We recently announced some big news: WellBe’s founder Adrienne is pregnant! This is, of course, exciting and happy news, but it also reminded us of the fact that getting pregnant isn’t easy for many people. In fact, the National Fertility Association reports that more than 1 in 8 couples struggle with getting pregnant, and many of those people are at a loss as to how to improve fertility. So with Infertility Awareness week just behind us and Mother’s Day around the corner, we wanted to explore the huge topic of trying to get pregnant, and look at how to increase fertility naturally. Read on to the best natural fertility boosters, fertility-boosting foods, and more.
What Causes Infertility?
Before we get to natural fertility boosters, let’s take a quick look at infertility itself. Couples can struggle with either primary fertility — struggling to get pregnant with their first child — or secondary fertility — struggling to get pregnant after having one or more children already, and the infertility can come from either the male or the female in the couple. But, of course, infertility isn’t a condition in and of itself. It’s the result of something (or multiple things) going awry in the normal process of conception.
For women, that could mean a number of things. Female infertility can occur when a woman doesn’t ovulate, or ovulates irregularly; it can occur if something is blocking the fallopian tubes so that her eggs can’t get from the ovaries to the uterus; it can occur if the eggs can’t attach to the wall of the womb, either because her uterine lining is too thin or some other cause; or it could happen because the fertilized egg dies after attaching to the uterine lining, often because the egg wasn’t viable in the first place.
If the infertility is happening because of the male partner, the issue is generally related to sperm. It could mean low sperm count, or low sperm motility (meaning they’re not good at “swimming” their way to the egg), abnormal or unhealthy sperm, or some sort of physical blockage that prevents the sperm from being released in the first place.
But these issues aren’t really conditions either — while they are all causes of infertility, they’re all caused by something else in turn. That’s where trying to improve fertility gets tricky, because the list of potential root causes is so long. Some underlying issues that can trigger infertility include:
- Certain autoimmune disorders (for example, celiac disease and SLE lupus)
- Cancers or tumor
- Blood clotting disorders
- Thyroid conditions
- Hormonal imbalances
- Certain genetic disorders (for example, cystic fibrosis)
- Physical issues in the uterus, like fibroids, endometriosis, or uterine polyps
- Physical issues with the ovaries, like PCOS, ovarian cysts, or if the ovaries have stopped working prematurely
- Being overweight or underweight
- Excessive exercise
- Excessive drinking, drug use, or smoking
- Environmental toxins
- Advanced age
…and many others. The vast amount of possible root causes of infertility can be overwhelming for those hoping to improve fertility. The good news is that a lot of these issues can be quickly diagnosed with lab tests or physical exams and then treated accordingly — and for infertility that’s not caused by a specific condition, there are plenty of ways to increase fertility naturally.
Natural Fertility Boosters
The Western medical approach to infertility generally focuses on treating the symptom (infertility) rather than the underlying cause, which means that it can miss major things going on in the patients’ bodies. Plus, this approach usually involves synthetic hormones and invasive procedures, two things that we try to avoid at all costs. Thankfully, there are many research-backed, natural ways to increase fertility — and most of these strategies are great for your health in general, regardless of whether or not you’re trying to conceive, so it’s a win-win!
If you’re looking to improve fertility without pharmaceuticals or other interventions, try these natural fertility boosters for women:
- Exercise moderately. Research shows that moderate physical activity is associated with increased fertility in all women. However, it’s important not to push it too far: exercising too vigorously or excessively (more than 5 hours per week) can decrease fertility by suppressing the hormone progesterone and stopping or disrupting ovulation. So that means opting for the vinyasa yoga class, say, rather than the 10-mile run.
- Make sure your weight is in a healthy range. Being overweight or underweight can disrupt menstruation and ovulation, or cause them to stop altogether, and can also throw hormones out of balance. Because of both of this and other factors, women whose weight falls outside of the healthy BMI range — on either side — have significantly more trouble getting pregnant. According to the research, the best BMI range to improve fertility is between 20 and 24.
- Keep your stress in check. Studies show that being stressed out can cause fertility problems in women, a cruel twist of fate given how stressful it is to struggle with getting pregnant! In a recent study, researchers found a 29% reduction in fertility in couples who had high stress levels. This is likely largely due to the hormone cortisol, which our body pumps out when we’re experiencing stress. Cortisol keeps us in a state of fight-or-flight, where our body is focused on survival and so shuts down less essential functions — like reproduction.
- Take multivitamins and eat a varied, whole foods diet. Certain micronutrients play a vital role in female fertility, and while the best thing you can do is eat a wide range of colorful, nutrient-dense plants, it’s not easy these days to get all of the micronutrients needed to get pregnant through diet alone (if you’re not familiar, micronutrients are chemical substances that our bodies need in very small, trace amounts in order to function). One study estimates that 20% of infertility due to ovulation problems could be avoided by taking three or more multivitamins a week.
- Get some sun. Vitamin D is essential for so many important bodily processes, and reproduction is one of them. Studies show that vitamin D3 maximizes a woman’s ability to conceive naturally, and studies have shown that 93% of women experiencing infertility have a vitamin D3 deficiency. While vitamin D supplements can be helpful, they don’t fully take the place of sunlight, which synthesizes D3 naturally.
- Try acupuncture. Acupuncture is often at the top of the list of natural fertility boosters, and with good reason. Research has shown that it can help to improve fertility for both men and women by helping with things like reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs, and balancing hormones. Learn more about how acupuncture can improve fertility.
- Quit smoking. We’re guessing we’re preaching to the choir here, but if you smoke and need yet another reason to quit, here’s one: smoking can seriously reduce your chance of getting pregnant. Research shows that it can increase risk of miscarriage, negatively impact a woman’s ovarian reserve (the quality and quantity of a woman’s egg), and even trigger early menopause.
- Reduce your toxic burden as much as possible. Our environment is full of toxins — whether they’re in foods we eat, cleaning products we use, personal care items, the materials used in our homes, or many more potential places. While the ways these different chemicals impact fertility vary (some may disrupt hormones, some may damage reproductive organs, some may play less clear-cut roles), studies draw a clear connection between environmental toxins and fertility problems. To reduce your risk of toxin-related fertility issues, try to lower your toxic burden as much as possible by drinking filtered water, buying organic food wherever possible, and choosing non-toxic products, like those we have in our Non-toxic Product Database. We have vetted, curated, and rated over 1,500 non-toxic products in categories like personal care products, home cleaning, laundry, food brands, kitchenware, and more. You may also want to look into stealth environmental toxins like mold, a high level of lead-containing dust, or asbestos in your home. I know someone who struggled with infertility for over three years and after discovering toxic mold in her home, she moved out and got pregnant after just a few months of living without mold.
While people often think of women first when the topic of infertility comes up, male infertility is a major issue too. In fact, sperm counts have dropped by more than 50% in Western men in the past 40 years. In terms of natural ways to increase fertility for men, much of the above advice applies (exercise, maintain a healthy weight, avoid toxins, and don’t smoke). However, there are some male-specific natural fertility boosters:
- Take an amino acid supplement. Studies have linked amino acids to higher quality sperm, improving sperm count, motility, and health. The amino acids L-camitine and L-carnitine have been specifically linked to better male fertility, as has fish oil, which contains various amino acids.
- Get enough sleep. While we should all be prioritizing adequate sleep, getting enough rest can be especially important for men who are trying to conceive with a partner. Research has shown that sleeping fewer than 6 hours per night can decrease sperm volume by up to 25%, as well as negatively impact motility. This is likely because testosterone has its own circadian rhythm, which is disrupted when you skimp on sleep.
- Don’t overdo the biking. Researchers have found a link between frequent cycling and male infertility, with men who bike for more than 5 hours per week experiencing lower sperm count and poor motility.
- Keep things cool. Excessive heat around the groin area can do damage to a man’s sperm. That means men should be wary of things like putting laptops directly on their lap and frequently using saunas or hot tubs.
Fertility-Boosting Foods and Dietary Choices
As with basically everything health-related, fertility is also greatly impacted by your diet. That means that many of the best natural fertility boosters actually have to do with what you do — and don’t — eat.
Here’s a rundown on the most effective fertility-boosting foods and other nutritional guidelines:
- Eat organic. As we mentioned above, environmental toxins can cause infertility, often by disrupting hormones. Pesticides are one of the most pervasive environmental toxins, and they can do a whole lot of damage because we actually ingest them. So it’s probably no surprise that research shows that eating pesticide-sprayed food is associated with a lower chance of getting pregnant and a higher risk of miscarriage. Avoid this risk by always choosing organic produce, or at the very least going organic with anything on the Dirty Dozen list.
- Balance your blood sugar. Insulin, the hormone that metabolizes sugar, is chemically similar to ovarian hormones that help eggs grow and mature. So if your insulin levels are elevated, your body thinks that it can produce fewer reproductive hormones, resulting in too few or immature eggs. To counter this, choose foods with a low glycemic index, like oatmeal, broccoli and almonds.
- Choose plant protein. Studies have linked eating a lot of animal protein to ovulation issues, and associated plant protein (like, soy, lentils, chickpeas, or tempeh) with better female fertility.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants. Some of the best fertility-boosting foods are those that are chock-full of antioxidants. Antioxidants are chemical compounds that fight off damaging free radicals in your body, and can be found in berries, nuts, dark chocolate, and leafy greens, among other sources. One study of young men found that eating 75 grams of antioxidant-rich walnuts per day improved sperm quality, while another found that women with a high intake of folate (an antioxidant found in leafy greens, chickpeas, and cruciferous vegetables) was associated with a higher chance of a getting pregnant and carrying the pregnancy to term.
- Load up on whole grains. Because unstable blood sugar can disrupt ovulation, whole grains like quinoa, farro, and brown rice are a great choice for keeping insulin levels stable. Fiber can also regulate hormones by binding excess estrogen to the intestine.
- Go full fat and organic with dairy. If you eat dairy, be aware of its fat content and it’s potential for increasing your pesticide and hormone exposure. Studies show that eating or drinking nonfat dairy products (like skim milk and nonfat yogurt) can promote infertility and ovulatory disorders. On the other hand, eating full-fat dairy products was associated with a 25% reduced risk of infertility. Organic dairy ensures you’re avoiding the pesticides and added hormones given to dairy cows, which can also mess with your hormones, and therefore your fertility.
- Don’t skip breakfast. If you’re struggling with PCOS or other hormonal issues, eating a substantial meal when you wake up might help. One study found that women with PCOS who ate a large breakfast had more regular periods and increased fertility.
- Avoid soda and other sugary drinks. Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks are associated with an average 20% reduced chance of conception, with women who drink one soda per day 25% less likely to get pregnant in a given month. Sugary energy drinks were linked with even bigger reductions in fertility.
- Watch your caffeine intake. You don’t have to completely ditch the caffeine habit if you’re trying to get pregnant, but it’s important to be mindful of quantity. Research shows that women who consume 500 milligrams or more per day have an increased risk for fertility problems — but given that this comes out to about five cups of coffee, rest assured that you can still have your morning cup without compromising your fertility.
- Go easy on the alcohol. While it’s fine to have the occasional glass of wine or two while trying to get pregnant, heavy drinking can lead to fertility issues in both sexes. For men, excessive alcohol is associated with impotence and decreased sperm production, while it can lead to ovulation disorders in women.
Every person looking to improve fertility is unique, and what works for you will depend on your specific body and circumstances. The good news is that the fertility-boosting foods and dietary guidelines above are good for you under any circumstances, so you’ll reap the health benefits either way.
The WellBe Takeaway on How to Improve Fertility Naturally
Trying to get pregnant can be a challenging and overwhelming process. The expensive, invasive treatments offered by conventional medicine to improve fertility can make it feel even more so. Thankfully, there is another way. Here’s what to remember about natural fertility boosters:
- Infertility is an increasingly common issue. One in eight couples in the U.S. struggle to conceive, and sperm counts have dropped by 50% over the past 50 years in Western men.
- Either the male or the female partner (or both) could be the source of fertility issues. For women, the cause of infertility could have to do with ovulation problems, physical obstacles (like fibroids or blocked fallopian tubes), poor egg quality, or a thin uterine lining, among other issues. For men, the cause of infertility is generally related to sperm count, motility, and health.
- There are many possible root causes of fertility issues. Infertility could be caused by certain autoimmune conditions, exposure to environmental toxins, smoking or drug use, STIs, thyroid disorders, diabetes, being overweight or underweight, tumors or cancer, hormonal problems, excessive exercise, excessive stress, or genetic disorders, among other causes.
- While conventional fertility treatment usually involves synthetic hormones and invasive procedures that treat the surface cause of infertility, there are natural ways to increase fertility that have no side effects and treat the root cause.
- Natural fertility boosters include: maintaining a healthy weight, exercising in moderation, reducing stress, getting enough D3 from the sun, taking a multivitamin, avoiding toxins, and acupuncture. For men specifically, taking amino acids, getting enough sleep, and avoiding biking and excessive heat in the groin area can improve fertility.
- What you eat and don’t eat can also help improve fertility. It’s important to choose organic, pesticide-free foods, and eat whole grains and other low glycemic index foods that keep your blood sugar balanced. Fertility-boosting foods include organic, full-fat dairy, antioxidant-packed foods like berries and walnuts, and plant protein. Foods to avoid include caffeine, alcohol, and sugary sodas and energy drinks.
Have you had success with natural ways to increase fertility? Do you know of any natural fertility boosters that we didn’t mention here? Let us know in the comments below!
- Jan Willem van der Steeg, et al. Obesity affects spontaneous pregnancy chances in subfertile, ovulatory women, Human Reproduction, Volume 23, Issue 2, February 2008, Pages 324–328.
- Lynch, C D et al. “Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study–the LIFE study.” Human reproduction (Oxford, England) vol. 29,5 (2014): 1067-75.
- Chavarro, Jorge E et al. “Use of multivitamins, intake of B vitamins, and risk of ovulatory infertility.” Fertility and sterility vol. 89,3 (2008): 668-76.
- Fung, June L et al. “Association of vitamin D intake and serum levels with fertility: results from the Lifestyle and Fertility Study.” Fertility and sterility vol. 108,2 (2017): 302-311.
- Pizzorno, Joseph. “Environmental Toxins and Infertility.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 17,2 (2018): 8-11.