This post was written by Amara Lindenmayer, fertility dietitian and founder of Foodbaby and expert reviewed by Marea Goodman, Licensed Midwife and Certified Professional Midwife, and medically reviewed by Sarah Marsh, RN, CNM, MSN, MPH. Foodbaby helps you take control of your fertility by tweaking your lifestyle. Learn more about their free Fertility Masterclass today.
If you’re trying to get pregnant you may have heard that your lifestyle affects fertility. But understanding why that is and how your lifestyle influences your fertility can be tricky. To put it simply, anything that affects our hormones affects ovulation and in turn, fertility, because you can’t get pregnant without ovulating! Our lifestyles affect our hormones in a myriad of ways, from the medications we take to what we eat. So to get you started, here are 5 ways lifestyle affects ovulation.
Not eating enough is a common reason for anovulation, that is, not ovulating. When you think about it this makes a lot of sense, pregnancy takes a lot of energy (aka calories). So if you're not eating enough the body thinks energy must be scarce at the moment. So what does it do? Essentially switches off our fertility by stopping or reducing the regularity of ovulation. So if you’re trying to conceive, make sure you’re eating enough food, including plenty of healthy fats.
We know that exercise is good for our health in general, but how does it affect ovulation? Research shows that in general, exercise is good for our hormone levels. However there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when it comes to exercise and fertility.
A recent review found that extremely heavy exercise (more than 60 min/day) was related to an increased risk of anovulation. But 30-60 min/day of exercise was associated with reduced risk of anovulatory infertility. This likely comes back to the idea that the body reduces or stops ovulation when energy is limited, which is often the case with very high levels of exercise, especially when paired with inadequate energy intake.
Stick to the guidelines of about 30 to 60 minutes of exercise per day when trying to get pregnant.
Over the counter and prescription medications can have a big impact on our hormones and can affect ovulation. This is, after all, how hormonal contraceptives work. The oral contraceptive pill provides a consistent level of hormones that stop the body from preparing a follicle and ovulating as it would otherwise.
Other medications can aid ovulation. For example, metformin can sometimes be used to help those with diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome to ovulate more consistently. Other medication can be used as a treatment for fertility problems.
Talk to your doctor about how your current medications affect fertility and if you’re struggling to conceive, ask about how and when medication may be used to help.
As well as overall energy intake, individual nutrients in our diet or supplements can also impact ovulation and fertility. These can affect our hormone levels or directly impact the health of the developing follicle and egg itself.
You’ve probably already heard of folate. It’s the most important supplement you can take when trying to conceive. Folate is a B vitamin, also known as B9. It is an essential nutrient needed to make DNA, among other things. Obviously making DNA and new cells is vitally important in pregnancy, particularly very early on as your baby starts out as just a few cells that rapidly divide and multiply. The main reason it’s so well known as a prenatal vitamin is that there is very strong evidencethat taking it prior to and in early pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects.
But the evidence on folate supplementation goes further than that. Studies also show that taking a multivitamin containing folic acid can reduce the risk of ovulatory infertility by up to 40%.
Other nutrients such as iron, vitamin D and marine omega-3s are also related to a reduced risk of anovulation, in both those with and without polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Remember, it’s always best to get personalised advice from your own healthcare professionals before commencing any supplements.
Another way that diet affects ovulation and fertility is through our blood sugar balance.
A huge study, with over 2 million people, looked at blood sugar levels and found that those with higher blood sugars took longer to get pregnant even if they didn’t have diabetes, and even if their levels were within the healthy range.
Why would this be the case? Well, insulin, one of the main hormones that regulates our blood sugars, works very closely with our reproductive hormones. If our diet throws off our insulin levels (like causing them to spike due to large servings of sugar or refined carbs), this, in turn, throws off our reproductive hormones. Over time this can delay or prevent ovulation occurring. That’s why having high blood sugar levels (even if you don’t have diabetes or prediabetes) makes it more difficult to conceive.