Infertility affects approximately 12 percent of couples, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Advice abounds among family and friends when infertility exists. So, aside from fertility treatment, what can you do to make a difference in your fertility potential? Behavioral changes with diet, tobacco and alcohol use, prescription use, and nutritional supplements can have a direct impact on fertility.
Foods that Increase Fertility
Common foods have been associated with improvements in fertility potential:
- Two handfuls of walnuts (which contain 75 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids) each day can improve sperm vitality, motility, and morphology.
- A scoop of full-fat ice cream at least twice weekly has resulted in a 38% lower chance of ovulation disorders. Low-fat dairy had the opposite effect.
- Carrots rich in beta-carotene can improve sperm motility (movement capability) by up to 8%. Luteine, an antioxidant found in leafy greens, also has a similar effect.
- Lentils, a source of vegetarian protein and fiber, are also a great source of iron. When iron is provided in a vegetable source, infertility can be reduced by 40%. Iron supplements only increase this benefit; however, iron from meat does not show the same benefits. Supplemental zinc and folic acid can also increase sperm counts and reduce infertility rates.
When attempting to improve your fertility, it’s also important to consider your lifestyle and habits:
- Researchers from Sweden found that women who drink two alcoholic drinks each day reduce their fertility by almost 60%.
- Tobacco smoking can adversely affect fertility potential in both men and women by decreasing the receptivity of the uterine lining in women and inhibiting sperm production in men. For these reasons, smoking is discouraged for both men and women attempting to achieve pregnancy.
- Frequent sexual intercourse is one sure way to catch the fertility window during the ovulation midcycle. If you use ovulation predictor kits, have intercourse several days before the projected ovulation and up to a week afterwards to ensure proper timing. Do not save up for one good shot at pregnancy.
When to See a Specialist
While many old wives’ tales exist and are passed along from generation to generation, it’s best to follow these recommendations and consult with your fertility specialist if you are concerned about a behavior that you think is impairing your ability to conceive. It is a good idea to seek help after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse for women under 35 years of age and after six months for women 36-39 years of age or older.
Joseph S. Bird, Jr., M.D.