Many wonder about the optimal fertility diet when they start the process of trying to conceive. Our clients often wonder how the food they choose to eat or not eat affects their ability to have children. It is important to acknowledge that even the healthiest of diets cannot cure certain causes of infertility in men and women. For example, if a man’s sperm suffers from low motility and cannot reach the egg to fertilize it, no amount of dietary changes will resolve the issue. Fortunately, there are fertility treatments that can address these types of issues, under the guidance of a specialist.
That being said, the effect of a healthy diet on fertility is meaningful. Multiple studies, including a recent piece published from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), have assessed the links between nutrition choices and infertility.
Here are 5 commonly asked questions when it comes to nutrition for fertility.
1. When do I start my prenatal and which one should I take?
If you are thinking about getting pregnant or starting fertility treatment in the next few months, begin taking a prenatal vitamin now (or at least 1 month prior to pregnancy). It’s never too soon to start. You may be getting vitamins and nutrients from your diet, but taking a prenatal vitamin is a way to make sure you are giving your body specifically what it needs to support a healthy pregnancy. There are A LOT of brands and options when it comes to prenatal vitamins. ACOG recommends finding a prenatal with at least 400 mcg of folic acid. You should also consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid (DHA) supplement, if it is not included in your prenatal. (Pro tip: Once you choose and purchase your prenatal vitamin, don’t forget to read the dosing instructions on the label. Not all prenatals are one a day!)
2. Do I need to change my diet to boost my fertility?
This depends on your current diet and lifestyle choices. We believe moderation is very important. If anything in your life seems to be extreme, it’s worth reexamining and possibly making some changes. The ASRM piece mentioned above discusses the effects of lifestyle and diet on fertility, but also recognizes the need for more robust research. When it comes to diet, adopting a healthy, anti-inflammatory “Mediterranean” diet is a great place to start. Begin by increasing your intake of folate rich dark leafy greens, vegetables and fruit, whole grains, low-mercury fish, avocados, and olive oil, and limiting processed foods, refined sugar and highly processed meats. (Pro tip: In the grocery store look for grass-fed meat, wild salmon, and cage-free eggs.)
Water may seem obvious, but now’s the time to buy that 32-oz water bottle and start filling it up throughout the day. Most of us are VERY dehydrated. You’ll be amazed by how good you feel with proper hydration. Maybe so much so that you won’t need that afternoon coffee. (Pro tip: Experts recommend drinking ½ oz – 1 oz of water per pound of bodyweight throughout the day. For example, if you weigh 140lbs, you should aim to drink between 70 & 140 oz of water throughout the day, depending on your activity level and the type of climate you live in.) Having these habits in place may not only assist in improving fertility, but also set you up for a smoother transition into a healthy pregnancy.
3. Why is folate or folic acid so important to nutrition for fertility?
Public health organizations such as ACOG and the CDC unanimously recommend taking a folic acid supplement in pregnancy. Studies have shown folic acid supplements resulting in adequate blood folate levels significantly reduce the risk of birth defects of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects. The neural tube closes just 4 weeks after conception (2 weeks after a missed period and positive pregnancy test!) which is why it is important to start folic acid supplements even before pregnancy begins.
While folate and folic acid are terms that are frequently used interchangeably, it is important to note folate refers to a naturally occurring source, while folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. Naturally occurring folate can be found in a diet rich in fortified cereal, enriched bread and pasta, peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, orange juice and beans. There are two reasons why folic acid is the recommended choice. First, it can be difficult to get enough folate from your diet, which is why both the CDC and ACOG recommend starting with at least 400 mcg of folic acid daily at least one month prior to conception. (Pro tip: Talk to your OB or fertility doctor. They may recommend a larger dose of folic acid depending on your medical history.)
And second, scientific studies have primarily focused on the effects folic acid has on decreasing neural tube defects. While folate may have the same effect as folic acid, it hasn’t been studied as extensively to date. For further reading, we recommend this article from the CDC for more information on the types of folate found in supplements and why the current recommendation is folic acid.
4. I’ve been hearing about CoQ10. What is it? Should I take it?
CoQ what?! Perhaps you’ve heard about it nonstop or you have no idea what we are talking about. CoQ10 is an antioxidant that your body produces naturally. When used in supplement form, it could improve your fertility – specifically, sperm and egg quality! It may be recommended by your doctor or acupuncturist, especially for women over age 35, to make up for the natural decline in CoQ10 as we age. Women preparing to go through fertility treatments may see improved egg quality from starting a CoQ10 supplement 60-90 days prior to treatment (and typically discontinued once pregnant). While CoQ10 is still being studied, the general consensus in the fertility world is that it may help improve fertility but can’t hurt. A 2018 study found that a group of women who took CoQ10 ahead of their fertility treatment had higher quality embryos, due to improved ovarian response. As always, speak with your physician prior to starting any supplements.
5. Do I need extra Vitamin D?
Good old vitamin D, something us New Yorkers really miss, especially during those long winter months. Vitamin D is an essential nutrient and crucial in pregnancy. It promotes the absorption of calcium, helping mom and baby’s skin, eyesight, bones and teeth. Vitamin D levels can be boosted by going for a 10-30 minute walk outside on a sunny day, but also can be found naturally occurring in foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolks and fortified milk. If you think you could be Vitamin D deficient (many of us are!), let your OB know at your preconception visit so she can test your levels. Your prenatal vitamin will contain some Vitamin D, but depending on your levels, you may be advised to take an extra supplement.
Still have questions? Our team would love to support you as you build your family. Reach out to us via the contact form to get started.