About 30 percent of infertility issues are due to weight management problems, according to the National Infertility Association. Being overweight or obese contributes to a woman’s ovulation and menstrual becoming irregular, which in effect causes a reduced response of fertility treatment. On the other hand, losing excess weight lowers visceral body fat—the most internal layer of fat close to the organs—and is linked with improvement in reproductive functions.
Of course, fat is not necessarily “bad.” Our bodies need fat for proper function, from energy supply to sex hormones production, to fully absorbing essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K. The problem is that too much body fat increases the production of powerful chemicals, in particular cytokines, which causes inflammation. Like with fat, inflammation has a proper role. Acute inflammation—think a cut on the skin—is the first step of the healing process. When injured, your body activates your immune system to help the wound.
However, chronic inflammation can overload the immune system and eventually damage tissues, which impairs circulation, metabolism, and hormones that impact not just fertility, but also cardiac and endocrine health.
You don’t need to lose a lot of weight to curb inflammation and see positive results. In fact, losing just 5 percent of your body weight can enhance fertility, according to dietitians at Loyola University Health System.
Managing chronic inflammation is not about slapping on a temporary Band-Aid, but rather making lasting lifestyle changes like proper sleep, stress management, physical activity, nutrition, and supplementation, to name but a few. While all of these are equally important, nutrition is often the first place to begin because everyone eats at least three times a day. Here is a look at how your diet influences inflammation, good and bad, and what changes you can make to improve fertility outcome.
Friendly fats: Foods high in poly-unsaturated fats, such as salmon, seeds (chia, pumpkin, flaxseeds) and nuts (almonds, walnuts) have shown to increase embryo quality, while saturated fats (fried food, processed red meat) have been linked to lower sperm concentration and fewer mature eggs.—European Society of Human Reproductive and Embryology.
Increase protein intake: Make sure your daily intake of protein is slightly above 25 percent, and keep carbohydrates intake to 40 percent. The ratio keeps glucose levels low, and eggs and embryos do not do well in a high glucose environment, says a 2013 study in Fertility and Sterility. However, this does not mean you have a green light to eat red meat, bacon, etc. Instead, focus on a good mix of lean animal and non-animal protein sources, such as chicken, egg, turkey, fish, Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, quinoa, and teff.
Get your cup of Joe: Coffee contains high levels of polyphenols, an antioxidant. Coffee appears to help with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which sex hormones get out of balance, and one of the most common causes of infertility. Women with PCOS are usually deficient in sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). And a study in the journal Menopause (January 2015) showed that coffee intake increases plasma SHBG levels. However, skip the Starbucks concoctions full of extra sugar and calories and stick with plain black coffee. Antioxidants like resveratrol has been associated to a significant increased in pregnancy rate compared to control groups. Likewise, between 30 percent and 80 percent of make subfertility cases are due to oxidative stress on sperm, and antioxidants can improve sperm quality. Add more resveratrol-rich snacks to your diet like grapes and peanuts.
Increase the sunshine vitamin: Low levels of vitamin D has been associated with impair glucose metabolism and increased inflammation, according to research in the Clinical Nutrition Journal. Likewise, a recent study showed that vitamin D levels are related to the reproduction hormone FSH – and ovarian reserve- . Although, there are not many food options rich in vitamin D salmon, egg, shrimp, dairy and mushrooms are worth to include in your diet regularly.
Find more fiber and folate: A study in the journal Obesity found that a 10-gram increase in soluble fiber was associated with around 4 percent reduction in visceral belly body fat. Black and kidney beans contain at least 2 grams of soluble fiber per ½ cup. Other good sources include oats, barley, oranges, and Brussels sprouts. These foods are also sources of folate and research has shown that this vital vitamin can help men improve their fertility, too. In a study published in The Journal of Human Reproduction, men who ate more folate-rich foods were 20 to 30 percent less likely to have abnormal sperm.
Gut check: Intestinal inflammation, due to excess intake of sugar and saturated fats, can alter the balance between “good and the bad” bacteria in the colon. Maintaining the good gut strain of bacteria prevents inflammatory compounds from entering the bloodstream where they can lead to impaired metabolism and glucose control. The best way to keep you gut bacteria in check is to consume more foods with probiotics like fat-free Greek yogurt, kefir, fermented soft cheese like Gouda, and tempeh.
About the Author
Marta Montenegro, MF, MS, CSCS, SFN, NSCA-CPT is a Nutrition Specialist | Lifestyles Consultant | Exercise Physiologist at IVFMD.
Adjunct Professor in Exercise & Sports Sciences at FIU