Pregnant woman
A fertility-friendly diet is one that promotes intake of whole fresh foods. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Want to improve your chances at conceiving? Look no further than your plate. Cells that are responsible for implantation - egg cells, sperm cells, endometrial cells -are some of the most demanding and highly complex. They depend on the food we consume to thrive, explains Dr Karunakar Marikinti, Consultant In vitro fertilization, obstetrics and Gynecologist with UAE-based Prime Hospital.

Fertility has a Goldilocks window, especially for women. Women are most fertile in their 20s and it follows the law of diminishing reserves. Each month that she tries, a healthy, fertile 30-year-old woman has a 20 per cent chance of getting pregnant, explains, a website by American Society for Reproductive Medicine. This goes down to 5 per cent by the time she turns 40.


One of the reasons for this dip in fertility, explains Dr Maya Sasikumar, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynecology at Aster Hospital, Qusais, is that the amount of antioxidants in the fluid around the egg decreases with age. Without this, cells surrounding the egg are less able to provide nutrition for the egg. This reduces embryo quality and chances of pregnancy.

“In males, low oxidation production causes poor semen quality, reduction in sperm motility, and fragmentation of the sperm DNA. To decrease the negative effects of oxidation, men and women should increase their intake of antioxidants. All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants as do dark chocolate and green tea,” she adds.

Causes of infertility
A number of things can cause infertility, including, says UAE-based nutritionist Farah Hillou:
Hormonal imbalances,
Polycystic ovarian syndrome,
Blocked fallopian tubes,
Poor sperm quality,
Obesity, thyroid issues,
Genetic factors, and
“Furthermore, nutritional deficiencies, stress, exposure to environmental toxins (chemicals, plastics and heavy metals), imbalances in gut microbiome, and mitochondrial dysfunction may all be contributing factors,” she adds. “Often, many of these factors are inter-related and can occur simultaneously. For example, diet, stress and toxin exposure can lead to an imbalance in gut microbiome which in turn can affect hormone balance. Applying principles of functional nutrition [where food is used like medicine] allows us to view the body as a whole, and helps us bring balance to various systems and encourage a healthy internal terrain that will boost chances of fertility.”

The running clock

Of course the longer you maintain good health, the better the quality of eggs and sperm you will have. “But,” says UAE-based nutritionist Farah Hillou, “In order to optimise mitochondrial health, nutrition and other lifestyle measures are best started three to six months in advance of planned pregnancy or fertility treatment.”

100,000 s

mitochondria are in each cell of a mature egg, or oocyte.

Eat this, not that

Hillou says a fertility-friendly diet is one that promotes intake of whole fresh foods:

  • Protein like eggs, legumes and fish;
  • Healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados and omega-3 rich fish;
  • A range of colorful, phytonutrient-rich vegetables;
  • High fibre foods such as quinoa, lentils and beans;
  • Probiotic-rich foods such as fermented vegetables, onion, garlic, leeks, apples, oats, berries and lentils can also help support a healthy microbiome.

Hilou says: “Certain nutrients are also very important in terms of optimizing fertility and these include:

  • Vitamin D,
  • Methyl folate,
  • Vitamins B6 and B12,
  • Iron,
  • Iodine,
  • Choline, and
  • Zinc.”

Meanwhile, sugars must be limited. “Simple sugars affect blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity which can in turn affect ovulatory function. Foods that cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels include cakes, biscuits, white-flour/rice, soft drinks and fruit juice,” explains Hilou.

What’s wrong with cooked food?
Nothing really, but when you overcook something it produces toxic compounds called advanced glycation products, which accumulate in the body as people age, causing oxidative stress and thus affecting fertility, says Dr Maya Sasikumar, Specialist Obstetrics and Gynecology at Aster Hospital, Qusais.

Do this, not that

Hilou explains that skipping meals and under-eating can negatively impact nutritional status, blood sugar balance and hormones. She calls for a holistic path to fertility. She offers the following tips:

Exercise: Movement helps detoxify the body, boost mitochondria function, and promote hormone balance.

Relaxation techniques can help activate the parasympathetic “rest, digest, heal” state that helps supports mental and emotional wellbeing during this critical time. Deep breathing, meditation, and journaling may be beneficial in this case.

Reduce exposure to toxins coming from food, beauty care products and household cleaners as this can significantly benefit overall health. Often, these items are high in chemicals like phthalates and parabens, plastics, and heavy metals which negatively impact our mitochondria and hormones. Choose organic food, and read product labels to help identify the right products.

Can cupping help a couple going through fertility treatment?
Maria Banti, Laboratory Director and Clinical Embryologist at Orchid Fertility Clinic – Dubai, says: “A holistic approach is very important when a couple is undergoing an IVF treatment. Treatments such as acupuncture and cupping, meditation, yoga, psychology counseling, dietary and weight management are complementary treatments that can be used as part of the holistic approach.
“Specifically, acupuncture and cupping are very popular to patients going through IVF. Although the data from the studies are conflicting, there are studies supporting that acupuncture and cupping may increase the pregnancy rates as they help to reduce stress, make the patients fell more relaxed and increase the blood flow which may lead to a better response to fertility medication and a thicker uterine lining.”

Fertility – or the ability to conceive a child – is not just about eating healthy; medical issues may crop up and need interventions, but staying fit certainly helps your odds.