Whether we are in infertility treatment or not, whether we have even been to the doctor because we aren’t getting pregnant or not—most of us want to know if there is something we can do on our own to help us get pregnant. Changes in diet are especially interesting because that is one thing we can totally control, and if you aren’t getting pregnant there is so very little you are able to control.
The bad news is that there is a lot of BS on the internet about miracle diets that are guaranteed to get you pregnant—eat kelp and avocados, don’t drink coffee, do drink green tea, and on and on. The good news is that there is one dietary change that is supported by good research and is relatively easy to do—eat more protein.
Most of the time when we hear the word “diet” talked about in relation to fertility or infertility it is referring to the need to lose weight. And while it is true that women with a higher body mass index (BMI) have a harder time getting pregnant—that is not the full story.
Dr. Jeffrey Russell, a reproductive endocrinologist and researcher, was seeing poor quality embryos in both overweight and thin women. He wondered why. He asked women to keep a dietary log of all they ate. He found that almost three-quarters of the women had diets that were made up of less than 25% protein.
Is it Diet or BMI?
Dr. Russell conducted a study to try to test the important diet (specifically the amount of protein in the diet) in fertility. Most important, he controlled for body mass index (BMI) and age, both known risk factors for infertility.
The study analyzed the diets of 120 women going through IVF at the same clinic, all ages 36 and 37 and all with the same general BMI. The findings were fascinating. Protein seemed to be the key.
Patients whose diet was over 25% protein had two times the number of embryos available for transfer and four times the pregnancy rates.
Embryo development was evaluated at Day 5 of culture (the blastocyst stage). The study found “an increased blastocyst formation in 54.3% of patients whose daily protein intake was greater than 25% vs. 38% blastocyst formation in patients whose daily protein intake was less than 25%.”
Most important, the pregnancy rate was also significantly improved in patients with greater than 25% daily protein intake (66.6 % vs. 31.9%).
Dr. Russell has since expanded the study to 350 women and found the same results. Animal studies have also support these findings.
What is the Best Amount of Protein in Your Diet to Maximize Fertility?
Further research has found that the optimum diet for increasing fertility (egg quality, embryo quality, pregnancy rates, birth rates) was 30% protein and less than 40% carbohydrates.
Dr. Russell has said in an interview on Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcast that women who increase their protein a couple of months prior to trying to get pregnant or going through an IVF cycle.
What Type of Protein is Best to Increase Fertility
I was unable to find good research on the type of protein that is best to improve fertility, but common sense tells us that the same proteins that are good for general health would be best. Focus on lean proteins and plant-based proteins.
We interviewed one of the authors of The Fertility Diet on the Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcast. This book was based on dietary information gained from the very largeNurses’ Health Study. The Fertility Diet recommends alternating between poultry, fish, and non-meat options such as nuts, beans, quinoa, and peas.
Any time we are relying on research it is smart to look at the numbers. The study of the importance of protein to increase fertility was small. The Nurses’ Health Study, which informed the information in The Fertility Diet, was large (18,000+ women who were trying to get pregnant over an eight-year period) but only a small number were diagnosed with infertility. Most important, both studies relied on the women remembering and reporting on their food intake. It is important to note that these are observational studies and cannot necessarily show cause and effect.
Also keep in mind that there are not magic bullets in infertility—dietary or otherwise. No change in diet will cure all infertility. A woman without a uterus, with blocked fallopian tubes, or significantly reduced ovarian reserves will not be able to get pregnant just by changing her diet.
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- What Diet Works for PCOS?
- Soy Rich Diet Helpful for IVF Success
- Four Foods to Avoid When Trying to Get Pregnant
Were you successful in getting pregnant by changing your diet? What did you do?