Antioxidants like folate and zinc may improve fertility for both men and women.
Antioxidants deactivate the free radicals in your body, which can damage both sperm and egg cells.
One study of young, adult men found that eating 75 grams of antioxidant-rich walnuts per day improved sperm quality.
Another study that followed 60 couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization found that taking an antioxidant supplement resulted in a 23% greater chance of conception.
Foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains are packed full of beneficial antioxidants like vitamins C and E, folate, beta-carotene and lutein.
Eating a substantial breakfast may help women with fertility problems.
One study found that eating a larger breakfast may improve the hormonal effects of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a major cause of infertility.
For normal weight women with PCOS, eating most of their calories at breakfast reduced insulin levels by 8% and testosterone levels by 50%. High levels of either can contribute to infertility.
In addition, these women ovulated 30% more than women who ate a smaller breakfast and larger dinner, suggesting improved fertility.
However, it’s important to note that increasing the size of your breakfast without reducing the size of your evening meal is likely to lead to weight gain.
Eating healthy fat every day is important for boosting fertility.
However, trans fats are associated with an increased risk of ovulatory infertility, due to their negative effects on insulin sensitivity.
Trans fats are commonly found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and are usually present in some margarine, fried foods, processed products and baked goods.
A large observational study found that a diet higher in trans fats and lower in unsaturated fats was linked to infertility.
Choosing trans fats instead of monounsaturated fats may increase the risk of ovulatory infertility by 31%.
Eating trans fats instead of carbs may increase this risk by 73%.
Following a lower-carb diet is generally recommended for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Lower-carb diets may help you maintain a healthy weight, reduce insulin levels and encourage fat loss, all while helping menstrual regularity.
One large observational study found that as carb intake increased, the risk of infertility also increased.
In the study, women who ate more carbs had a 78% greater risk of ovulatory infertility than those who followed a lower-carb diet.
Another small study among overweight and obese women with PCOS reported that eating a low-carb diet reduced hormone levels, such as insulin and testosterone, both of which can contribute to infertility.
It’s not just the amount of carbs that’s important, but also the type.
Refined carbs may be especially problematic. Refined carbs include sugary foods and drinks and processed grains, including white pasta, bread and rice.
These carbs are absorbed very quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
Refined carbs also have a high glycemic index (GI).
One large observational study found that high-GI foods were associated with a greater risk of ovulatory infertility.
Given that PCOS is associated with high insulin levels, refined carbs can make it even worse.
Fiber helps your body get rid of excess hormones and keeps blood sugar balanced.
Some examples of high-fiber foods are whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans.
Certain types of fiber can help remove excess estrogen by binding to it in the intestines.
The excess estrogen is then removed from the body as a waste product.
One study found that eating 10 grams more cereal fiber per day was associated with a 44% lower risk of ovulatory infertility among women older than 32 years.
However, the evidence on fiber is mixed. In another study of 250 women aged 18 to 44, eating the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day was associated with a nearly 10 times higher risk of abnormal ovulation cycles.
Replacing some animal proteins (such as meat, fish and eggs) with vegetable protein sources (such as beans, nuts and seeds) is linked to a reduced risk of infertility.
One study found that a higher protein intake from meat was linked to a 32% higher chance of developing ovulatory infertility.
On the other hand, eating more vegetable protein may protect against infertility.
A study showed that when 5% of total calories came from vegetable protein instead of animal protein, the risk of ovulatory infertility decreased by more than 50%.
Therefore, consider replacing some of the meat protein in your diet with protein from vegetables, beans, lentils and nuts.
High intakes of low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of infertility, whereas high-fat dairy foods may decrease it.
One large study looked at the effects of eating high-fat dairy more than once a day or less than once a week.
It found that women who consumed one or more servings of high-fat dairy per day were 27% less likely to be infertile.
You can try replacing one low-fat dairy serving per day with one high-fat dairy serving, such as a glass of whole milk.
Women who take multivitamins may be less likely to experience ovulatory infertility.
In fact, an estimated 20% of ovulatory infertility may be avoided if women consume 3 or more multivitamins per week.
What’s more, one study found that women who took multivitamins had up to a 41% lower risk of infertility. For women trying to get pregnant, a multivitamin containing folate may be especially beneficial.
Another study found that a dietary supplement including chasteberry, green tea, vitamin E and vitamin B6, improved chances of conception.
After three months on the supplement, 26% of the women became pregnant compared to just 10% of those who did not take the supplement.
Exercise has many benefits for your health, including increased fertility.
In fact, a sedentary lifestyle has been associated with a higher risk of infertility.
The Nurses’ Health Study II found that each hour per week of exercise was associated with a 5% lower risk of infertility.
For obese women, both moderate and intense physical activity, together with weight loss, had a positive effect on fertility.
However, moderation is key. Excessive high-intensity exercise has actually been associated with decreased fertility in certain women.
Excessive exercise may change the energy balance in the body, and negatively affect the reproductive system.
One large observational study found that the risk of infertility was 3.2 times greater for women who exercised intensely every day, compared to inactive women.
As your stress levels increase, your chances of getting pregnant decrease. This is likely due to the hormonal changes that occur when you feel stressed.
Having a stressful job and working long hours can also increase the time it takes you to become pregnant.
In fact, stress, anxiety and depression affect around 30% of women who attend fertility clinics.
Receiving support and counseling may reduce anxiety and depression levels, therefore increasing your chances of becoming pregnant.
Caffeine can negatively affect female fertility.
One study suggests that women who consume over 500 mg of caffeine daily take up to 9.5 months longer to get pregnant.
A high caffeine intake before pregnancy is also linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
However, other studies did not find a strong link between caffeine intake and an increased risk of infertility.
Weight is one of the most influential factors when it comes to fertility. In fact, being either underweight or overweight is associated with increased infertility.
A large observational study suggests that in the US, 12% of ovulatory infertility is due to being underweight, while 25% is due to being overweight.
This is because the amount of fat stored in your body influences menstrual function.
Women who are under- or overweight have longer cycle lengths, making it more difficult to get pregnant.
To improve your chances of getting pregnant, try to lose weight if you’re overweight and gain weight if you’re underweight.
Consuming iron supplements and non-heme iron, which comes from plant-based foods, may decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility.
An observational study including 438 women found that taking iron supplements was linked to a 40% lower risk of ovulatory infertility.
Non-heme iron was also associated with a decreased risk of infertility. Heme iron, which comes from animal sources, did not appear to affect fertility levels.
Nonetheless, more evidence is needed to confirm whether iron supplements should be recommended to all women, especially if iron levels are healthy to begin with.
However, boosting your intake of iron-rich foods may help.
Yet non-heme iron sources are more difficult for your body to absorb, so try taking them with foods or drinks high in vitamin C to increase absorption.
Alcohol consumption can negatively affect fertility. However, it’s unclear how much alcohol is needed to cause this effect.
A large observational study found that drinking more than 8 drinks per week was associated with a longer time to get pregnant.
Another study involving 7,393 women found that a high alcohol intake was associated with more infertility examinations.
However, the evidence on moderate alcohol consumption is mixed.
One study found no link between moderate consumption and infertility, while other studies report that moderate intake can affect fertility.
For example, one study of 430 couples reported that drinking five or less alcoholic drinks per week was associated with reduced fertility.
Some sources suggest that the phytoestrogens found in soy can interfere with hormone levels and cause fertility issues.
Several animal studies have linked soy with lower sperm quality in male rats and reduced fertility in female rats.
One animal study found that even small amounts of soy products caused sexual behavior changes in male offspring.
However, few studies have looked into the effects of soy on humans, and more evidence is needed.
Additionally, these negative effects are usually only associated with unfermented soy. Fermented soy is generally considered safe to eat.
Certain natural supplements have been linked to increased fertility. These include:
- Maca: Maca comes from a plant grown in central Peru. Some animal studies found it improved fertility, but results from human studies are mixed. Some report improvements to sperm quality, while others find no effect.
- Bee pollen: Bee pollen has been linked to improved immunity, fertility and overall nutrition. One animal study found that consuming bee pollen was linked to improved sperm quality and male fertility.
- Bee propolis: A study of women with endometriosis found that taking bee propolis twice a day resulted in a 40% greater chance of becoming pregnant after 9 months (50).
- Royal jelly: Royal jelly, which is also made by bees, is packed with amino acids, lipids, sugars, vitamins, fatty acids, iron and calcium. Animal studies found it may improve reproductive health in rats.