Diet and lifestyle factors affecting female fertility
By Alexa Evans RD
By Alexa Evans RD
Infertility is a common problem affecting 1 in 6 couples. If you’ve been trying for a baby without success, it may be to do with factors as simple as diet and lifestyle. A good nutritional status can improve your chances of conception, and also impacts on whether your pregnancy has a healthy course and outcome. Read on to pick up some tips to improve your chances of getting pregnant.
Women who are underweight, diet regularly or suffer from eating disorders have less chances of getting pregnant. Having a low amount of body fat can delay conception, and menstrual cycles can become irregular or even stop. This is thought to be nature’s way of preventing reproduction when the mother’s nutritional state is poor.
Similarly, being overweight or obese can cause irregular menstrual cycles and can suppress ovulation. It can even impact on your response to fertility treatments. In these circumstances, losing weight through exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet can help to bring about natural ovulation and conception.
The body mass index (BMI) can help to identify whether you are a healthy weight for your height. A body mass index of 20 – 25kg/m2 is the ideal range for improving your chances of getting pregnant.
Drinking high amounts of alcohol has been associated with decreased fertility. In fact, some studies have seen this effect in women who drink five units of alcohol or less each week. If you are undergoing IVF treatment, you may want to think twice about picking up that glass of wine. A study at Harvard University found that women having IVF treatment were 18% less likely to conceive if they drank more than six units per week. Avoiding alcohol altogether when trying to conceive is advised, however for those who do choose to drink, drinking no more than 1-2 units of alcohol per week is recommended by The Department of Health.
Consuming large amounts of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, cola or chocolate can reduce fertility and delay conception. Scientist have found that caffeine may reduce the muscle movements of the fallopian tubes, making it difficult to carry the eggs from the ovaries to the womb. Consumption of more than 200-300mg each day could reduce fertility by as much as 27%. This is about the same as two cups of instant coffee.
Physical activity is recommended as part of a healthy lifestyle, and can help you to maintain or lose weight. Physical activity as part of weight loss may help to protect ovarian function. It improves metabolism and the balances of hormones involved in fertility. However, if you are very active, your fertility could actually be reduced. An explanation for this is thought to be because high levels of activity can lead to having too little energy to meet your body’s energy needs for reproductive functions. Moderate levels of activity appears to be the best bet when trying to conceive. This is about 2 and a half hours of moderate aerobic exercise each week, such as fast walking or cycling.
It is no secret that smoking has many consequences to health, and studies have consistently shown that smoking even half a pack of cigarettes a day can reduce female fertility. The chemicals in cigarettes spread around your organs, which can lead to fertility problems. This includes problems with ovulation, damage to reproductive organs and eggs, and can also cause early menopause. Quitting smoking can improve your chances of conception. Don’t delay – quit today.
A healthy balanced diet based around the Eatwell Guide is beneficial for general well being and getting your body functioning optimally. It also helps to supply the body with the nutrient stores it needs ready for your developing baby! If you have a history of a poor diet, take a multivitamin to give you a boost of nutrients. Check out our article on eating well for a healthy conception.
There is some evidence to show that following a fertility diet pattern can improve fertility in women with ovulatory disorders. This involves eating a diet that includes monounsaturated fats, plant based protein, iron rich foods, high fat dairy and low glycaemic carbohydrates.
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Bolúmar et al (1997) Caffeine intake and delayed conception: A European multicenter study on infertility and subfecundity. Am J Epidemiol. 145(4):324-34.
Chavarro et al (2007) Diet and lifestyle in the prevention of ovulatory disorder infertility. Obstet Gynecol. 110(5):1050-1058.
Homan GF, Davies M and Norman R (2007) The impact of lifestyle factors on reproductive performance in the general population and those undergoing infertility treatment: a review. Hum Reprod Update. 13(3):209-23.