While eating a nutrient-dense whole foods diet will help support fertility, there are other factors to be mindful of as well. In this day and age (especially in this year of 2020), the added stressors, environmental toxins, coping strategies, and other lifestyle choices can be unknowingly impacting our fertility as well. Below are some specific areas that have been shown to contribute to fertility challenges for females.
Being at a healthy weight for you:
I just want to point out that even as I typed out “healthy weight” I could feel myself cringe. I fully support body positivity and being in love with your body. And at the same time, I have seen studies that have shown that when a female is obese or underweight, she may have greater difficulty conceiving. In one particular study that looked at body size and the time to pregnancy in 1,651 Danish women, the researchers found that there was a reduced fertility rate in overweight and obese women, and underweight women struggled as well (Wise et al., 2009). Being at an appropriate body weight is important for a woman to be able to ovulate and conceive. Fat cells will produce estrogen, which often leads to an excess of estrogen in the body in overweight women (Bauman and Friedlander, 2016). However, if one loses weight too quickly or is underweight, then they may have too little estrogen in the body. This is problematic because if they are not able to produce enough estrogen, then they will not have a luteinizing hormone surge. Without this surge in hormone, ovulation will not occur.
Limiting exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals:
A few years ago, it was brought to my attention that many of my personal care products where chock full of questionable ingredients. Some of the products I was using contained chemicals known as xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals that imitate the same actions as estrogen. This can then artificially raise estrogen levels in the body, thus impacting fertility. These xenoestrogens can be found in many products including household cleaning products, personal products, in fragrances, hormonal birth control, in plastics, pesticides and herbicides, nail polish, noxious gases, commercial meat, dairy products and tap water, (Jing, 2018; Pontillo, 2013). In an article review, Rattan et al. (2017) found that exposure to these endocrine disrupting chemicals may result in fertility challenges, improper hormone production, menstrual cycle abnormalities, anovulation, or premature menopause. While it is best to avoid products that contain these chemicals for overall health, it would be wise to remove these products and find safer alternatives if one is trying to conceive. Ingredients that you want to avoid include: parabens, sodium lauryl sulfates, diethanolamine, and propylene glycol. A great place to check on your personal care products is the website, https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/
Finding the right balance of exercise:
Incorporating daily movement and exercise has great benefits to one’s health. There is a balance, however, on the frequency and intensity. One study looked at the effects of lifetime exercise on the outcome of in vitro fertilization of 2,232 patients. They found that if the female participated in over four hours of vigorous exercise each week, that the exercise may negatively impact the success of in vitro fertilization (Morris et al., 2006). Another study found that over-exercising can impact fertility as well. Wise et al. (2012) designed a prospective cohort study of 3,628 women who were planning to become pregnant. They found that vigorous physical activity reduced fecundability (the ability to achieve pregnancy within one menstrual cycle) in all subgroups of the women being studied, except women with a greater BMI of 25. For the women with a BMI over 25, they had either an increase or no impact on fecundability. Monitoring your intensity of exercise and frequency is important piece to consider if you are having fertility challenges.
While acute stress has its time and place, chronic stress can negatively impact one’s health. Some of these impacts include blood sugar imbalances, sleep disruption, low thyroid function and a decrease in reproductive hormones. If a couple is struggling with fertility, their stress levels may increase as they continue to try to conceive without success. Hudson (2008) has found that past or current stress and mental illness, especially depression, may be the cause of many cases of unexplained infertility. Psychological interventions may help with fertility. A meta-analysis by Hammerli et al. (2009) found that interventions that included counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mind and body-oriented relaxation, education, psychodynamic or psychoanalytic therapy had a significantly positive impact on pregnancy rates. I have been told by countless couples trying to conceive that they have often been told to just relax. While that advice may come with good intentions, it isn't often helpful to those on the receiving end. Incorporating a daily practice to to decrease the impacts of stress is beneficial to those who are trying to conceive, along with practically everyone else who is experiencing stress on a regular basis.
The last few blog posts have shared some actionable things that you and your partner can do to improve and optimize your chances of conception. As I have mentioned in previous posts, structural causes of sub-fertility/infertility will not be fixed by a change in diet and lifestyle alone. However, making these changes to your life can greatly improve your overall health and well-being, and, when the time is right, set you up for success for pregnancy.
Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2016). Therapeutic Nutrition Part 1. Penngrove CA: Bauman College
Hammerli, K., Znoj, H., Barth, J. (2009). The efficacy of psychological interventions for infertile patients: a meta-analysis examining mental health and pregnancy rate. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19196795
Hudson, T. (2008). Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. New York, NY: McGraw Hill
Jing, J (2018). Top 10 Xenoestrogens, The Primary Cause of Estrogen Dominance. Retrieved from
Morris, S., Missmer, S., Cramer, D., Powers, R., McShane, P., Hornstein, M. (2006). Effects of lifetime exercise on the outcome of in vitro fertilization. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17012457
Pontillo, Rachael (2013). Xenoestrogens: 12 Ways to Avoid Them and 24 Ways to Spot Them. Retrieved from
Rattan, S., Zhou, C., Chiang, C., Mahalingam, S., Brehm, E., Flaws, J. (2017). Exposure to endocrine disruptors during adulthood: consequences for female fertility. Retrieved from https://joe.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/joe/233/3/R109.xml
Wise, L., Rothman, K., Mikkelsen, E., Sorensen, H., Riis, A., Hatch, E. (2009). An internet-based prospective study of body size and time-to-pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19828554/
Wise, L., Rothman, K., Mikkelsen, E., Sorensen, H., Riis, A., Hatch, E. (2012). A prospective cohort study of physical activity and time-to-pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3340509/