But that doesn’t mean the same diet will work for everyone, or that there’s one diet that’s better than the rest. “I think it is really important for women to know that there is little scientific evidence that any one particular food, diet, herb, or supplement will significantly improve fertility in healthy, ovulatory women,” says Temeka K. Zore, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at RMA Network in Southern California.
“That said, there is good data to support dietary changes for women who are significantly underweight or overweight or who may have decreased fertility rates, so we advise women to maintain a healthy weight through healthy eating and a regular exercise routine,” Dr. Zore says.
Women with conditions like PCOS and endometriosis may also benefit from changing how they eat, she adds. “The high androgen (male hormone) and insulin levels seen in women with PCOS may also have a harmful impact on egg quality. Therefore, women with PCOS are encouraged to consume foods that are high in fiber and antioxidant rich, and limit processed foods or those with added sugars. In addition to decreasing blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity, these diet changes may help with weight loss, which can subsequently improve the chance a woman with PCOS ovulates.”
In the case of endometriosis, the exact cause is unknown, but it’s thought to be related to inflammation. “Therefore, women with endometriosis may see a benefit in their symptoms by choosing antioxidant-rich foods, which may reduce inflammation, and avoiding foods that increase inflammation, such as processed foods or those with added sugar.”
And while the evidence might not be conclusive, many doctors do recommend some sort of fertility diet to their patients who are trying to conceive. The rationale is simple: “I can say with extreme confidence that unless someone goes too far and becomes overly restrictive with their dietary choices, an improved diet can only help — and will not hurt — fertility and overall health,” Dr. Kudesia says.
Diet can help, but other factors may matter more.
It’s important to note that a fertility diet can’t “cure” infertility. “It doesn’t take into account underlying medical or structural issues that can prevent someone from conceiving naturally such as anovulation, autoimmune disorders, STDs, endometriosis, amenorrhea or even genetic or chromosomal abnormalities,” Beckerman points out. “It also doesn’t address stress or anxiety levels which may overrule any positive changes that you are making with your diet.”
And for some women, the stress of making changes may actually make things worse. “When trying to get pregnant, I found myself focusing on every single thing I was putting in my body, every additional 1K mark I hit on my Fitbit, how meticulously I washed my face and the products I used, and how early I was getting into bed each night,” remembers Rachel S., a 31-year-old now pregnant with her first child. “I was obsessed with the idea that to get pregnant I had to make my body a temple. I was hyper-focused on eliminating alcohol and eating what I perceived to be super healthy, in addition to walking at least 20K steps a day. I had convinced myself that I was not in shape but had to ‘get in shape’ to get pregnant.”
It was only after five months of unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant that Rachel realized how much stress she had put herself under. She stopped her intense regime and — surprise — got pregnant. “I think taking a step back from all of the diet prescriptions I had imposed on myself, removing the arbitrary stress and pressures that came along with it, helped.”
Rachel’s approach is becoming more common. “Women, more than ever, are taking extreme measures to cut out entire food groups from their diet with hopes of being pregnant faster,” Beckerman says. However, research does not support the notions of removing dairy, sugar, or gluten from the diet in order to g