Infertility can have a great impact on couples’ emotional and financial stability and if you are struggling to get pregnant, you are not alone. Between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals live with infertility globally. In Nigeria, about 10-30% of couples are struggling with infertility.
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse.
Infertility affects both men and women equally; one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors. Treatments usually include medications, surgery, and Assisted Reproductive Technology.
Possible Causes of Infertility in Women
- Ovulation Disorders: this is the most common cause of infertility in women which stems from a failure to ovulate. This can be a result of aging, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome(PCOS), thyroid disease, and lifestyle factors such as obesity/underweight, smoking, alcohol, and drug abuse. All these can lead to hormonal imbalance in women and influence ovulation.
- Uterine Disorder: this includes endometriosis, uterine Irregularities, fibroids, and polyps. These may disrupt implantation and result in infertility.
- Infections: Untreated infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia in women may result in pelvic inflammatory disease and cause scarring that blocks the fallopian tubes. This may lower the chance of egg fertilization in the fallopian tubes and results in infertility.
- Unexplained Infertility: the reason for infertility is unknown and cannot be linked to any external or internal factors.
How your diet can influence fertility
A number of dietary considerations have been shown to curtail hormonal fluctuations in females. The adequacy of a diet totally influences the functionality of hormones in the female body. The following can improve your chance of getting pregnant:
1. Aim for healthy body weight
Both underweight and obesity have been linked to a higher risk of ovulation disorder and infertility. Women who have healthy body weight in terms of body mass index are more likely to get pregnant than women of lower or higher body mass index. You can achieve a healthy body weight by cutting down on your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity level.
2. Choose slower digesting Carbs
These include whole grains, whole fruits, and vegetables. Whole grains such as oatmeal, millet, bulgur, corn, etc. are lower in glycemic index and help to reduce insulin resistance in females struggling with PCOS. However, sugary drinks and highly processed/ refined carbs are linked to reduced infertility in both men and women.
3. Eat more plant-based protein-rich foods
Getting most of your proteins from plant sources could help women with ovulatory issues. Isoflavones in soy products have been shown to positively affect ovulation and also help women undergoing ART (assisted reproductive technology). Also, a higher intake of dairy products has been linked to decreased risk of endometriosis. Incorporating dairy foods such as whole milk, yogurt and cheese has also been shown to have a positive effect on fertility
4. Select foods rich in healthy fats
Foods containing saturated and trans-fat found in red meat and processed meats have been shown to negatively affect fertility and reduce chances of becoming pregnant due to their inflammatory It is very important to know the types of fats which are healthy and take out the unhealthy ones. Fats from nuts, avocado, seeds, and fatty fish are healthy fats and are part of a healthy diet.
5. Consider certain supplements
Supplementing your diet with vitamins like folate, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 has been shown to improve better embryo quality and reduce ovulation disorder. Also, supplementation with omega-3 fatty (500-1000mg) acid may help reduce serum concentration of testosterone, thereby reducing risks of developing PCOS and regulating the menstrual cycle.
Carefully selecting and combining whole grains, protein food sources, fats, and vitamins in the right proportions can enhance women’s reproductive health and reduce the risk of infertility possibly caused by inflammation and hormonal imbalances. Working with your dietitian to come up with a diet plan that best suits you when struggling with infertility can improve your chances of getting pregnant!