If you’re starting to think about trying to conceive in the next couple of years, you may be wondering what you can start doing now to protect your fertility and prepare your body for conception. If not, that’s okay! It’s never too early, or too late to start thinking about. In fact, in my practice I have found that it is incredibly common for folks to not give their fertility a second thought until they are ready to start trying, at which point there may be some hormonal imbalances or other health issues that need addressing in order for conception to occur. This is a largely Western phenomenon. We rarely talk openly about fertility, and surprisingly enough, most of our doctors seem to avoid the topic except in the context of fertility challenges.
Healthy, robust fertility depends on several factors, primarily well-balanced hormones, quality egg and sperm, a healthy immune system, and structurally functional reproductive organs. If you or your partner are experiencing issues in any of these areas, it can take some time and work to restore balance. Many of the people who come to me struggling with fertility issues have done very little to address these factors, usually because their medical doctor has overlooked them. I always ask these patients to work with me for at least 3-4 months on restoring balance to their hormones and immune systems, and incorporating nutritional strategies to optimize egg and sperm quality. This is because it takes 3-4 months for a premature egg to undergo the maturation process before being selected for ovulation, and likewise for sperm to mature.1 This window of time is an opportunity to create changes that profoundly impact fertility, and while most experts agree that a 3-4 month preconception period is ideal, many are now suggesting that it is beneficial to begin protecting and optimizing your fertility two years prior to trying to conceive!2
Whether you are hoping to conceive in the next few months or the next few years, below are a few simple ways to protect your fertility naturally.
Nutrition is essential both for providing the building blocks for healthy hormone production, but also for providing adequate micronutrients for egg and sperm quality.2 A diet that is rich in healthy fats, protein and fiber is one that will nourish your hormones effectively, and in fact this is a general guideline around which you can build your meals: fiber + fat + protein.
Aim to fill half your plate with fibrous vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, or brussels sprouts. Other fiber-rich foods to include are legumes like lentils or chickpeas, nuts and seeds, oatmeal, and fruits like avocados, apples and raspberries.
One of the best ways to get healthy fats into your diet is by eating wild caught, cold water fish such as sardines, salmon or trout, which will also double as a protein source! Avocados, eggs, nuts and seeds, and extra virgin olive oil are excellent sources of healthy fats as well.
The current recommendation for daily protein intake is to consume .8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, spread out throughout the day.3 Fish, chicken and eggs, plus the occasional pasture raised beef or pork are high in protein, but it is possible to get plenty of protein through a plant based diet as well. Tempeh, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds are all protein-rich, and supplementing with a protein powder (I recommend pea protein or hemp protein) can help you reach your daily protein goal.
My other favorite dietary guideline is to eat the rainbow! Each of the colorful pigments found in different plant foods represents a spectrum of micronutrients – vitamins and minerals – that help nourish hormones as well as egg and sperm (and future baby!). What’s more, making sure you’re getting a good diversity of plants in your diet helps to support the gut microbiome, which is important for immune function and hormone balance, among other things.
One of the biggest ways in which our hormones tend to become imbalanced is from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, chemicals that interfere with the way in which our hormones are produced, used, and broken down.4 Toxins can also harm egg and sperm quality by damaging DNA, the genetic material within the egg and the sperm.5 Some simple steps for supporting detoxification include:
- Drinking filtered water. Aim for half your body weight in fluid ounces daily. For example if you weigh 140lb, you want to drink at least 70oz of water daily (and more if you’re drinking caffeine or alcohol).
- Replacing plastic food storage containers with glass, stainless steel, and silicon alternatives.
- Replacing nonstick cookware with stainless steel or cast iron.
- Removing or replacing any products with the word “fragrance” listed in its ingredients from the home. Start with cleaning products, personal care products, and scented candles!
- Sweat. Move your body daily, and if you have access to a sauna at your gym, use it!
Exercise is important for so many reasons, including detoxification, supporting mental health, and maintaining strength, weight and mobility. I also like to remind women that exercise is important for strengthening the pelvic bowl, the muscles that surround the pelvic floor that help to support the uterus during pregnancy and of course during labor and delivery, as well as postpartum recovery. Try adding sets of hip thrusts, dead bugs, and squats to your workout routine.
Routine Medical Care
Make sure you are up to date on your annual well woman exam. Your gynecologist can help you identify structural abnormalities, treat any infections that may be present, and run routine lab work including a complete blood count, a comprehensive metabolic panel, and a thyroid panel. This basic assessment is important for identifying and addressing any possible health issues that may be a barrier to conceiving, well before you are ready to start trying.
Remember, fertility is a measure of overall health. By making changes to protect your fertility now, you will be optimizing your health and well-being not only for your future conception, but for yourself – for now and in the long run!
- Larose H, Shami AN, Abbott H, Manske G, Lei L, Hammoud SS. Gametogenesis: A journey from inception to conception. Curr Top Dev Biol. 2019;132:257-310. doi:10.1016/bs.ctdb.2018.12.006
- Stephenson J, Heslehurst N, Hall J, et al. Before the beginning: nutrition and lifestyle in the preconception period and its importance for future health [published correction appears in Lancet. 2018 May 5;391(10132):1774]. Lancet. 2018;391(10132):1830-1841. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)30311-8
- Wu G. Dietary protein intake and human health. Food Funct. 2016;7(3):1251-1265. doi:10.1039/c5fo01530h
- Yilmaz B, Terekeci H, Sandal S, Kelestimur F. Endocrine disrupting chemicals: exposure, effects on human health, mechanism of action, models for testing and strategies for prevention. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020;21(1):127-147. doi:10.1007/s11154-019-09521-z
- Macklon NS, Geraedts JP, Fauser BC. Conception to ongoing pregnancy: the “black box” of early pregnancy loss. Hum Reprod Update. 2002 Jul-Aug;8(4):333-43.