Fertility boosting foods: Do they exist?
Food as medicine?
Hippocrates, the great physician, famously said ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ – does this apply to fertility? Do fertility boosting foods exist?
The basis of any interaction between diet and fertility, according to Dr Isabel Santillán, medical director of Clínicas Eva, falls into one of two categories:
- Modulation of body fat percentage
- Incorporation of certain substances that can affect some aspect of fertility
Body fat and fertility
The relationship between body fat and fertility has been known for decades1 – investigation as early as 1987 concluded that body fat percentages above 26% may negatively influence fertility. Current recommendations use the BMI scale, which incorporates age, height, and weight to give a score and suggests that the optimal BMI for a woman who is trying to conceive is between 20-24.9.
For women with a BMI lower than 20 – though their score may fall in the ‘healthy’ range – it is likely that these individuals have a body fat percentage that is lower than recommended. BMIs of 25 or above indicate that an individual is overweight, which negatively impacts fertility. An additional measure of physical health is your waist measurement – a waist measurement of 80 cm or more should be taken as an indicator that weight loss is necessary2, for both your general health and fertility.
Cholesterol: the enemy of the fertility diet
Cholesterol levels are not only relevant to cardiovascular disease and strokes – high levels of cholesterol may impact your fertility.
An investigation3 by the National Institutes of Health (USA), found a link between high cholesterol concentrations in the blood, and success in trying to conceive. This research highlighted not only the relevance of this indicator in women, but also in men – concluding that:
‘Serum free cholesterol concentrations in both men and women have an effect on TTP [Time to pregnancy]’
Schisterman et al. (2014), p2786, conclusions
A healthy, balanced diet is key
The best advice that can be given to develop a fertility boosting diet is the same advice that should be given in planning any healthy, sustainable lifestyle:
- Minimise consumption of junk food (including excessive fat, sugar, and process foods)
- Eat more and varied fruit and vegetables
- Minimise consumption of alcohol
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water every day
Additionally, smoking significantly harms fertility in both men and women4, 5 and – should you become pregnant – can do serious damage to your unborn child.
A further possible link between diet and fertility is the relationship between the foods you eat and the microbial composition of the womb – the endometrial microbiome. This association is the subject of ongoing research6.
‘Miracle’ fertility boosting foods
In recent years, miraculous claims have been made about the fertility boosting qualities of everything from evening primrose oil, to concoctions derived from special Peruvian herbs.
The European Food Safety Authority has denounced multiple ‘miracle foods’ and we recommend sticking to the guidance of national health bodies and clinical experts. Taking unproven ‘supplements’ could have a negative effect on both your fertility and your health.
There is active research across a number of fields investigating many so-called fertility foods and their active ingredients, hoping to find causal links between diet and success trying to conceive.
An example of a well-documented and proven supplement is folic acid. Folic acid is known to reduce the risk of birth defects during development and folic acid supplementation prior to conception is beneficial to fertility7 .
Until evidence for any specific food or supplement has been thoroughly reviewed, we recommend:
The best fertility boosting diet involves eating a healthy, balanced diet of varied, nutritious foods.
If you have any queries about specific supplements, you should always consult a doctor before taking them.
- Frisch, RE (1987). ‘Body fat, menarche, fitness and fertility’ Human Reproduction, 2(6), 521-33.
- Schisterman, E.F., et al. (2014). ‘Lipid Concentrations and Couple Fecundity: The LIFE Study’ The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 99(8).
- Augood, et al. (1998). ‘Smoking and female infertility: a systematic review and meta-analysis’ Human Reproduction, 13(6), 1532-1539.
- Dechanet, C., et al. (2011). ‘Effects of cigarette smoking on reproduction’ Human Reproduction Update, 17(1), 76-95.
- Miller., E.A, et al. (2016). ‘Lactobacilli dominance and vaginal pH: Why is the human vaginal microbiome unique?’ Front Microbiol, 7, 1936.
- Chavarro, J.E., et al. (2008). ‘Use of multivitamins, intake of B vitamins and risk of ovulatory infertility’ Fertil Steril, 89(3), 668-676.