Diet’s Impact on Fertility

By Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN, American Institute for Cancer Research
MSN Health and Fitness
Dec. 2, 2008

Five issues that impact your ability to get pregnant

More than 15 percent of women may have difficulty becoming pregnant at some point during their lifetime. The term infertility is used when pregnancy does not occur after at least one year of trying. Since infertility affects about 7.3 million couples in the U.S., interest is growing in how diet and lifestyle might affect fertility.

About a third of infertility cases are attributed to the male partner, a third to the female and a third to a combination of both partners (or no cause is found). Male infertility is usually attributed to an insufficient healthy sperm count. Women with infertility can trace their issues to a number of different causes: problems with the structure of the uterus, blocked fallopian tubes or, most often, failure to release healthy eggs.

Several diet and lifestyle issues may also have an effect. Here’s a list of the most common:


A woman’s weight can affect her fertility. In fact, weight issues account for about 12 percent of all infertility, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Too little body fat reduces estrogen levels so much that the reproductive cycle starts to shut down. Too much body fat raises estrogen levels, acting like birth control pills to suppress ovulation (egg release). Obesity is even linked with decreased success of fertility treatments.

And women aren’t the only ones whose fertility is threatened by excess weight. Several studies link excess weight in men with decreased semen and increased production of abnormal sperm. Some researchers suggest that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, which provide antioxidants to prevent damage to sperm, may protect men’s fertility. But overall, research results have been very mixed.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome

PCOS is an endocrine disorder and the most common reason for infertility due to lack of ovulation. In women with the disorder, insulin and reproductive hormones are at abnormal levels, and egg production and menstrual cycles often halt. Besides infertility, PCOS is linked with greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Fortunately, a modest weight loss of about five percent is often enough to normalize hormones and improve fertility. Regular physical activity seems important as well, and a diet that includes more dietary fiber and whole grains may also help.


A lack of healthy red blood cells is linked with female infertility, caused by both lack of iron or inadequate vitamin B-12 or folate. Although more research is needed in this area, women can avoid most anemias through a healthy diet. To start, make sure to get enough folate by eating plenty of vegetables, beans and grains–both whole grains and enriched grains. If you don’t eat animal products (including dairy) make sure to get adequate vitamin B-12 from fortified foods or supplements.


Overall balanced eating habits may also help with infertility. One large study involving over 17,000 nurses reported that women who follow healthy eating practices experienced up to 66 percent lower risk of infertility due to ovulation problems. The women who benefitted had a diet high in healthy monounsaturated fat (found in olive oil and nuts, for example), low in trans fat and rich in vegetable-based protein and whole-grain foods. These eating habits may help by promoting normal insulin levels and by providing a variety of antioxidants that could promote and protect pregnancy.


Tobacco use threatens both male and female fertility. It makes a woman’s eggs more prone to genetic abnormalities and has been linked with abnormal sperm, decreased sperm and impaired sperm movement. Nicotine and other chemicals can also affect ovulation by decreasing estrogen.

One note of caution: We must be careful when interpreting results from many of these studies, since observational data can only speak to associations between various diet and lifestyle choices and fertility, not causation.

Karen Collins, D.C.N., M.S., R.D., serves as the nutrition advisor to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). Karen writes two syndicated weekly columns, “Nutrition Notes” and “Nutrition-Wise,” distributed by AICR. Karen was an expert reviewer for AICR’s landmark international report, “Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective,” which provides recommendations based on an examination of more than 7,000 research studies by a panel of internationally renowned scientists.

Next Steps

Becoming victorious over the symptoms of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is not easy, but you can overcome your PCOS symptoms to live the life you deserve.

It takes strength, courage, and perseverance. It can be challenging and that’s why Insulite Health created this website. It's has information and resources that will help you balance your hormones and reverse PCOS symptoms.

So take these next steps now! Use the links below to learn how to make the changes that will transform your health and your life forever.

  1. Read more about PCOS. Search our 1300 page PCOS library.
  2. Join our Facebook Group right now!  Pose your questions to this group of like-minded women and get the support you need.
  3. Take the PCOS Quiz! Get your PCOS score and assess your risk.  
  4. Learn more about the Insulite 5-Element PCOS Solution

Insulite Health, is committed to helping women reverse their symptoms of hormone imbalance. Scientific research has revealed that this imbalance can be a primary cause of many devastating health symptoms. Hormone Imbalance can also underlie the increased risk factors for PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) - a major source of serious diseases as well as cause of excess weight gain, adult acne, unwanted facial hair, depression, anxiety, and heartbreaking female infertility.

©Insulite Health, Inc., empowers women with PCOS to transform their lives through a process of healing with the 5-Element PCOS System – a complete solution for helping women reverse the symptoms of PCOS and hormone imbalance.