Can you eat your way to better fertility? MH shares the scoop.
If you are planning to conceive, you will be glad that all you need to do to boost your chances is to eat the right food. These all- natural fertility boosters contain nutrients that are not only good for you but for your spouse as well.
Also known as Peruvian Ginseng, maca is a root vegetable that grows in the Andes mountains in Peru. Besides being packed with B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin E, it is also a good source of calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and amino acids. Containing 31 minerals and 60 phytonutrients, maca supports hormonal balance and is commonly used to treat menstrual and menopause issues. It is also known to boost energy levels, stamina, libido and fertility in both men and women.
Research has found that maca contains compounds called glucosinolates, which can directly affect fertility in both men and women. Hethir Rodriguez, a holistic health practitioner and founder of Natural Fertility Info, says maca aids fertility in women by moderating estrogen levels in their bodies. Inadequate estrogen levels impacts a woman’s chances of conception and of carrying her baby to term. For men, as low libido, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count and low volume of seminal fluid are associated with high estrogen levels, maca can help by reducing estrogen levels. In one study whereby rats were given maca powder, female rats showed multiple egg follicle maturation whereas the male rats had significantly higher sperm production and motility rates. Commonly available in powdered form, maca can be added to juices, smoothies and bakes.
Oysters beat all other zinc sources hands down. Zinc is needed to make the outer layer and tail of the sperm. Nutritionists believe just 15mg a day can help repair sperm that have been damaged by chemicals absorbed from the environment. In one study, it was found that sperm quality and quantity were diminished in young male volunteers who consumed only 1.5mg of zinc daily for over a month. In women, zinc promotes the efficient use of estrogen – a hormone that is vital in regulating the menstrual cycle and reproductive system.
Two average-sized oysters, a well-known source of zinc, will supply you with your daily zinc requirement (about 15mg). If you can’t stomach oysters, you’ll find plenty of zinc in beans, nuts, seeds and eggs, beef and lamb.
Nettle can enhance fertility in both men and women. A compound found in the root of stinging nettle, 3,4-Divanillyltetrahydrofuran (can also be found in flaxseed), increases testosterone levels in the blood, thereby increasing sexual desire and improving sperm quality. For women, taking nettle not only promotes fertility, but is also beneficial throughout pregnancy. Nettle contains vitamins A, C, D and K as well as calcium, potassium, iron and sulphur, all of which are essential for good reproductive health. It also contains calcium, which affects a woman’s ability to conceive and maintain a pregnancy. In addition, Nettle is also a diuretic that has long been used to treat kidney ailments by helping to flush bacteria and toxins out of the kidneys and urinary tract. Nettle can be taken in the form of capsules, root extract, tinctures or tea. You can enjoy caffeine-free nettle leaf tea at any time of the day or even as a pre-bedtime drink without worrying that caffeine will keep you up. Side effects like stomach upset and skin rashes may occur with some people so it is better to consult a physician if you have never taken nettle before.
A fertility study by Harvard University found that women who eat at least one serving of full-fat dairy a day reduce their risk of infertility by more than 25 per cent. In citing this study, Dr Suresh Nair, a fertility specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, says the researchers proposed that a fat-soluble substance in full-fat dairy helps ovulation, which in turn increases your chances of conception. So consider changing low-fat dairy foods for full-fat while you are in the process of trying for a baby. A glass of milk a day is plenty.
Red Clover Flower
Besides having a reputation as one of the best anti-cancer and blood purifying herbs, red clover flower is a highly effective fertility tonic. It is also high in calcium and magnesium which are important in increasing chances of conception. Susan Weed, a well-known American herbalist, has used it to treat infertility in women with blocked fallopian tubes, irregular menstruation and unexplained infertility. She suggests an infusion prepared by soaking dried red clover flowers in boiling water for at least four hours. As it can take several months for the herb to take effect, Weed recommends drinking the infusion daily for three to six months prior to conception.
Folate plays a key role in the production and regeneration of cells – including sperm cells and your baby’s DNA. Therefore, getting enough of this nutrient improves sperm production. According to Dr Nair, a study by the University of California found that men with high folate intake had up to 30 per cent healthier sperm. Folate is also an essential nutrient for women, especially if you are planning to conceive or if you are expecting. Dr Roland Chieng, Medical Director of Virtus Fertility Centre, recommends that women take 0.5mg of folic acid supplements for at least three months prior to conception and for three months into their pregnancies to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. One cup of asparagus contains about 292mcg of folate (vitamin B9) – nearly 75 per cent of our daily requirement and also supplies vitamin A, C and K and manganese. Spinach, other leafy greens, broccoli, and beans are great natural sources of folate. Many fruits also contain folate too. Folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, can be found in fortified cereals and breads.
Avocados are power-packed with the potent antioxidant vitamin E, which improves the quality of sperm. Dr Nair says Vitamin E improves libido in women and protect embryos from miscarriage. Avocados are also a good source of folate. The fat in avocado aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Vitamin E sources are mostly plant-based and wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds and almonds are some excellent sources.
An average-sized guava provides more than twice the daily Vitamin C requirement. Antioxidants like vitamin C reduce oxidative stress on the body. If you are trying to conceive, Dr Nair says it is wise to consume at least two portions of fresh fruits and vegetables daily – since all fruits and vegetable contain some vitamin C. A study by Akmal and colleagues showed that vitamin C supplementation improved sperm count, quality and motility in infertile men. Studies have also indicated that pomegranate extracts can improve sperm quality and boost production of testosterone. Other rich sources of vitamin C include kiwi, kale, broccoli, mosambi, oranges and mangoes.
Baked Sweet Potato
A medium-sized sweet potato is packed with more than 13mg of beta-carotene which, Dr Nair says, your body converts into vitamin A to produce the female sex hormones important for ovulation. Orange, red and dark green fruits and vegetables such as peaches, carrots, sweet red peppers, squash and mangoes all contain beta-carotene. Having a salad with romaine lettuce or spinach or chomping on apricots for your mid-afternoon snack can significantly boost your beta-carotene intake. This complex carbohydrate also contains iron which may boost fertility in women.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Both types of fatty acids are key structural components of cell membranes. Research suggests that women who regularly consume omega-3 fats have higher rates of conception, lower miscarriage rates and reduced risk of premature birth. Omega-3 is important for the men too. “They enhance sperm quality and mobility,” Dr Nair says. In a study published in Biology of Reproduction in 2011, Nakamura and colleagues reported that DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid) plays a critical role in the formation of the acrosome, a cap-like structure on the head of a sperm. It contains enzymes that enable the sperm to break through the outer layer of the egg to fertilise it. The lack of DHA impairs acrosome formation and sperm maturation stops, resulting in round-headed sperm instead of mature, cone-headed ones. Consuming DHA can thus help produce better sperm. Found in all seafood, these fatty acids are most abundant in cold water fatty fish. Choose varieties with low mercury content like salmon, Atlantic mackerel, canned light tuna and cod. Omega-3 enriched eggs, cauliflower and beef are also good sources of omega-3. Sources of omega-6 fats include safflower oil, sunflower oil and corn oil, poultry and whole grains.
Dr Nair suggests men and women eat at least 300g of oily fish a week, adding that studies indicate that the sperm count in men who consumed fish increased considerably compared to men who ate meat. In fact, men in sub-fertile couples are encouraged to increase their fish intake to improve semen quality and sperm count to up their chances of conception.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Chock full of fertility-friendly vitamins and minerals like iron, phosphorus and potassium, this herb is suitable for both men and women who are looking to conceive. It is known to help tone muscles of the pelvic region and the uterus to prepare for pregnancy.
Not only does this reduce the risk of miscarriage due to uterine weakness, it also reduces the pain of contractions during labour.
This one is for the men. Dr Nair shares that garlic helps to recover testicular functions and improve male sexual health. It is also believed to have aphrodisiac properties and improve blood circulation. However, other studies indicate that excessive consumption of garlic can inhibit testicular functions and impair sperm count. So limit yourself to having two to four cloves a day to improve your sexual health, besides boosting your cardiovascular functions. Garlic is also a great source of selenium, an antioxidant which helps maintain healthy sperm. To prevent dousing the flames with garlic breath, chew a little parsley afterwards.
Eggs are rich in antioxidants and carotenoids that boost fertility in women. They also contain Vitamin B12 and folate, which minimise the risk of birth defects.