There are numerous studies demonstrating that specific changes to the diet can improve fertility, prevent recurrent miscarriage and support a healthy pregnancy.
Whilst a healthy, nutrient rich, balanced diet is important for all aspects of our health there are some nutrients that have been specifically shown to have a direct impact on fertility.
Read on to find out which foods really pack a the fertility boosting punch.
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which together with other carotenoids was found to boost male fertility in a recent study (1). Carotene intake was associated with sperm that moved faster and the association was higher if the intake came from food rather than supplement. In women, beta carotene is required by the corpus luteum (ruptured ovarian follicule that produces progesterone to thicken the womb lining, close the cervix and maintain a pregnancy) and is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells, (including both egg and sperm) from damage. Sweet potato is such a versatile food. Bake it, roast it with garlic and rosemary, or add it to soups or curries.
Eggs are a very nutritious food – they are an excellent source of protein, rich in essential fats and they contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Eggs are rich in choline is a vitamin like substance that works together with the b vitamins. It is an essential nutrient that can be manufactured in your body in small amounts, but the majority must be obtained in your diet(2). A higher intake of choline in pregnancy has, like folic acid, been found to be associated with a lower risk of neural tube defects as well(3). Choline also helps to prevent elevated homocysteine levels. Boil, Poach or scramble them, make an omelette or a frittata they make a great breakfast with a slice of wholemeal toast, a light lunch or dinner, or even a snack.
Asparagus is rich in folic acid. A higher intake of folic acid prior to conception and during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of conditions collectively known as neural tube defects such as spina bifida or Anencephaly. Folic acid is also essential for preventing elevated homocysteine levels in the body. Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage(4).
Fertility benefits from asparagus are maximized when they are eaten almost raw or very lightly steamed. Asparagus salads or steamed asparagus are good ways of having asparagus in your meals.
This delicious, nutritious food is rich essential fats, protein, carbs and fibre. Avocados are also rich in vitamin E, a fat soluble antioxidant that helps protect cell membranes, supports, sperm health(6), and is thought to aid the sperms overall ability to penetrate the egg. Vitamin E has also been shown to increase the thickness endometrial lining (5) (the lining of the uterus) – a healthy lining is essential for a healthy pregnancy.
Use avocado in smoothies – it adds a delicious creamy texture, eat it with black pepper and a squeeze of lemon on wholegrain toast, or enjoy a side of guacamole with your dinner.
As well as being famous for being an aphrodisiac, oysters are rich in zinc, which is crucial for conception. Zinc is needed for sex hormone production and the production of healthy sperm. Higher zinc status is associated with increased count, motility and less abnormal sperm(7). Serve oysters with a dash of lemon juice, vinegar, seasoning or Tabasco sauce.
Beetroots are rich in nitrate s which are well known to improve blood flow and are often used by athletes for this purpose. Enhanced circulation and reduced blood pressure result from the conversion of dietary nitrate into nitric oxide. Nitric Oxide is an important vasodilator, which increases circulation throughout the body, including the uterus. It’s though that improving uterine blood flow may help to improve embryo implantation.
Roast beetroot, juice it, add it to smoothies or use it to sweeten soups.
Lemons are packed with Vitamin C, which is thought to improve sperm quality and stop them clumping together(8). Vitamin C is also thought to be involved in facilitating ovulation and in the formation of the corpus luteum. Supplementation with vitamin C was found to increase progesterone levels and aid fertility in women with luteal phase defect (9). Drink hot water with a squeeze of lemon first thing in the morning, use lemon in salad dressings or use it to season fish.
Brazil nuts are packed with selenium that have been shown to be very helpful for fertility. One study showed that Se supplementation given to infertile men increased sperm count, motility and number of normal sperm10. Furthermore, a deficiency of selenium is linked with an increased risk of miscarriage(11).
Eat brazil nuts as a snack – just 3-4 brazil nuts a day is enough to improve your selenium status.
Salmon is rich in omega 3 fats which are essential fats that cannot be made by the body so must be obtained from the diet. Omega 3 fats are critical for the regulation of hormone production, the health of our cell membranes. They are important in the prevention of inappropriate blood clotting – which can be beneficial in women who have recurrent miscarriages that have been linked to a clotting problem (12).
Stir fry salmon, bake in the oven with a pesto topping, make into fishcakes.
Zareba P, Colaci D, Afeiche M, Gaskins A, Jorgensen N, Mendiola J, Swan S, Chavarro J (2013)Semen quality in relation to intake in a healthy male population. Fertility & Sterility, 100:1572-1579.Linus Pauling Institute (n.d. ) Choline. Accessed: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/choline, 26th February 2016.Zeisel, et al. Importance of methyl donors during reproduction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009; 89( suppl):673S-677S.Nelen WL, Blom HJ, Steegers EA, et al. Homocysteine and folate levels as risk factors for recurrent early pregnancy loss. Obstet Gynecol 2000;95:519–24.Takasaki A, Tamura H, Miwa I, Taketani T, Shimamura K, Sugino N (April 2010). “Endometrial growth and uterine blood flow: a pilot study for improving endometrial thickness in the patients with a thin endometrium”. Fertil. Steril. 93 (6): 1851–8.Greco E, Romano S, Iacobelli M, et al. ICSI in cases of sperm DNA damage: beneficial effect of oral antioxidant treatment. Hum Reprod. 2005 Sep;20(9):2590-4.Omu A et al (2008) Indications of the mechanisms involved in improved sperm parameters by zinc therapy. Med Princ Pract, 17:108-116.Greco E et al., (2005) ICSI in cases of sperm DNA damage: beneficial effect of oral antioxidant treatment. Hum Reprod, 20(9):2590-4.Henmi e al. (2003)Effects of ascorbic acid supplementation on serum progesterone levels in patients with a luteal phase defect. Fertil Steril 90:459-61.Safarineiad MR, Safarineiad S(2009) Efficacy of selenium and/or N-acetyl-cysteine for improving semen parameters in infertile men: a double-blind, placebo controlled, randomized study.J Urol, 181(2):741-5.Al Kunani A (2001) The selenium status of women with a history or recurrent miscarriage. BJOG, 13: 1094-1097.Rossi E & Costa M (1993) Fish oil derivatives as a prophylaxis of recurrent miscarriage associated with antiphospholipid antibodies (APL): a pilot study. Lupus (1993) 2,5,319-323.