It’s no secret that millions of women struggle to become pregnant each year. Is something within our environment causing fertility problems? Research suggests our current lifestyles may be threatening our ability to reproduce.
Lifestyle factors and infertility — are you at risk?
It’s not uncommon to hear of couples who struggle to become pregnant. In fact, approximately 15 percent of those trying to conceive experience challenges due to infertility. Lifestyle choices play a significant role in fertility issues and are often preventable.
Modifiable habits that influence fertility have been extensively researched. From psychological stress to environmental exposure, your choices and overall health may be a significant factor in your ability to conceive. If you are having a hard time getting pregnant, these four factors could be hindering your success.
Being overweight is one of the key reasons women struggle to become pregnant. Obesity can cause an imbalance in hormone levels, which can lead to issues with ovulation and insemination.
A BMI of 25 or over is considered overweight — over 30 is considered obese. Obesity not only reduces the chances of becoming pregnant, it also increases the risk of miscarriage. Luckily, one study found that when anovulatory women lost an average of 10.2 kg (approximately 22 lbs), 90 percent began ovulating once again.
Ladies, you’re not the only ones who need to be concerned — 35.5 percent of American men over the age of 20 are currently considered obese. When a man’s BMI increases as much as three units, this can lead to infertility. As men gain weight, sperm concentration and motility both decrease.
Eliminating cigarettes is a no-brainer when it comes to conception and pregnancy. Smoking exposes the body to over 4,000 chemicals. For men, multiple studies have shown that cigarette smoke reduces the efficiency of sperm. It’s believed that smoking impacts the DNA of sperm; however, researchers continue to analyze this relationship.
In the U.S., 30 percent of women of reproductive age are smokers, and when compared to nonsmokers, they experience higher rates of infertility. The amount of cigarettes a woman smokes per day also affects fertility. A 2015 study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who smoked 0–10 cigarettes a day experienced a pregnancy rate of 52.2 percent, whereas those who smoked more than 10 per day had a pregnancy rate of just 34.1 percent. According to the study, excessive alcohol and drug use also correlated with low fertility rates.
Multiple sexual partners
This factor is one that you need to be aware of long before you plan to conceive. Of course, we all know the risks associated with unprotected sex, especially when numerous partners are involved. Unprotected sex is dangerous for a number of reasons. When it comes to fertility, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can significantly impact the chances of a healthy pregnancy.
It’s been well documented that STIs are a common cause of infertility, as well as a factor in miscarriage rates. Chlamydia, for instance, is a leading cause of pelvic inflammatory disease, which, if left untreated, can result in infertility. This is just one example, as hundreds of millions of people across the globe contract STIs every year.
Since it’s well known that excess weight is a contributing factor in infertility, improving one’s diet for weight loss is a great place to start. A review of the book, The Fertility Diet by Jorge Chavarro, Walter Willet and Patrick Skerrett was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
The review focused on both “good” and “bad” carbohydrates, the elimination of trans fats, the benefits of plant-based protein, the importance of micronutrients, and the effects of a low-sugar diet. So, what exactly should you be eating? Are there foods that are known to increase fertility?
For men, a diet that’s rich in fiber, carbohydrates, lycopene, folate, and plenty of fruits and vegetables has been correlated with better semen quality. For women, diet can significantly impact ovulation and in turn, fertility. Women who are more fertile tend to consume high-fat over low-fat dairy, vegetable protein over animal protein, a low-sugar diet, monounsaturated fat, as well as an increased intake of iron.
It’s never too early to improve your ability to conceive through positive lifestyle changes. When you live a healthier, cleaner life, your body is able to function as it should — helping you to produce a beautiful, healthy baby.
Krista Hillis is passionate about nutrition, mental health, and sustainable practices. She has her Bachelors in Psychology and Neuroscience and is still active in her research. Studying both the body and mind, she focuses on natural health and balance. Krista enjoys writing based on her ability to inspire others and increase overall awareness.
Apari, P., Sousa, J., and Muller, V. (2014). “Why Sexually Transmitted Infections Tend to Cause Infertility: An Evolutionary Hypothesis,” PLoS Pathog. 10(8). doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1004111
Fisher, S. (2010). “The fertility diet: Groundbreaking research reveals natural ways to boost ovulation & improve your chances of getting pregnant,” Journal of Clinical Investigation. 118(4), 1210. doi: 10.1172/JCI35350.
Sharma, R. (2013). “Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility,” Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 11, 66. doi: 10.1186/1477-7827-11-66