By: Camryn Murray, Winthrop University Nutrition Student
Infertility is a term that refers to a couple or individual that has failed to conceive a child within the first year of attempting to. In the United States, 15% of couples will have difficulty with conception, and infertility treatments can range from $5,000 to $73,000. Birth rates and fertility rates are continuing to decrease, with a 5-10% increase in couples utilizing artificial reproductive therapy (ART) per year. Infertility is caused by a number of factors in both men and women, so how can people attempt to increase their chances of conceiving without breaking the bank?
What causes infertility?
There is not one thing that causes infertility, but rather a myriad of different things that can create poor conditions for reproduction.
● Ovulation issues. Conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) can contribute
● Reproductive abnormalities. Cysts, scar tissue, blocked fallopian tubes, or other things can hurt fertility. Even things such as cancer treatment or extreme trauma could affect the reproductive organs, causing infertility
● Older conception ages. Many women are now waiting until their late 20’s to early 30’s to attempt to bear children
● Male infertility. Usually from improperly working testicles or conditions like varicocele
● Low sperm quality. From health conditions like diabetes, structural issues like premature ejaculation, or genetic defects
● Environmental exposures. Toxic chemicals and pesticides can have an effect on fertility
● Unhealthy weight. Obesity, unhealthy weight, and poor diet can decrease fertility levels
● Psychological issues. Research shows that a large majority of women who suffer from infertility have struggled with stressful conditions like anxiety and depression
Fertility and Diet
A recent systematic review from Harvard shows that the following factors have positive effects on female fertility:
● Vitamin B12: organ meats, seafood, beef, fortified cereals, dairy products, eggs
● Folic acid: dark leafy greens, beans, whole grains, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds, liver
● Omega-3 fatty acids: flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, fatty seafood like salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, and caviar
● Healthy diets (like Mediterranean diet) and following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025
The same review showed that the following foods had a negative effect on fertility in both men and women:
● Trans fat and saturated fat: red and processed meats, coconut oil, processed goods, butter
● Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks
Many doctors recommend that women begin taking a prenatal vitamin 1 month before they begin to attempt pregnancy, and they suggest going to a preconception visit with their physician to talk about stopping any necessary medications and ways to optimize their chance of getting pregnant. Research shows that being underweight or overweight increases the chance of complications and infertility, so try to maintain a healthy weight while trying to conceive; underweight being described as a body mass index (BMI) of below 20 kg/m2 and overweight being above 30 kg/m2. You may also speak to a dietitian that specializes in fertility for further guidance on supplementation and what to avoid taking in excess, like vitamin A, which can harm a developing fetus. Lastly, make sure to eat a balanced diet that is rich in healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals!
Panth N, Gavarkovs A, Tamez M, Mattei J. The influence of diet on fertility and the implications for Public Health Nutrition in the United States. Frontiers in Public Health. 2018;6. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2018.00211
Robert H. Shmerling MD, Alison Shmerling MD. Fertility and diet: Is there a connection? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fertility-and-diet-is-there-a-connection-2018053113949. Published November 3, 2020. Accessed November 18, 2022.
Walsh M. Infertility statistics 2022: How many couples are affected by infertility? The Checkup. https://www.singlecare.com/blog/news/infertility-statistics/. Published February 15, 2022. Accessed November 18, 2022.