Did you know that the food you eat feeds all of the cells in your body? In this way egg and sperm cells are no different from your heart, liver, or skin cells when it comes to keeping them healthy through the right choices in diet and nutrition. In fact, they are probably even more important to take care of given that they also carry the DNA of your future children.
The evidence is all there – from observational studies right through to specific nutrient research – everyone can improve their fertility through diet and nutrition. And it’s not just all about making changes to achieve that positive pregnancy test. Hereditary research shows us how healthy, well-nourished eggs and sperm continue to affect not only the health of the pregnancy, but a baby’s health right through their childhood and on into adulthood – even going on to impact upon the health of their own children! In fact, in 2018, the summary of a trio of research papers published in the Lancet 1 clearly stated:
“Health and nutrition of both men and women before conception is important not only for pregnancy outcomes but also for the lifelong health of their children and even the next generation.”
indicating the definitive and critical role that nutrition plays in our lives and our ability to healthily propagate as a species.
And it’s not that complicated to make the right choices either. The Mediterranean Diet is still considered to be the healthiest diet in the world; it is the model most widely cited for helping us to live longer, and for reducing our risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
This diet involves cutting down on red meat, salt, sugar and processed foods and instead eating lots of strongly coloured vegetables and fruit, fish, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, lentils and beans, herbs and spices, and of course extra virgin olive oil!
These staples of the Mediterranean lifestyle are packed full of protein for strengthening your eggs, good carbohydrates for slow-releasing energy and the right fats for hormones, as well as being rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that help to repair and protect cells from damage.
Women often feel there is nothing they can do to improve the quality of their eggs given that they are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their lifetime. However, in actuality, it is the environment in which an egg matures that is fundamental to its quality, so this assertion is not strictly true. We now know that smoking ages eggs, and even that sitting down for long periods of time can add up to eight years to your eggs biologically! However, if lifestyle factors can impact egg health negatively, then there is also much that we can change to affect our eggs positively – and the best changes start with addressing nutrition.
Obesity, conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, being underweight, as well as just being a little older as a woman can all be profoundly improved through good, evidence-based nutrition, and it is these changes to diet that can be the critical difference when it comes to being able to conceive or not.
For men, increasing the amount of antioxidants consumed can help to protect sperm from what is known as oxidative stress, a very common cause of damage to sperm. Even carrying fat around the middle can reduce testosterone levels and sperm count significantly, so addressing this through better diet choices will help to improve fertility. Remember, sperm have a big job to do! They swim a long way in order to reach your egg/s and deliver a package of DNA that will soon become a baby. Giving them the best chance of being able to do this successfully is paramount.
So when thinking about making all those little changes to boost your fertility, be sure to include making the best possible adjustments to your diet too, as it is nutrition that can play a vital role in both you becoming pregnant, and in the subsequent life-long health of your child – and even their children.
- The Lancet. Preconception Health. Published April 2018. www.thelancet.com/series/preconception-health
About the author
Mel holds a BSc (Hons) in Nutritional Therapy, an MSc in Nutritional Medicine, and has been specialising in fertility and pregnancy nutrition for over 18 years. Her career includes time spent at the Zita West Fertility Clinic, The Healthy Holiday Company, and Dr Jane Benn & Associates. Mel set up Melanie Brown Nutrition 10 years ago and currently works with clients across the globe advising them on fertility-enhancing diet and lifestyle.