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You may have seen the cover of Newsweek recently with an article on diet and fertility. While that article fully supported a new book called The Fertility Diet by Harvard Medical School researchers, others are skeptical of the research presented in the book. One interesting recommendation they have is to eat more high fat dairy foods, such as ice cream. I remember reading a study about this, and it happened to be authored by these same Harvard researchers. Diet studies are difficult to do because people eat so many different foods and it is hard to know what they ate that really had an impact on what you are studying. I find it hard to believe that ice cream will increase fertility and low fat dairy foods will decrease fertility. Surely there were other factors that may have had an influence.
We (medical community) do not really know what causes infertility and what can really boost fertility, especially in the diet. Limited research exists on this topic, but I think there are some factors that are pretty well accepted.
- Smoking decreases fertility in men (decreased sperm count) and women
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being underweight can be just as detrimental on hormone levels and suppressing ovulation as being overweight.
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Being overweight can make it much harder for women to get pregnant. Even losing 5-10% of your body weight may help increases your chances of conceiving. You will also have a much healthier pregnancy if you are not overweight or obese.
- Stress can affect hormones in both men and women, suppressing ovulation or decreasing viable sperm.
- Pesticides can affect sperm count and quality and may affect a woman's eggs. Choose organic and wash all produce well.
- Sleep can cause leptin levels to fall which has been linked to infertility in women
- High mercury levels in the blood from eating too much high mercury fish can cause infertility in men and women
- A healthy diet is vital. We know that folic acid is necessary for prevention of neural tube defects once you are pregnant, but it may also help increase fertility in men and women.
- Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E, and selenium can help fertility in men and women. Eat your fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.
- Other nutrients like iron, zinc, B-6, B-12, and magnesium are also important for conception. Men and women who are trying to get pregnant should take a multivitamin with minerals every day in addition to eating a well-balanced diet including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and dairy.