Research from the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the largest and longest-running studies of women’s health in America, shows that what you eat, how active you are, and other lifestyle choices can stack the reproductive deck in your favor, especially if trouble with ovulation—the maturation or release of a mature egg each month—is at the root of your problems conceiving.
What We Know about Health
It is common knowledge that what you eat and how you live affect the health of your heart and blood vessels, your chances of developing certain kinds of cancer, your eyesight, the strength of your bones, and more. It only makes sense that diet and health affect the ability to get pregnant and stay pregnant. After all, reproduction is just one of many systems in the body, all of them subject to similar rules and influences.
What is astonishing is that this is news. While millions upon millions of dollars have been spent developing and perfecting reproductive technologies, almost no attention has been paid to connections between diet and fertility. This oversight speaks volumes about medicine in America—a laserlike focus on drugs, devices, or procedures that can generate revenue and often total disregard for self-help measures that anyone can do for free.
Farmers, ranchers, and animal scientists know more about how nutrition affects fertility in cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and other commercially important animals than fertility experts know about how it affects reproduction in humans. To be sure, hints are scattered across medical journals. But there have been few systematic studies of this crucial connection in people.
We set out to change this sad state of affairs with the help of more than 18,000 female nurses from all across the United States. These women are part of the Nurses’ Health Study. They have provided information on their health, including pregnancies, miscarriages, and infertility, along with detailed records of their diets, physical activity, smoking habits, and other practices. All told, the women in the fertility study have contributed more than 80 million bits of data.