Fertility Diet & Lifestyle Tips

By Debra Betts

Preconception fertility care is based on helping your body produce the healthiest eggs and sperm possible. In a woman it takes approximately 100 days for the egg to develop towards ovulation and in the male it’s approximately 116 days for sperm production to be completed. A proactive way to utilize this time involves couples adapting a healthy diet and environment in the four months prior to a possible conception. Although the focus is often on women in fertility issues, the reality is that men share 50% of the responsibility in the creation of a healthy embryo.

Recommendations for both partners include:

• Refraining from cigarette smoking and other social drugs such as marijuana.
• Avoiding the consumption of alcohol.
• Avoiding caffeine based products.
• Avoiding pesticides and chemicals where possible for example; hair dyes, chemical household cleaners, nail polish remover, garden sprays, and paint fumes.
• The use of organically grown, unsprayed produce, additive-free foods, free range eggs, fresh fish and organically reared meat and poultry where possible.

A report prepared by the British Medical Association had the following key findings:

• Men who smoke have a lower sperm count and a higher proportion of malformed sperm.
• Women who smoke take longer to conceive.
• Women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non smokers.
• Men and women who smoke have a poorer response to fertility treatment
• Women who have stopped smoking take no longer to become pregnant than those who have never smoked.
• Stopping smoking improves sperm count and quality (1).


A study of 1,909 women in America found the risk of not conceiving for 12 months was 55% higher for women drinking 1 cup of coffee per day. It was 100% higher for women drinking 1 and one half to 3 cups and 176 % higher for women drinking more than three cups per day(2). Coffee drinking before and during pregnancy was associated with over twice the risk of miscarriage when the mother consumed 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day(3).  A Caffeine intake of 3 or more cups a day by women or their partners doubled the rate of miscarriage in a Danish study (4).


In a study of Danish greenhouse workers, an unexpectedly high sperm count was found among organic farmers. Their sperm count was more than twice as high in those men as in a control group of blue-collar workers, suggesting that consuming organically grown foods may enhance fertility (5). Men experiencing infertility were found to be employed in agriculture/pesticide related jobs 10 times more often than a study group of men not experiencing fertility problems (6).

Miscarriage increases in women (2.1 to 4.7 times) were found after exposure to chemical solvents. The major risk chemicals were those used in dry-cleaning, paint, paint thinners and paint strippers (7).

Body Weight

A body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 in women is considered overweight and has been linked to irregular or infrequent menstrual cycles, an increased risk of infertility, an increased risk of miscarriage and decreased success with fertility treatments. The positive news is that small amounts of weight loss (5-10%) may dramatically improve ovulation and pregnancy rates (8). A study of Danish men found that sperm counts were lower in those men that were overweight (21.6 %) and those that were underweight (28.1%) (9)


A study from the Universality of California of 221 couples undergoing fertility treatment found:

• For women alcohol consumption in the month before IVF attempt reduced success nearly 3 times with alcohol consumption in the week before egg pick up (one glass per day) increasing the chance of miscarriage by 2 times.
• For men alcohol consumption the month before IVF reduced success 2 and a half times and alcohol (one glass per day) in the week before sperm collection reduced success more than 8 times. The recommendation was made that couples abstain from alcohol consumption at least one month before the attempt to maximize the effectiveness and success of the IVF and GIFT procedure (10).

Alcohol consumption in the week prior to conception was associated with an increased rate of miscarriage. For women ten or more drinks a week was associated with 2 to 3 times greater risk of miscarriage while for men it was 2 to 5 times greater risk (11).

Laptops and Male Fertility

Men sitting with their legs together and working on a laptop computer can rise the temperature by up to 2.8 degrees C. An amount sufficient to affect testicular function and impair spermatogenesis.

1. British Medical Association 2004 http://www.bma.org.uk
2. Yale University School of Medicine. Epidemiologic Reviews Vol 14, Pg 83, 1992
3.  Journal of American Medical Association December 22 1993
4. American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 160 No 7 2004 661-67
5 Abell A, Ernst E, Bonde JP. High sperm density among members of organic farmers’ association. Lancet 1994;343:1498.
6. American Journal of industrial medicine Vol 24; 587-592, 1983
7. American Journal of Industrial Medicine Vol 20; 241-249, 1991
8. American Society for Reproductive Medicine Meeting October 2004
9. American Society for Reproductive Medicine Meeting October 2004
10. Fertility and Sterility 2003;79:330-339
11. American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 160 No 7 2004 661-67

Compiled by Debra Betts author of “The essential guide to Acupuncture in Pregnancy and Childbirth”, 2006. Website http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz

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