Did you know that it takes approximately 90 days for a female egg to mature to the point that it is ready for ovulation?
Because of this, making changes to your diet and lifestyle has the potential to impact a developing egg, influencing fertility. The health of our eggs is very important as this can determine whether or not they will be fertilised by a sperm, whether it will implant successfully into the uterine lining and ultimately progress into a successfully developing pregnancy.
As well as influencing egg quality and protecting egg health, nutrition and lifestyle also has the ability to influence many other aspects of our reproductive health such as menstrual cycle regularity, ovulation, hormonal balance and the quality of the endometrial lining,
While there are many other factors that influence fertility, nutrition and lifestyle are very important pieces of the puzzle and crucially are ones we are able to take control of.
Is there a fertility diet?
The term ‘fertility diet’ was first coined by researchers from Harvard University in 2007. In a study of over 17,000 women they found that following a ‘fertility diet’ favourably influenced fertility in otherwise healthy women (1).
Since then we have much more research to show us that elements of this fertility diet, which is packed with antioxidants, whole grains, fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, really do make a difference to fertility. We know that women adhering to a Mediterranean style fertility diet have an increased probability of pregnancy and live birth compared to those who do not for both natural conception as well as for those undergoing fertility treatment (2).
Importantly this is also true for men! A Mediterranean style diet rich in fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and oily fish is associated with increased semen quality (3).
Weight management is also an important concept for men and women when it comes to fertility. In women, both a lower and higher weight can affect ovulation which then has an effect on one’s ability to conceive. Similarly, increased weight can affect sperm quality, so trying to achieve a healthy weight is likely to optimise chances of conception for both men and women.
For most people, following a fertility promoting dietary pattern will allow them to consume most of the fertility promoting nutrients we require for optimal fertility. Alongside this it is recommended to take a 400mcg supplement of folic acid or suitable alternative alongside 10mcg of vitamin D as we cannot get sufficient amounts of these from our diet. For some people other supplements may be recommended depending on their individual situation and requirements so it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before supplementing with anything else.
How does lifestyle affect fertility?
Many common lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, consuming high amounts of caffeine, not getting enough sleep, stress and exercise can also influence fertility (4). For example smoking can reduce the quality and quantity of sperm and can reduce the chances of a woman falling pregnancy by 10-40%.
These lifestyle factors are different for everyone and can play an important role, taking time to reflect on your habits and day to day lifestyle can help you to pinpoint areas that may require alterations to help boost your chances of conception.
Making positive changes to our diet and lifestyle can really make a big difference to our overall reproductive health and can help us to be in the best position possible for when we are ready to conceive. Although making changes at least 3 months before conception is advised, it is never too early or too late to make fertility promoting changes as they can really make a difference.
- Chavarro JE, Rich-Edwards JW, Rosner BA, Willett WC. Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2021 Apr 13];110(5):1050–8. Available from: http://journals.lww.com/greenjournal/Fulltext/2007/11000/Diet_and_Lifestyle_in_the_Prevention_of_Ovulatory.17.aspx
- Karayiannis Di, Kontogianni MD, Mendorou C, Mastrominas M, Yiannakouris N. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility. Hum Reprod [Internet]. 2018 Mar 1 [cited 2021 Apr 13];33(3):494–502. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/33/3/494/4828066
- Karayiannis D, Kontogianni MD, Mendorou C, Douka L, Mastrominas M, Yiannakouris N. Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and semen quality parameters in male partners of couples attempting fertility. Hum Reprod [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2020 Jun 19];32(1):215–22. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27994040/
- Sharma R, Biedenharn KR, Fedor JM, Agarwal A. Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: Taking control of your fertility [Internet]. Vol. 11, Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. Reprod Biol Endocrinol; 2013 [cited 2021 Apr 13]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23870423/