How the Power of Plants Could Aid in Fertility Health, According to Research
Fertility is a subject that needs to be treated with care: Whether you’ve struggled with conceiving in the past or are in that place right now, you get advice that is both unwanted and unwittingly offensive. We want to be clear that in the studies and information we found about plant-based eating and fertility one thing is certain: Being your healthiest and eating to feel your best is always a great idea when you embark on the journey of pregnancy and parenthood. The research shows what a plant-based diet can do for you as a whole. Any positive effects a plant-based diet can have on your body and your reproductive health is a bonus.
With that said, we know that eating a diet rich in whole foods, and especially fruits and vegetables, is good for the body and can have healing properties, but does eating a plant-based diet help aid infertility? Let’s take a closer look at the research to date.
More Plants Equals More Health and Fertility for Both Men and Women
You may have already heard that plant-based eaters have lower rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, and premature death by any cause, thanks to the vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and phytochemicals that your body gets from these life-giving foods; but what about improved fertility? According to a recent Harvard study, eating more veggies and fruits, grains and unsaturated fats in place of meat actually increased fertility in both men and women.
The Harvard Study goes on to say: "While current evidence on the role of dairy, alcohol, and caffeine is inconsistent, saturated fats, and sugar have been associated with poorer fertility outcomes in women and men. Furthermore, women and men with obesity (body mass index over 30) have a higher risk of infertility. This risk is extended to women who are underweight (BMI under 20). Diet and BMI influence outcomes during clinical treatment for infertility." It recommends nutrition counseling for certain groups of the population who have "low educational attainment" and higher levels of infertility due to socio-economic circumstances.
Another 2018 study from the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, which was published in leading reproductive medicine journal, found that women with the lowest intake of fruit had a higher risk of infertility (taking more than one year to conceive), with the risk increasing from 8% to 12%. For those who ate fast food over four times a week, the risk was even higher, increasing to 16%.
Susan Levin, director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says, “It’s no surprise to me that you’re going to find a vegan diet leads to less infertility.” So why would meat and dairy have a negative impact on fertility? Here are the top two reasons nixing meat and dairy is good for those looking to get pregnant.
Why Meat and Dairy May Adversely Impact Fertility
Kelly Milligan, Naturopath, Midwife, and Vegan Chef who counsels patients on plant-based diets. From unwanted acidity to insulin resistance, let's take at a few reasons as to why animal proteins may be adversely impacting your fertility.
1. Too Much Acidity
With the consumption of animal products comes acidity, Milligan informs us. And while that may not seem like a big deal, with acidity comes a perfect breeding ground for pathogens and bacteria. This creates less-than-optimal conditions for fertility. Another side-effect of having an acidic environment in the body is calcium leaching. Calcium a crucial nutrient for egg and sperm health, and is deeply is affected when the body is acidic. An over-acidic body will leach calcium out of your bones to neutralize the acidity. This, in turn, leaves your calcium stores depleted which is undesirable when you’re trying to conceive.
Acidic foods include Grains, sugar, dairy products, fish, processed foods, fresh meats and processed meats, sodas, and high-protein supplements. As for the question of citrus, which naturally contains acid, it turns out that lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and other citrus fruits deliver vitamin C which is essential for the health of both mother and fetus.
2. Insulin Resistance with Meat and Dairy
It’s not just sugar-laden sweets that cause insulin resistance as you might think. Animal products contain saturated fats that when ingested are also linked to higher insulin resistance (some scientists have linked fatty foods to insulin resistance. (The theory holds that lipids in the blood prevent our bodies from burning carbs, which then drives up our insulin levels).“ Unfortunately, saturated fat and insulin resistance go hand in hand.” States Iva Keene MRMED, ND. Animal fats are also unhealthy for another reason: Fat cells are a perfect storage place for environmental toxins, pesticides, dioxins, and hormones.
The three main problems that come with insulin resistance and fertility:
- Insulin resistance creates hormone imbalance in your body that can interfere with reproductive hormones and ovulation
- PCOS, the leading cause of infertility today often goes hand in hand with insulin resistance, so it's worth getting tested if you have Insulin Resistance.
- With insulin resistance, you could find it hard to conceive as a result of a lack of regular ovulation or poor egg quality.
Plant-Based Eating Tips for Fertility Health
1. Create a complete protein with plants
Since your body needs all the Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) it's ideal to eat the range of plant-based foods that offer all 9 EAAs: Soy, quinoa, buckwheat, pumpkin seeds, and black beans. Combining foods to make a complete protein is the next best thing.
Consuming grains with nuts and seeds, or legumes make up a complete protein and have much-needed vital nutrients to support your fertility Hemp seeds are a great addition to any salad, soups, and smoothies for a complete protein source and a plethora of nutrients.
2. Increase Your Iron Intake
It’s often said, that if you go vegan you will lack for iron since many people get their iron from red meats. But did you know there are plenty of plant foods that have more iron per serving than meat? To keep up on your iron intake while trying to conceive load up on spinach, beets, nuts, pumpkin seeds, kale, prunes, avocados, apricots and more.
3. Take B-12 for Health’s Sake
As vital as vitamin B-12 is to your body it is hard to get without supplementing. Get this vitamin -- important for fertility, heart health, and neurological deficits -- from fortified foods or supplement with an organic, plant-based prenatal vitamin. This will assure you are getting your daily requirements. Another way is injections which should be discussed with your Doctor.
4. The Sun and Vitamin D3
Vitamin D is an important nutrient for your fertility since it's vital to cell growth, immune response, hormone balance, and ovulation. Vitamin D is the “sunlight” vitamin, synthesized through sun exposure on the skin. Getting just a gentle 10 to 20 minutes of sunlight every day will help boost your vitamin D levels. Another amazing source of vitamin D is almond milk; with double the amount of calcium as dairy milk and 25 percent of your daily recommended value, almond milk is a great option for those looking to keep their vitamin D levels at optimal levels.
Whether you’re facing fertility issues or simply want to improve your health as a whole as you plan to start your journey, giving a plant-based diet a try will not only have you feeling better but will help keep possible health issues at bay!