The Mediterranean Dietary Pattern & Fertility

I specialized in women’s health nutrition during graduate school, with an emphasis on nutrition and fertility. You may not realize it, but we have lots of evidence for certain dietary recommendations for those who are experiencing difficulty conceiving, and I want to share that info with you in a series of posts on nutrition and fertility! I’m starting with the Mediterranean dietary pattern (Med diet). I call it a dietary pattern, because it isn’t really a diet. It’s a way of eating and living, and I don’t think it has to be limited to just the Mediterranean flavor profile, but we’ll get into that in another post. 

First let’s get our definitions straight. Approximately 15% of couples of reproductive age experience infertility in the U.S. (1), and infertility is defined as the inability to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex (3). Plus, over 25% of infertility cases are attributable to the male partner (4), which is why I’ll go over nutrition and male fertility in another post. 

The Med diet is largely plant-based, high in fruits and veggies with some whole grains, legumes and lots of healthy unsaturated fats from sources like olives, nuts, olive oil and fish. It even includes up to two glasses of red wine in some studies, though that isn’t recommended if you’re trying to get pregnant (5).

There is some excellent evidence that the Mediterranean dietary pattern is a great way to go if you’re looking to get pregnant. A study that surveyed nearly 500 women found that those with the highest adherence to the Med diet were 44% less likely to report having “trouble getting pregnant” than those in the lowest adherence group (5). 

Another study found that amongst a cohort of over 2,000 women undergoing IVF, those with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet were 40% more likely to have a successful conception. A couple of important things they found were that women in this higher level of adherence had more vitamin B6 and folate in their follicular fluid, possibly indicating these were part of the reason why they were more successful. Plus, they compared the Med diet to a “health conscious low-fat diet,” and still found these benefits, meaning there seems to be some benefit of the higher fat profile in the Med diet (6). One other study I want to mention looked at 243 women undergoing IVF and found that those who had the highest adherence to the Med diet had a 75% greater likelihood of live birth than those in the lowest adherence (7). Of course, live birth is the most important metric when you’re looking to conceive. 

Together these paint a pretty compelling picture for the Med diet and fertility. None of these studies required participants to painstakingly adhere to a strict regime, but rather, they simply looked at whether their general eating pattern matched that of a typical Mediterranean one. This is why I like this recommendation for couples looking to get pregnant. Add in some olive oil, increase your fruit and vegetable intake and eat some fish (if you’re not fully plant-based), and you’re on your way to increasing fertility. I’ll discuss this and other techniques for increasing fertility in future posts. 

If you’re looking to increase your chances of getting pregnant through diet and lifestyle changes, you can be one of my flagship clients for only $25 for a nutrition assessment, complete with individualized recommendations. Use code FLAGSHIP when paying. Book Here.

References

  1. Thoma, M. E., McLain, A. C., Louis, J. F., King, R. B., Trumble, A. C., Sundaram, R., & Buck Louis, G. M. (2013). Prevalence of infertility in the United States as estimated by the current duration approach and a traditional constructed approach. Fertility and Sterility, 99(5), 1324-1331.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.11.037
  2. WHO | Global prevalence of infertility, infecundity and childlessness. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2019, from https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/infertility/burden/en/
  3. Lindsay, T. J., & Vitrikas, K. R. (2015). Evaluation and treatment of infertility. American Family Physician, 91(5), 308–314.
  4. 38. Salas-Huetos, A., Bulló, M., & Salas-Salvadó, J. (2017). Dietary patterns, foods and nutrients in male fertility parameters and fecundability: a systematic review of observational studies. Human Reproduction Update, 23(4), 371–389. https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmx006
  5. Toledo, E., Lopez-del Burgo, C., Ruiz-Zambrana, A., Donazar, M., Navarro-Blasco, I., Martínez-González, M. A., & de Irala, J. (2011). Dietary patterns and difficulty conceiving: a nested case-control study. Fertility and Sterility, 96(5), 1149–1153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2011.08.034
  6. Karayiannis, D., Kontogianni, M. D., Mendorou, C., Mastrominas, M., & Yiannakouris, N. (2018). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 33(3), 494–502. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey003
  7. Karayiannis, D., Kontogianni, M. D., Mendorou, C., Mastrominas, M., & Yiannakouris, N. (2018). Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and IVF success rate among non-obese women attempting fertility. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 33(3), 494–502. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dey003

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