Veganism and Fertility: What Should You Know?
Veganism and Fertility: What Should You Know?
Infertility is a serious public health concern with rates steadily increasing each year. It’s estimated that infertility affects 15–20% of couples in Canada.
There are many factors that can affect both men and women trying to conceive.
Common causes in women include ovulatory problems – lack of periods, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometriosis. The most common cause in men is poor-quality sperm.
In addition to those causes, controllable lifestyle factors that influence fertility include weight, inactivity, and stress. The effects of diet are often overlooked.
Research has started to demonstrate a link between nutrition and fertility, in both men and women. Specifically, interesting findings on the plant-based diet and fertility have begun to emerge.
Fertility and diet: Is there a connection?
While couples can’t necessarily control all the causes of infertility, eating habits can be managed. Nutrition and a healthy body weight for both partners can have a significant impact on the ability to conceive.
In fact, in 2007, a team of Harvard researchers published the “Fertility Diet” study. They found that women with ovulatory infertility that followed their healthy eating pattern had a 66% lower risk of ovulatory infertility and a 27% reduced risk of infertility from other causes than women who didn’t follow the healthy diet closely.
The healthy eating pattern followed in this study included lots of veggies, healthy fats (instead of saturated, and trans fats), whole grains, and plenty of calcium rich foods.
Overall, this study showed that there absolutely is a strong connection between fertility and diet.
What does this mean for a vegetarian getting pregnant?
A healthy, balanced plant-based diet is comprised of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes. Sounds great, right?
While these all do have their place in a fertility diet, there are some considerations for veganism and fertility.
Vegans and vegetarians getting pregnant will want to opt for a diet that is rich in specific nutrients to increase their chances of conception. This does mean putting in a bit of extra effort on a vegan diet.
How to optimize your vegan fertility diet
Pregnancy on a vegan diet is healthy and is absolutely possible. For both partners, remaining open to some small changes in diet is key to successfully combining veganism and fertility.
Let’s take a look at some of the top nutrition players to consider:
Vitamin B12 is vital for reproductive health, yet so many vegans are deficient in B12.
Women that are B12 deficient may be at an increased risk of pregnancy complications and birth defects. B12 deficiency can also make it more difficult to get pregnant.
To obtain adequate Vitamin B12, I suggest you follow one or a combination of these approaches:
- Take a daily B12 supplement of 25mcg, or
- Take a 2,000 to 2,500mcg B12 supplement twice a week, or
- Every day, consume three servings of B12-fortified foods, with each serving providing at least 2mcg of B12.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12 include fortified cereals, fortified plant milks, and nutritional yeast.
Maintaining solid iron stores is especially crucial when trying to conceive, because requirements for iron significantly increase to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Women who do not get enough amount of iron are at an increased risk of lack of ovulation and poor egg health.
Plant-based eaters need 1.8 times more iron than non-vegetarians. Vegan and vegetarian women aged 19-50 need 32.4mg of iron daily.
Good vegan dietary sources of iron are beans, lentils, fortified cereals, dark chocolate, and molasses.
An iron supplement or iron as part of a prenatal supplement can be a valuable addition to any diet that may be somewhat low in iron.
Folate helps in the production of healthy vegan sperm with less risk of DNA damage, protects fetuses from neural damage, and supports fertility in both genders. Both women and men that are trying to conceive should focus on increasing their folate intake.
Women who might become pregnant should consume 400mcg DFE of folic acid daily.
The simplest way to do this is to take a 400mcg folic acid supplement daily. Alternatively, a diet rich in beans, greens, oranges, and enriched whole grains can provide the necessary amount.
Plant-based diets and male fertility
Average sperm counts have been sharply declining over the past 50 years – and diet and lifestyle may have to do with it.
Why is sperm count declining?
Red and processed meats like bacon, steak, and cold cuts, have been shown to lower sperm count and motility. High-fat dairy products and trans-fats have also been found to show similar results.
This is likely to do with their pro-inflammatory effects.
Is vegan sperm better?
A recent study out of Harvard University looked at more than 3,000 Danish men ages 18 to 20 and found that those who followed a vegetarian diet had higher sperm counts than those who eat a lot of red meat and junk food.
These findings have been replicated in many other studies, supporting the idea that vegan men produce more sperm with better motility.
Veganism and fertility: Protection against environmental toxins
In addition to diet, environmental toxins and contaminants have been decreasing fertility due to their hormone-disrupting effects. Although limited in scope, evidence to date suggests that vegans and vegetarians have reduced exposure to environmental contaminants than non-vegetarians.
A study from India looked at the levels of PCBs and other hormone-disrupting chemicals associated with male infertility and found that concentrations were highest among urban fish eaters and lowest among rural vegetarians.
Weight, veganism, and fertility
Being overweight or underweight has been shown to impact fertility.
On the other hand though, frequent weight cycling and yo-yo dieting can negatively impact both female and male fertility. Simply pursuing weight loss through dieting might not help you achieve the results you want.
A vegan intuitive eating nutritionist can help you heal your relationship with food, find your healthy weight, and maximize your chances of veganism and fertility.
The plant-based diet and fertility in summary
While couples can’t necessarily control all the causes of infertility, healthy eating habits can aid in creating positive results. Healthy vegan nutrition can have a significant impact on the ability to conceive.