Nutrition and Fertility: Can an Unhealthy Diet Cause Infertility

You are what you eat. It’s clichéd but true, and important to remember as we enter into the Halloween to New Year’s holiday stretch of high consumption of all things sugary, fat and, unfortunately, delicious. I like to remind my patients that the key ingredient during the holidays — and all year long — is balance. You don’t have to completely deprive yourself — a healthy diet that can improve your fertility is one that gives the body what it needs in the right amounts.

It has become very clear that being overweight and obese has a negative impact on fertility for both men and women. Women with a BMI in the obese range (greater than 30) may have irregular menstrual cycles and ovulation, and even those with normal ovulation cycles have more difficulty getting pregnant and are more at risk for pregnancy complications. Obesity in men is linked to changes in testosterone levels, lower sperm counts and lower sperm motility (movement).

red_green_apple.jpgBut even if you are not overweight and can “eat anything you want without gaining an ounce,” an unhealthy diet can still have a negative effect, according to several studies.

The latest research from the Harvard School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital studied the impact of a diet high in trans fats on the fertility of 141 men trying to conceive with in vitro fertilization (IVF). Remember, trans fats are created during the process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in order to make them more solid, and the code name on the labels of processed foods (cakes, cookies, chips) is “partially hydrogenated oils.” They found that men with the healthiest, low-fat diets had an 83 percent chance of getting their partner pregnant, while those with the highest fat diets (with 20 percent of their calorie intake from trans fats) had only a 47 percent chance.

Some scientists believe that weight, poor diet, sedentary jobs and other external factors have created a serious decline in male fertility over the last few decades; in essence, a “sperm crisis.”

It looks like women could be affected as well. An animal study by University of Colorado researchers looked at mice that were fed high fat diets. They found that the mice with bad diets had damaged ovaries and poor fertility rates, even if they were not overweight.

Fat is necessary for a body to function properly, as are carbohydrates and protein. A balanced fertility diet is necessary to provide the proper amounts of each. To help patients eat healthier, lose weight if needed and exercise, I offer the “Fitness for Fertility” program in my practice. By combining practical exercise options with sensible, healthy changes in diet, many of my patients have been able to shed excess fat, increase lean muscle tissue, and dramatically improve their ability to conceive and carry a pregnancy.

Before trying to get pregnant or trying fertility treatment, give your body the best possible chance to succeed. Whether that means quit smoking, avoid alcohol, lose weight, change to a healthier diet — or all of the above — it’s all possible with the right support and motivation. You can find that in the practice of Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D.

To learn more about weight, diet, exercise and fertility, or to explore your fertility treatment options, please contact Dr. Laurence Jacobs today.