When it takes longer than expected, trying to conceive can be overwhelming and emotionally challenging making women more vulnerable to fake science and bad advice. Like many issues regarding women’s health, research on the relationship between mental health, nutrition and fertility has long been neglected. Fortunately, there are a few things we know from the female side, and I will share them here.
Folic acid (vitamin B9)
Folic acid is crucial before conception and during the first trimester for the development of a healthy foetus and to reduce the chance of neural tube defects. It is associated with lower frequency of infertility, lower risk of pregnancy loss and greater success in infertility treatment.
Further study is needed to assess the higher benefits of combining folic acid and B12.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
There is a strong association between BMI and infertility: a very low or high BMI have adverse effects on fertility, probably because of endocrine disruptions and lifestyle factors (stress, lack of physical activity, smoking etc).
If you are overweight, a nutritionist can help you manage your weight and increase your chance to conceive.
Depression, infertility and diet
Women who have difficulties conceiving have an increased risk of depression, which impacts hormone production and ovulation. There is evidence that dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet and nuts have a protective effect against depression. We are just beginning to investigate and understand how dietary interventions can reduce the symptoms of depression, but a team of researchers established a list of « antidepressant foods and nutrients« . Unsurprisingly, vegetables top this list: watercress, spinach, beet greens, herbs, caulis… followed by oysters, offal, seafood. This is another illustration of the close link between gut health and brain health.
« Healthy » and « unhealthy » diets
There is no consensus about what a « healthy » or « unhealthy » diets is, however, diets rich in vegetables, wholegrain, monounsaturated fats are associated with a lower risk of infertility, while diets rich in saturated fats, processed foods, snacks show the opposite.
A varied, simple, plant-based diet contributes to decrease depressive symptoms and is associated with lower risk of infertility.