, spinach and oysters.