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How To Improve Your Pregnancy Odds With Fertility Foods

Hormone Circuit

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Carrie Lam, MD; Jeremy Lam, MD

An image of a cooked egg on a plate with green onions swimming towards itInfertility is increasingly a growing problem in the world at the moment. Many couples spend years and lots of money trying to have a child and may struggle to conceive or to carry a pregnancy to full term. This may happen because of many factors and your overall health may be one of them. One of the easiest and surprisingly effective changes you can make to increase your chances of becoming pregnant is to eat more fertility foods. Those foods that are so-called fertility foods, may help to restore any hormonal imbalances.

The Fertility Problem

Infertility is the inability to become pregnant after regular intercourse without birth control for a year or for 6 months. This is a fairly common problem in the US, with around 12 to 13 couples out of every hundred struggling to conceive a child. About 6.1 million women in the US aged between 15 and 44 have trouble getting or staying pregnant.

There are many causes of infertility. About a third are due to female fertility problems, a third because of male fertility problems, and the final third is caused by a combination of issues that are either known or unknown. Fertility is an even bigger problem for women as it declines with age. As women get older, they lose part of their ovarian reserve with each menstrual cycle. The quality of their eggs also decline over time, which means that any fertility issues are likely to worsen with age. This combination of causes and confounding factors makes infertility a very complicated issue to address or solve. This means that it is vital to try every tactic available to boost your chances of conception. It includes adding more fertility foods to ensure that you are consuming a well balanced diet.

Causes of Infertility

Female infertility

There are a variety of factors that can cause infertility in women. This includes physical issues as well as dietary deficiencies, which is why fertility foods can be so helpful. Just some of these causes of infertility are:

  • Ovulation Problems.
    One of the most common causes of infertility in women are problems associated with ovulation. This can include a whole host of issues such as excess body weight, over exercising, polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, primary ovarian insufficiency, blocked fallopian tubes, and structural uterine abnormalities.
  • Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.
    This is a condition that is strongly associated with infertility and can be brought on by eating disorders, overactivity, or stress. It starts in the hypothalamus in the brain not making enough hormones to stimulate your reproductive organs to work properly, therefore having a lack of periods.
  • Infections.
    Infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and cause scarring that blocks the fallopian tubes.
  • Autoimmune disorders.
    If you have autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, then your immune system can also attack the tissue of your reproductive systems, causing infertility.

Male infertility

Some of the most common causes of male infertility include:

  • An image of a single sperm under a magnifying glassTesticle injuries that affect sperm production.
  • Certain genetic conditions.
  • Varicocele, which means that the veins on a man's testicles are too large, causing them to become overheated and this may affect the concentration and the shape of sperm.
  • Disorders like cystic fibrosis, which can occur early in life.

Another issue which can affect fertility in both men and women is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). This causes severe problems and imbalances that will affect every aspect of health, including your hormones.

AFS and Your Hormones

The hormonal circuit can become dangerously unbalanced when you have AFS. AFS is caused by chronic stress, a very common complaint in the modern world. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response is the first responder when you are under stress. It increases the body’s alertness so that it can respond to stress and helps defend the body against damage. The adrenal glands are a vital part of the NEM stress response because they excrete cortisol, a key hormone in your body’s response to stress. But the NEM stress response is designed to be active for short periods, and when this natural balance is lost it can cause problems. The adrenal glands are often the first organs to show signs of overwork. When they become fatigued, it may result in causing widespread problems that can be very serious if not addressed.

The hormonal circuit consists of the sexual organs such as ovaries or testes, the adrenal gland, and the thyroid gland. So, as the adrenals become fatigued, the rest of this circuit quickly follows because of the interdependence of all these systems. When you have AFS, adrenal fatigue is often quickly followed by thyroid malfunction, resulting in general sluggishness and weight gain. And as these two organs malfunction, the ovaries or testes become dysregulated as well.

When you are under stress, conception and fertility is difficult because during stress your body goes into the ‘flight or fight’ mode. As a result, your hormone levels are disturbed, causing fertility problems. This problem is further compounded when you have AFS. The dysregulation of the hormonal circuit can cause deficiencies of certain hormones that are essential for sperm or egg production. In women, this can bring on issues like irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, and estrogen dominance. And in men, this may affect sperm production, numbers, and health.

The key to correcting these imbalances is to relieve sources of stress. Unfortunately, many people eat a diet that’s high in toxins or unhealthy foods and is a key source of stress. So, correcting this problem by including more fertility foods in your diet will not only improve your chances of conceiving, it will also help to alleviate your AFS.

Eating to Support Female Fertility

There is no easy answer when you struggle with fertility. However, there are certain lifestyle changes and fertility foods that will help boost your chances of conceiving. These strategies can help in the case of ovulatory infertility, but obviously won’t eliminate physical impediments to pregnancy. However, these ideas will also help to improve your overall health and aid with weight loss. Adding fertility foods in your healthy diet regime would not only give you a good foundation for pregnancy and motherhood, it will help you lead a healthy life overall.

Here are some ideas to include fertility foods for women:

  • Eat more plant foods, which will increase your intake of non-heme iron foods.
  • Eat fewer animal proteins.
  • Decrease trans fats and increase monounsaturated fats.
  • Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, especially those which are high fiber.
  • Increase your water intake.
  • Eliminate soda and sugary drinks.
  • Eliminate alcohol, caffeine, drugs, and nicotine.

Another way to boost female fertility is by increasing your intake of certain nutrients that are vital for conception, hormonal balance, and pregnancy. This includes:

  • Folic acid - This nutrient can be found in good quantities in green vegetables like spinach and broccoli as well as dried legumes like lentils, chickpeas, and beans.
  • Choline - Foods high in this nutrient include liver, eggs, fish, dairy foods, rice, pasta, peanuts and meat. Choose lean and organic meats where possible to ensure the best nutrition for you and your child.
  • Iodine - Ensure that you’re adding iodized salt to your diet. You can also try seaweed and dairy products like pasteurized milk or cheese or whole grain breads or cereals. Beware of having too much seafood due to mercury or heavy metal content of large marine fish.
  • Vitamin B12 - For more Vitamin B12, eat more eggs, organic beef or chicken, as well as fortified breakfast cereals. Low fat yogurt, milk and cheese can also be good sources.
  • Vitamin D - Even though sunlight is one of the best sources of Vitamin D, there are many fertility foods that contain this nutrient. This includes fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or mackerel. Make sure to limit the amount of tuna you eat though due to the burden of toxic metals. Some dairy products, cereals, orange juice and soy milk are also fortified with Vitamin D. Cheese and egg yolks are also a good source of this nutrient.
  • Omega-3 Fatty acids - Seafood and fish are the best sources of this fatty acid. Try mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, or sardines, but avoid certain varieties like bigeye tuna which can contain mercury. Also once you become pregnant you want to limit your fish intake. If you want to avoid seafood, then you can increase your intake of nuts and seeds in your diet.

Eating to Support Male Fertility

Understanding male fertility is not as clear as understanding female fertility. However, there are fertility foods that can help improve the semen quality. Some of the changes that men should make include:

  • Decrease red meat intake.
  • Eat more plant foods.
  • Eat seafood to increase your Omega-3 intake, which may result in better sperm motility.
  • Decrease your intake of high-fat dairy products.
  • Eliminate foods and beverages with added sugar.
  • Eat more whole grains.
  • Consume more foods that contain zinc, which includes seafood, dairy, and wholegrains.
  • Eliminate toxins such as alcohol, drugs, and nicotine.

Fertility Foods and AFS

Eating more fertility foods to increase your chances of conceiving will also naturally help to improve your AFS in several ways. Firstly, it will improve your overall nutrient intake. Deficiencies and poor nutrition are often key causes of AFS and can deprive the cells and organs of what they need to function properly. They can also increase your stress levels, which will increase the demand for cortisol and add to adrenal fatigue. So, if you improve your diet by adding more fertility foods and fewer of the foods that may harm your health, you will probably notice an improvement of your AFS symptoms as well.

There are also fertility foods that will directly improve your AFS. Foods that contain vitamin B12 for example will help to balance your hormones. These vitamins are a vital part of the process of methylation, which is the process that the liver uses to detoxify substances. If these processes are incomplete then an amino acid called homocysteine can build up in the body and this is strongly associated with hormone imbalances. Folate and Omega-3 fatty acids are also linked to a good hormone balance. So, if your hormonal circuit has become dysregulated because of AFS, improving your diet with these fertility foods will help.

The Takeaway

When you are struggling to conceive, it can be a stressful and heartbreaking time. Many couples spend years and thousands of dollars in the pursuit of having children. Before you go down this path, it is worth trying easier, cheaper and less invasive methods. By adding more fertility foods to your diet and removing food that could be damaging your health, you will give your body what it needs to support and carry the new life you crave.

© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

Infertility can be a serious and heartbreaking problem for many couples. So, if you struggle to conceive, then you need to ensure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs to function at its best. This means eating known fertility foods.

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