According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, millions of women suffer from infertility. Approximately 6 percent of married women up to 44 years old are unable to get pregnant after one year of trying, and about 12 percent of all women have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. A healthy diet is important for everyone, but did you know that a healthy diet is linked to fertility as well? One of the most important natural infertility treatment options, as with most conditions, is to consume a healthy diet. According to research, diet may affect fertility, for both men and women.

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School published a review of past studies that showed the impact of diet on fertility. Research showed for women trying to become pregnant naturally, the following vitamins and nutrients were linked to positive effects on fertility: folic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, and a healthy diet. Trans fat and “unhealthy diets” (those “rich in red and processed meats, potatoes, sweets, and sweetened beverages”) were found to have negative effects.

According to Food and Nutrition, a study evaluated approximately 20,000 responses to a questionnaire on diet and lifestyle habits and reproductive outcomes showed a fertility diet consist of:

» Low intake of trans-fat and greater intake of monounsaturated fat

» Greater plant protein consumption and lower animal protein consumption

» Greater consumption of complex, high-fiber carbohydrates

» Consumption of full-fat dairy products rather than low-fat dairy foods

» Greater consumption of non-heme iron foods from plant sources.

Researchers found that women who applied these dietary recommendations had a 66 percent lower risk of ovulatory disorder infertility and a 27 percent lower risk of infertility due to other causes.

Consuming less sugar and refined grains can also help with infertility. Consuming less sugar and refined grains is recommended for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (which can lead to infertility). A lower sugar/refined carbohydrate diet also helps stabilize blood sugar to prevent hormonal fluctuations that can disrupt fertility. Research in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed total carbohydrate intake and dietary glycemic load were positively related to ovulatory infertility.

A Western diet has been linked to a lower sperm count. A Harvard study showed that men who consume a “Western” diet consisting of foods such as burgers, fries and pizza had lower sperm count than men who consume a healthy diet. In fact, sperm count has been declining in Western countries over the past few decades due to our poor diets.

Maintaining a healthy body weight for both partners can have an impact on fertility. According to the National Infertility Association, 30 percent of infertility cases are due to weight extremes, which can alter hormone levels and throw ovulation off schedule.

Nutrients to include in a fertility diet:

» Zinc: An important mineral that research shows can help keep your reproductive system functioning well.

» Antioxidants: Oxidative stress has been shown to affect fertility. Antioxidants help combat oxidative stress and can be found in fresh fruits and vegetables such as berries and walnuts.

» Choline: Choline is important for fertility. A good source of choline is egg yolks.

» Iron: A study in Obstetrics & Gynecology showed consumption of iron supplements and nonheme iron from other sources may decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility

» Vitamin D: Research has shown that vitamin D has been shown to improve fertility. Regular sun exposure is the most natural way to get enough vitamin D.

Mandy Nix is a registered dietitian in Morganton who writes a weekly nutrition column for The News Herald. For questions, contact her at mandynix85@gmail.com.

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