When my husband and I began discussing the possibility of having children, we initially decided to wait a year to take advantage of our child-free lives. Then one night, after a few glasses of wine, we threw caution to the wind. At the time, I didn’t know anything about fertility. I didn’t realize that it would have been biologically impossible for me to get pregnant that night because I had already ovulated earlier in the month.
When I found out that I wasn’t pregnant a few days later, I panicked. I wondered: What if I have endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome or blocked fallopian tubes? I began to research infertility—and I was stunned by what I found.
Last year, American women spent upwards of $4,000,000,000 on fertility treatments. A typical round of IVF carries a price tag of $15,000, and with a success rate of 20 to 30 percent per round, many hopeful parents undergo multiple rounds before conceiving a child. As a result, America’s (in)fertility industry is booming.
By some accounts, fertility treatments are a modern medical miracle. Couples who may not have been able to conceive without medical intervention are now meeting their biological offspring. This may sound like a happy ending—and often is, for those who can afford it—but there is more to the story. Because the industry benefits financially from infertility, there is little to no motivation to promote free, natural methods to improve fertility. Given the industry’s fierce drive for profit, some experts speculate that too many women are offered invasive fertility treatments before they receive any counseling about how to alter their diets, lifestyles, and behaviors in order to conceive naturally.
As I began to learn more about fertility, I wanted to know the answer to a simple question: How can I improve my chances of conceiving a baby quickly and naturally? I never wanted to experience the fear of infertility again. Like many couples, when we decided we were ready to get pregnant, we wanted to get pregnant as soon as possible.
My husband and I agreed to spend a few months focused on health before trying to conceive again. We cut back on caffeine, stopped drinking alcohol, and cooked more healthy meals together. A few months later, when we tried again—this time, officially—we got pregnant immediately. Was it chance that we conceived the first month we actively tried? Or did our dietary and lifestyle changes make the difference?
American women are facing unprecedented rates of infertility. The number of couples unable to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse has risen from 1 in 10 couples to 1 in 6 couples. Can our rising infertility rates be fully explained by the delayed age of first marriages and first pregnancies? The answer is unclear, but at least one puzzle piece is within your control: your diet.
As scientists have long agreed, fertility is an important marker of health in the animal kingdom. When an environment is inhospitable to new life—due to famine, environmental pollutants, or other concerns—a series of biological chain reactions take place and animals are unable to procreate. Fertility, then, is not only important when a couple is trying to conceive; it’s an important indication of personal health.
What dietary changes can you make to improve your chances of conceiving a baby quickly and naturally?
Note: The tips below apply to both men and women. Women: You were born with all of the eggs you will ever have, so your lifelong habits are especially critical to the health of your future children. Most sources estimate that diet and lifestyle changes take about 3 to 6 months to impact ovulation, menstrual regularity, and fertility, so plan to make these changes half a year or more before you begin trying to conceive. Men: The most recent studies suggest that the lifecycle of your sperm is just 74-90 days, so be sure to implement fertility-friendly dietary changes at least 3 months before you and your partner hope to conceive.
The Fertility Diet:
15 Tips To Help You Conceive Quickly And Naturally
1. Eliminate soy (including soy products, like tofu) and corn (including corn products) from your diet. Thanks to powerful biotechnology corporations like Monsanto, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are extremely prevalent in the U.S., but they have never been proven safe—that’s why the European Union has banned many of them. Current studies clearly link GMOs to reproductive health issues and infertility. Worse, some animal studies suggest that the side effects of GMOs are cumulative across generations, meaning that the daughters and granddaughters of today’s GMO-consuming mothers will experience the harshest effects. Since 94% of soy is genetically modified and 88% of corn is genetically modified, you can eliminate a majority of genetically GMOs from your diet simply by cutting out soy and corn. If you do choose to eat soy and corn, make sure they are always organic. Remember, the current generation of reproductive-age women is the first generation ever to try to conceive while consuming GMO food; our own mothers did not grow up eating GMOs. Do you really want to be Big Agra’s guinea pig?
2. Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption. Did you know that men who consume two or more alcoholic drinks per day produce fewer sperm? In fact, the sperm that these men do produce are often deformed. Fertility doctors refer to these two-headed or two-tailed sperm as “sloppy swimmers” because they are unlikely to be strong enough to make the journey to the egg. Sadly, if they do reach the egg, the pregnancy is more likely to end in miscarriage. Like alcohol, caffeine seems to impair sperm in a similar way. Fortunately, most healthy men produce many, many sperm in the biological hopes that the healthiest sperm will reach the egg. However, for women, who generally release only one egg each month, limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine while trying to conceive is even more important. A study of Danish couples found that women who drank five or fewer drinks per week had a harder time getting pregnant than women who didn’t drink at all. Other studies have found that consuming alcohol can change a woman’s ovulation pattern, delaying or even halting ovulation altogether. The bottom line: A healthy egg and healthy sperm are requirements for conception, so if you want to get pregnant quickly, it’s a no-brainer: cut back on caffeine and alcohol.
3. Avoid processed foods and “natural flavors.” Always, always read ingredients. If you can’t identify every ingredient on a label, do not put that Frankenfood into your mouth. Just what are “natural flavors”? 60 Minutes recently answered that question with a fascinating video, which you can watch on their website. So-called “natural” flavors are actually a concoction of chemicals that “give an impression” and “mimic the taste and smell” of real food. Since the flavor industry has come of age only recently, you can be sure that our mothers did not consume these chemicals. There are already enough dangerous, fertility-disrupting chemicals in our environment—in non-stick pans, cleaning products, plastics, flame retardants, personal care products, and pesticides—so keep them out of your stomach!
4. Consume dairy from organic, whole milk sources—never non-fat. This is a big one, especially for women! In fact, this is probably one of the easiest-to-fix diet-related causes of anovulation (not ovulating, and therefore skipping periods). A famous Harvard study found that women who ate two or more servings of low-fat or non-fat dairy per day, like skim milk or yogurt, had an 85 percent increased risk of infertility when compared with women who ate the same amount of dairy from whole-fat sources. Here’s the science behind it: “To prepare low- and non-fat dairy, whole milk is spun at high speeds to separate the fat from the water. Hormones separate differently according to their preference for fat. Estrogen and progesterone prefer fat, so when milk is being separated, those hormones go into that fat layer. Androgens, insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1), prolactin, and male hormones prefer the watery layer — hence a glass of skim or low-fat milk gives you more male hormones and fewer female hormones.” How creepy is that?! So next time you’re making oatmeal, skip the water or skim milk, and use whole milk instead. Eating fruit? Mix in some unsweetened organic whole fat yogurt and drizzle with maple syrup or honey. The good news: Women who eat one full-fat serving of dairy every day are 50 percent less likely to experience anovulation than women who consume full-fat dairy only once a week.
5. Eat organic, pastured eggs including the yolks. Experts agree: Eggs are a reproductive health superfood. In traditional Chinese medicine, eggs have a long history as a fertility booster, energizer, and blood strengthener. Did you know that too little cholesterol can actually cause fertility issues? Perhaps this is where those Chinese traditions stem from. But not all eggs are created equal: Pastured eggs, which come from hens that are raised on pasture unlike factory hens fed GMO grains, contain up to 20 times more healthy omega-3 fatty acids than eggs from factory hens. Scrambled, fried, hard-boiled, chopped on top of a spinach salad—the possibilities are endless!
6. Eat high-quality, 100% grass-fed red meat. Did you know that vegans have just one fifth the chance of giving birth to twins? Although the causation is not yet fully understood, studies suggest that women who consume animal products have higher rates of either ovulation or embryo survival. Of course, grass-fed red meat is very different from farm-raised, hormone-filled, corn-fed red meat, so seek out the healthiest red meat you can afford. A McDonald’s hamburger and a 100% grass-fed beef patty are not the same. Also be sure to consume animal products like organic, cage-free eggs and whole milk dairy products. Protein is one of the building blocks of human life. Are you getting enough?
7. Up your antioxidants. You can eat all the organic meat and dairy in the world, but if you’re not getting enough produce in your diet, your diet won’t be balanced. Antioxidants—found at particularly high levels in fresh berries—protect a woman’s eggs from damage and aging. Similarly, studies have shown that men who consume more Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and beta-carotene—all of which are found in colorful fruits and veggies—produce sperm with less age-related DNA damage. So don’t forget your fruits and veggies!
8. Eat the right fish. Weekly consumption of fish is linked to a host of health benefits. Unfortunately, as our world and oceans become more polluted, it’s important that women do not eat fish indiscriminately. Although I don’t generally recommend vitamins and supplements when food will do the trick, many people sing the praises of fish oil supplements and Nordic Naturals consistently receives high ratings for their fish oil supplements. Still, at Wellness and Equality, we prefer real foods to supplements, so choose fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury whenever possible. Aim for one or more servings of wild-caught, low mercury fish per week. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for the brains of developing fetuses, and as they say, it’s best to nourish the soil before planting the seed. Click here to view an infographic that can help you make sense of all the choices.
9. Eat oysters. Have you heard the old wives’ tale about oysters as aphrodisiac? It just might be true, but there’s more to the story! Zinc, which is a fertility-friendly mineral, is mainly found in oysters. In fact, zinc deficiencies are sometimes the culprit in ovulation issues, irregular periods, and uterine fibroids. Though oysters offer the most concentrated source of zinc, zinc is also found in peas, lima beans, maple syrup, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and whole-milk dairy products.
10. Eat Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, and peanuts. Eating just 2 to 3 Brazil nuts per day can significantly increase levels of selenium in your body, which has been nicknamed “the fertility mineral.” That said, too much selenium can cause a variety of side effects, so there’s no need to eat more than a few Brazil nuts per day. As for almonds, cashews, and peanuts, feel free to enjoy them by the handful! Just be sure you purchase nuts that have been properly prepared, or soak them yourself.
11. Eat sweet potatoes. This one is just for a bit of fun! The Yoruba tribe in Nigeria, West Africa has the highest rate of twinning in the world, with 45 pairs of twins per every 1,000 births, and scientists have speculated that their yam-heavy diet is responsible. Wild yams contain phytoestrogen, an estrogen compound that may increase follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and induce higher rates of ovulation. Now, you would probably have to consume wild yams at an impossible rate to make a true difference, but there’s certainly no harm in consuming this healthy, Vitamin A-rich root vegetable.
*** Many OBGYNs recommend that women take a high-quality multivitamin or prenatal vitamin for several months before trying to conceive, especially women who have ever taken oral contraceptives, which have been shown to deplete vitamin stores. The final four tips below are particularly important for women who have taken oral contraceptives, but may be helpful to any woman. ***
12. Consume foods rich in folate. The well-established fact that oral contraceptive pills deplete the body’s stores of folic acid, fat-soluble vitamins, and other nutrients is one of many reasons why most OBGYNs recommend waiting a few months to get pregnant after stopping the pill—that is, to replenish those depleted stores. Folate is an extremely important fertility nutrient because a lack of folate can cause serious birth defects. Like any nutrient, folate is best consumed as a food, rather than as a supplement, whenever possible. It can be found in dark leafy greens, nuts, liver, and chicken. If you are taking prenatals in advance of a pregnancy, seek out a vitamin that contains folate, not folic acid.
13. Consume foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins like D, K, E, and A, which can also be depleted by years of oral contraceptive use, help to support the production of estrogen and other hormones important to fertility. Fat-soluble vitamins D and K2 are found in egg yolks, butter, liver, and wild salmon. Vitamin E, which may normalize hormone production, is found in butter from grass-fed cows, olives and unrefined olive oil, palm oils, avocado, and almonds. The essential Vitamin A is best consumed from animal sources like organ meats, butter, cream, cod liver oil and eggs, but can also be absorbed from plant sources like carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach and collard greens.
14. Consume foods rich in B vitamins. Oral contraceptives have a confusing impact on Vitamin B levels. Vitamin B6, which balances estrogen and progesterone and aids in reproductive health, can be found in meat and starchy fruits and vegetables, including potatoes and bananas. Vitamin B12, which is also impacted by oral contraceptives, is another important hormone balancer and can be found in grass-fed red meat, poultry, wild-caught fish, shellfish, eggs, and whole-milk dairy products.
15. Consume foods rich in iron. Last but not least, iron is another key for women’s reproductive health. Humans absorb iron best when it comes from animal sources like eggs, salmon, tuna, beef, dark chicken meat, and pork.
For a healthier pregnancy, nourish the soil before planting the seed. Improve your health before you begin trying to conceive. Your commitment to health before and during pregnancy is one of the most important gifts you can give to your unborn child. The benefits of a healthy pregnancy continue not only throughout your unborn child’s life, but also into the lives of future generations.
In our culture, we spend a lot of time talking about how to avoid pregnancy. Let’s change the conversation and teach women about how to keep their bodies healthy. Clearly, the success of America’s fertility industry confirms that women are craving information about their bodies, conception, fertility, and health. If you know a woman—a daughter, a friend, a sister—who may try to conceive in the future, please share this article with her.
Wishing you and your loved ones prosperity!