Infertility affects 7.3 million people in the U.S, representing 12% of women of childbearing age, or 1 in 8 couples. Medical advancements in the field have sought to correct infertility anomalies, some with staggering results. For instance, we reported last month how an Australian infertile woman became the first person to get pregnant through ovarian tissue transplant in the abdomen. Most infertility interventions are far from being this extreme though, with approximately 85-90% of infertility cases treated with drug therapy or surgical procedures. Fewer than 3% need advanced reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
According to dietitians at Loyola University Health System (LUHS), in some cases drug or invasive therapies for infertile women can be avoided simply by watching what you eat.
"Establishing a healthy eating pattern and weight is a good first step for women who are looking to conceive," said Brooke Schantz, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, LUHS. "Not only will a healthy diet and lifestyle potentially help with fertility, but it also may influence fetal well-being and reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy."
One of the main infertility causes is attributed to weight, since as much as thirty percent of infertility is due to either being overweight or underweight, according to the National Infertility Association. Weight differences cause hormonal unbalance, which can affect ovulation. According to the LUHS researchers, even a 5% reducing in weight for overweight women can enhance fertility.
Schantz recommends the following additional nutrition tips for women who are looking to conceive:
- Reduce intake of foods with trans and saturated fats while increasing intake of monounsaturated fats, such as avocados and olive oil
- Lower intake of animal protein and add more vegetable protein to your diet
- Add more fiber to your diet by consuming whole grains, vegetables and fruit
- Incorporate more vegetarian sources of iron such as legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and whole grains
- Consume high-fat dairy instead of low-fat dairy
- Take a regular women’s multivitamin
Men play a vital role in reproduction, but it's easy to forget infertility affects them as well, closely following woman infertility in margins. Approximately 40 percent of infertility issues are attributed to men, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Among them is low sperm count and poor sperm motility, which are common in overweight and obese men.
“Men who are looking to have a baby also have a responsibility to maintain a healthy body weight and consume a balanced diet, because male obesity may affect fertility by altering testosterone and other hormone levels,” Schantz said.