Preconception Nutrition as a Facet of Fertility

Food is a key ingredient in reproductive health
basket of fresh vegetables
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Women have all their eggs by the time they are born. However, four months prior to conception, the egg released in that cycle is being recruited and matures. In this same time frame a man’s sperm is regenerated. This four month period is therefore a crucial window to support prenatal health in every way including diet in order to improve the chance of having a strong and healthy baby.

Did you know

  • Your health before getting pregnant impacts your ease of conception, pregnancy, delivery, and the health of your future baby?

  • Significant healthy fetal development occurs in the first 2-8 weeks of pregnancy? Often, some of this time transpires before a woman knows she is pregnant.

  • In Canada 1 in 6 couples experience fertility concerns? It is taking longer than expected to conceive, and there is an increased reliance on medication and technology.

These few facts alone highlight the need for preconception health care (PCHC) and preconception nutrition is an extremely important part of that care.

Preconception healthcare snapshot

Preconception healthcare is multifaceted. If a concerted effort is being made to optimize fertility in order to achieve conception by engaging in PCHC, first and foremost, hormonal imbalances are assessed and addressed. Then comes identification and treatment of nutrient deficiencies, infections, chronic health concerns, excess stress, and more. PCHC programs are individualized and are recommended for both men and women. They include a combination of nutritional advice, detoxification, stress management, lifestyle coaching, the prescription of natural remedies, traditional Chinese medicine (including acupuncture), and menstrual cycle tracking.

First, your hormones

These days, both subtle and overt hormonal imbalances are widespread. One of the most common patterns I see in practice is called estrogen dominance. This refers to an estrogen level that is too high in relation to progesterone. Symptoms include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods

  • Bloating

  • Breast tenderness

  • PMS

  • Headaches

  • Mood swings

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Issues with conception

In this case, estrogen is either truly in excess, or a relative excess due to a progesterone deficiency. Estrogen is normally conjugated and broken down by the liver. It is fat-soluble and therefore excreted through the stool. The estrogen dominant pattern has complex causes including chemical exposure, ineffective detoxification and elimination, and imbalances of other hormones like cortisol, thyroid, or insulin. Estrogen dominance can negatively impact fertility making it a natural focus during preconception care.

Your health professional will have ways of addressing these imbalances, but what can you do? First, work on limiting exposure to plastics, conventional household cleaners, cosmetics, pesticides, dry cleaned fabrics, mercury, and other harmful chemicals. Then, open the channels of elimination and detoxification by supporting the liver, kidneys, skin, and colon. This will lower your toxic burden and decrease excess estrogen.

Now, detoxify

In this day and age, even with extreme caution, we are exposed to a wide array of toxins which increasingly impact fertility. They are found in the food we eat, the water we drink, the medications we may take, and the air we breathe. Glyphosate is known to be especially likely to turn up even in foods for children. These toxins can accumulate in the body and lead to multiple issues. Some, known as xenoestrogens, mimic reproductive hormones and cause imbalances. Toxins can also be passed on to a growing baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding, making it important to decrease the toxic load in advance. Consult with your practitioner for advice on a safe and healthy dietary detox.

Always, eat for success

Your daily diet is perhaps the most powerful way to treat hormonal imbalance and prepare the body for pregnancy. Here are some important nutritional considerations during your preconception health period:

Fresh produce

Learn the “dirty dozen”, the top foods known to have high levels of pesticides. Either choose organic varieties, or omit them altogether.

Animal products

The safest choices are wild-caught, organic, local, free-range, or grass-fed. Fatty fish is especially high in nutrients like omega-3s and a good food source of vitamin D, both critical for fertility heath. The key is to avoid animal products containing synthetic hormones and chemicals acting as xenoestrogens.

Protein and healthy fats in every meal

Protein and fats keep blood sugar stable and provides starting materials for hormones that may be deficient.

Whole grains versus refined

This also keeps blood sugar stable and increases fiber. More fibre keeps bowel movements regular allowing for proper elimination of toxins and unwanted excess hormones.

Skip the sweets

They spike blood sugar and have a widespread impact on insulin, stress hormones, and reproductive hormones leading to further imbalances.

When in doubt

Increase greens and brightly coloured fruit and veggies on every plate. These foods help the liver detoxify, and provide antioxidants. This is vital because detoxification actually increases the release of potentially harmful oxidative compounds that must be then neutralized by antioxidants.

Highlight on cruciferous vegetables for fertility

Cruciferous veggies are considered anticancer, antioxidant, and supportive to detoxification. This is a group of vegetables that includes arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and more. They are very nutrient dense, high in vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid, and fiber. They also contain protein and omega-3 fats. Cruciferous veggies are also well known to contain a unique group of sulfur containing phytonutrients called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates stimulate liver detoxification and the production of antioxidants. One of the breakdown products of these is called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), which helps with estrogen metabolism in the body.

In the four months leading up to your ideal conception date, all parents are encouraged to clean up the diet and optimize overall health to build the healthiest foundation for themselves and their future babies. Take that first step today!