Can Foods Increase Your Fertility?Amy Bell
You know it’s wise to eat healthy, but did you know certain foods are believed to boost your chances for getting pregnant?
We all know that we’re supposed to cut back on alcohol and try to eat the recommended portions of all the major food groups when trying to conceive, but a faction of people believe there’s more: that specific foods can actually boost your fertility. Doctors, scientists, dietitians, herbalists, and organic food supporters are all touting the power of food in fertility.
If you and your husband have been trying for months to conceive without success, you may begin to wonder if you’re doing something wrong or start asking yourself questions such as, “Is my ovulation cycle off?”, “Are we having enough sex?”, “Are my husband’s ‘swimmers’ too weak?”, “Am I too stressed out?” or “Could it have something to do with that nuclear power plant in my backyard?” Although aspiring mothers seem to worry about nearly everything under the sun when it comes to making babies, one of the last things they tend to consider is diet.
The Disturbing Stats
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven percent of couples who tried to conceive in 2002 had problems getting pregnant—meaning they had been trying for a year or longer without success. Although a large portion of couples struggle with conception due to low sperm count, ovulatory problems, and endometriosis, a significant number of infertility cases are simply deemed as unexplained. This unsolved fertility mystery is what has provoked several nutritionists and doctors to take a closer look at dietary factors.
Miracle Fertility Foods?
There are countless conflicting opinions when it comes to fertility-boosting foods. Some studies point to zinc as the magic fertility bullet. This type of research claims that the consumption of at least 15 mg of zinc a day can increase semen and testosterone production in men and ovulation and fertility in women, report the editors at Fertility.com. Zinc plays a positive role in female fertility by promoting proper cell division, a process critical to the earliest stages of conception and fetal development. Similarly, in male reproduction zinc may well be necessary for adequate testosterone levels and sperm counts. Oysters, chicken, beef, crab, and turkey are all good sources of zinc.
However, while zinc is known throughout the medical community as a helpful mineral that keeps reproductive systems in good working order, no studies show that downing a dozen oysters or gobbling up a 20-pound turkey every day will transform you into a baby-making factory. As a matter of fact, taking excessive amounts of any type of vitamins or minerals can decrease fertility.
Then there are the coffee advocates. A couple of studies suggest that when some men drink coffee before sex, their sperm becomes more energetic. Because sluggish sperm is a primary cause of male infertility, java fans believe coffee could be the answer to their conception problems.
On the other hand, a study conducted by Yale University School of Medicine claims that the risk of reduced fertility is higher in women who consume caffeine—especially in women who drink more than three cups off coffee a day. So don’t join your man when he indulges in a cup of coffee before a baby-making session—if you choose to believe this somewhat contradictory research, that is.
A number of nutritionists also believe that apricots, clams, shrimp, prunes, and tofu can enhance your fertility due to their high levels of iron. Some studies indicate that women with low iron reserves are less likely to conceive, so many people assume that consuming more iron must increase fertility. These fertility food advocates also say this rule holds true for foods containing vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, and calcium.
Separating Fact from Fiction
Although there are many fertility-boosting food believers out there, many nutritionists don’t buy the notion that eating certain foods ensures you’ll be a mother within the next year. However, dietitians and nutritionists do recommend a balanced diet complete with all of the necessary nutrients.
Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist and national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, doesn’t believe that specific foods can increase a man or woman’s fertility. On the other hand, Sass says, “An overall balanced diet can help greatly.” She explains, “Studies have shown that being overweight is linked to infertility, as well as following a too restrictive diet or a diet deficient in key nutrients such as zinc. Researchers at the University of Adelaide have found that diet and exercise changes can help women struggling with infertility become pregnant.”
Rather than focusing on specific types of food, Sass explains that women struggling with getting pregnant should seek out a healthier diet in general. “An optimal diet will best support the functioning of every system in the body, including the reproductive system. This means eating the right number of calories to support ideal weight, and choosing mostly nutrient-rich foods with treats in moderation.”
Sheila Dean, a registered and licensed dietitian and exercise physiologist in Palm Harbor, Florida, agrees with this well-balanced diet approach for women trying to conceive. She says, “In general, the healthier your diet, the better your nutritional status, which in turn leads to healthier body functions, including that of fertility and conception.”
Dean also emphasizes that would-be mothers need to “increase the nutrients your body begs for through eating a nutritious diet and possibly taking supplements under the supervision of a nutritionist—it’s these very nutrients that help our body to detoxify and stay healthy and fertile.”
Sass agrees, saying, “I think it’s important for people to see the big picture of nutrition. There are no superfoods—it’s our overall diet and consistent balance that optimize health.”
So, don’t let the inconsistent research confuse you. The goal is to strive for a balanced diet full of healthy nutrients when you’re trying to conceive. If this doesn’t work and you’ve been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, you should definitely make an appointment with your OB-GYN to explore other possible problems.