Superfoods for Female Infertility (Part 14 of my Superfoods series)
“Superfood” is a term that refers to highly nutrient-dense food items. While these foods are not a silver bullet for solving all health problems, they contain multiple essential nutrients that benefit overall health. Because these foods are especially nutrient-dense, they offer some advantages over others, such as providing vitamins, fiber for digestion, protein, and specific, healthy fats that promote health and can help with certain conditions.
Infertility — the inability to conceive or carry a child to term — can be brought on or made worse by specific nutritional deficiencies and health problems. Here we will cover some nutritional advice to help with some known causes of infertility. We will also present some superfoods that could be beneficial in assisting with managing infertility.
Overview of Female Infertility and Standard Treatments
Female infertility can be caused by various factors. These include problems with ovulation, structural issues in the reproductive organs, age-related decline in fertility, hormonal imbalances, and autoimmune disorders. Ovulation problems can make it difficult for the egg to be released, while structural issues like cysts or scarring can interfere with fertilization and implantation.
Hormonal imbalances, such as in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or primary ovary insufficiency (POI), can disrupt ovulation and menstrual cycles. Additionally, endometriosis is a common condition that leads to uterine lining occurring outside the uterus.
Treatment options for female infertility depend on the specific cause. Hormonal treatments are used to stimulate and regulate ovulation. Surgical procedures may be performed to address blockages in the fallopian tubes. Assisted reproductive technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilization (IVF) are also available options.
In combination with these treatments, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can play a supportive role in improving fertility.
The Impact of Nutrition on Female Fertility
Being in good overall health is an essential component of female fertility. Body weight is one factor that plays a role in overall health, and it is associated with fertility. Underweight individuals and overweight individuals may experience issues with conceiving. Additionally, certain nutrients and diets can play a role in overall fertility.
The vitamins and minerals that we get through our diet are known as micronutrients. These play a role in molecular processes in our bodies and are essential for overall health. These can have an impact on proper egg maintenance, release, and maintenance of healthy reproductive organs.
The main vitamins of interest that have been shown to play a role in promoting fertility are:
- Folate or folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
The major minerals that have been shown to be involved in promoting fertility are:
Folate or folic acid
Folate — also known as folic acid or vitamin B9 — is involved in many cellular and molecular processes. Of note, it plays a role in producing new DNA when cells are dividing. This is important during pregnancy because the cells of the embryo divide quickly to develop into a fetus.
Some studies have found that increasing the folate you consume through supplementation makes it less likely that you will have a spontaneous abortion. There is debate, however, on the recommended amount to take.
Folate supplementation can also prevent neural tube developmental defects.
Folate has also been shown to increase ovulation and improve the ability to conceive naturally and with IVF. It is usually recommended to women who are starting to try to conceive.
Vitamin D plays a role in egg maturation, and vitamin D deficiency has been proposed as a possible cause for PCOS, a hormonal cause of infertility.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any conclusive studies that show that increasing vitamin D intake improves any form of fertility. The best way to improve levels of vitamin D is to spend time in the sun and supplementation is also an option.
Vitamin C plays an essential role in the production of proteins and neurotransmitters in the brain. It also helps eggs to mature and be released from the ovaries. It has been shown to help fertility attempts in conjunction with hormonal medication. It also may improve the success of ART attempts such as IVF.
Iodine plays a role in stimulating the production of certain thyroid hormones. Iodine deficiency can be linked to problems with conditions of the thyroid, which in turn can cause problems with fertility. Iodine supplementation has been shown to help some unexplained causes of infertility.
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in various physiological processes within the body. One of its crucial functions is facilitating the transfer of oxygen to body tissues through the bloodstream. Adequate iron levels are necessary for maintaining overall health, and they also have implications for fertility.
Anemia is a condition where there is an iron deficiency in the blood. Anemia can cause loss of a period and ovulation. Supplementing with iron has been shown to increase fertility.
Selenium is used in the body to make the building blocks of essential proteins. Autoimmune disorders that affect the thyroid can negatively impact fertility. Selenium can positively affect the thyroid; however, more studies are needed to know if selenium truly can improve female fertility.
The most significant part of any diet is macronutrient intake. Macronutrients include:
For individuals trying to become pregnant, taking particular notice of the type of macronutrients you consume is incredibly important.
Sugars and complex carbohydrates, like bread and pasta, serve as essential fuel sources for your body's cells. This is important for your own physiology but also for embryo maturation and growth. However, carbohydrates also raise the sugar levels in your bloodstream. Some carbohydrates cause a significant increase in blood sugar compared to the amount consumed.
Carbohydrates that are broken down quickly to release sugar into the bloodstream are considered to have a high glycemic index. Glycemic load combines the glycemic index of a food with the amount of total carbohydrates being ingested. Both play a role in health and fertility.
In general, carbohydrates that have more simple sugars, are more refined, and have less dietary fiber release sugars in your bloodstream at a faster rate. Studies have shown that there is a relationship between the amount of carbohydrates consumed, especially those that are metabolized quickly, and poor ovulation fertility.
Including complex carbohydrates — less refined and containing more dietary fiber — and less overall consumption of carbohydrates can be useful for stimulating ovulation in individuals with PCOS. Be mindful of this while planning your diet during your fertility journey.
Fats are crucial for cell structure, separating the inside and outside of cells and aiding in protein transport. However, not all fats are equal when it comes to fertility.
Consuming high amounts of trans fats has been associated with infertility issues like ovulation problems and endometriosis, as indicated by some studies. It is best to minimize the intake of trans fats for optimal fertility.
On the other hand, including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet has shown positive effects on fertility. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to improved ovulation, ovary health, and success rates with assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Including food sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fatty fish, can be beneficial for promoting fertility.
Proteins are essential macronutrients that are required for proper cellular function. They play many roles in overall health. There is some debate over what sources of proteins are best for fertility. Animal proteins have had some associations with reduced ovulatory fertility, while plant proteins are generally associated with improved fertility — however, more studies need to be conducted for conclusive evidence.
Specific diets have been tested clinically to determine what combination of foods is beneficial for overall fertility.
The Fertility Diet
In a large cohort study that followed over 17,000 women over 8 years on their journey with fertility, the researchers found that certain dietary patterns result in a better chance of ovulatory fertility. The major dietary components included:
- More monounsaturated fats and fewer trans fats
- Less animal protein
- More vegan protein
- Less glycemic load
- Taking multivitamins
- Taking iron
- More servings of high-fat dairy and fewer servings of low-fat dairy
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a widely recognized dietary pattern that originated in the Mediterranean region, particularly in countries like Spain, Italy, and Greece. There have been a number of studies that have looked at the health benefits and fertility benefits of the Mediterranean diet; following this diet may reduce ovulation-related infertility and other causes of infertility.
- Eating lots of fruits and vegetables
- Eating lots of nuts and legumes
- Eating lots of bread and cereals
- Using olive oil as your main cooking fat
- Eating fish a few times per week
- Eating eggs, poultry, and dairy only a few times per week
- Rarely eating red meat or sweets
- Occasionally drinking red wine
What “Superfoods” Should I Eat To Increase Fertility?
We now have an understanding of the impact of micronutrients, macronutrients, and general dietary patterns on fertility. Because of this understanding, we can examine superfoods — highly nutrient-dense foods — that can help combat infertility.
Dark Green Vegetables
Leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables are excellent sources of micronutrients and macronutrients that are useful in combatting infertility. Some examples of dark green vegetables are:
- Swiss chard
- Bok choy
- Romaine lettuce
These vegetables contain high amounts of folate, iron, and dietary fiber. They have a low glycemic load and are essential components of the fertility and Mediterranean diets. Overall, these are fantastic foods to include in your diet.
Berries and citrus fruits are packed with nutrients that are vital for fertility. Some examples of nutrient-dense fruits to include in your diet are:
These fruits are filled with fiber and vitamin C, which play a role in lowering the glycemic index of other foods as they are digested, egg maturation, and overall successful fertility. Additionally, these are necessary elements of the fertility and Mediterranean diets.
Legumes and Whole Grains
Whole grains and legumes are rich in fiber, protein, iron, and selenium, making them valuable components of a healthy diet. Their low glycemic index is due to their high fiber content. These foods are key elements in both the fertility and Mediterranean diets, making them perfectly suitable for regular consumption.
Some examples of legumes include:
Some examples of whole grains include:
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Wild rice
- Brown rice
Fish are nutrient-dense foods, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron, and protein. These nutrients make them an essential part of a fertility-focused diet. However, larger, predatory fish like tuna and mackerel may contain environmental pollutants and heavy metals that build up in their fat. Instead, opt for smaller fish such as sardines and salmon for a well-balanced fertility-friendly diet.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are full of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, selenium, and iron.
Some examples of nuts and seeds include:
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Experiencing infertility can be frustrating. It can be caused by various factors, and while standard treatments exist, maintaining a healthy diet that includes specific, nutrient-dense foods can help support fertility.
Micronutrients like folate, vitamin D, vitamin C, iodine, iron, and selenium play important roles in ovulation, egg maturation and release, and IVF success. Macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats, and proteins also impact fertility. A diet low in refined carbohydrates and trans fats and high in omega-3 fatty acids may benefit overall fertility. Diets like the Fertility Diet and the Mediterranean Diet have also been associated with improved fertility outcomes.
Superfoods like dark green vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, nuts, and seeds provide essential nutrients for fertility. In conclusion, a balanced diet rich in micronutrients and macronutrients, along with adherence to fertility diets and incorporation of superfoods, can support fertility. Consultation with healthcare professionals or dietitians is recommended for personalized advice.