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Lifestyle factors affecting female fertilty

More than 10% of couples experience difficulty in conceiving a pregnancy, and in about ½ of these instances, it is the woman who carries the main factors leading to infertility.

While there can be distinct physical reasons for infertility in women (e.g. blocked fallopian tubes) and while a woman’s fertility declines with increasing age, there are several lifestyle factors that influence fertility.

  • Obese women are less likely to ovulate and to become pregnant and, when they do, are more likely to have a miscarriage. 
  • Eating disorders, notably anorexia nervosa, can impair fertility.
  • Diet can be important. Animal protein has a negative effect and plant protein has a positive effect on fertility. Trans-fats, as found in fried food/ junk food/ takeaway meals impairs fertility.
  • Stress, either work or non-work related stress is associated with reductions in fertility.
  • Substance misuse, such as smoking significantly reduces fertility as does heavy alcohol consumption. Too much caffeine can impair fertility and increase the chances of miscarriage. Marijuana also seems to reduce fertility levels.

What can be done?

  • Weight loss: one study found that when a group of obese women, who were not ovulating, lost an average of 10kg, 90% of them began to ovulate.
  • Recovery from eating disorders: generally confers normal fertility.
  • Dietary changes: moving towards a whole food, plant-based diet and eating less meat should improve fertility, as should reducing consumption of fried, junk and takeaway foodstuffs. High fibre diets and multivitamins have also been reported to enhance fertility.
  • Moderate exercise: is associated with better fertility, but women who over-exercise (e.g. cardiovascular activity for more than 4 hours per week) can actually reduce the likelihood of pregnancy. 
  • Stress reduction: through counselling, addressing life issues, yoga or meditation can be helpful.
  • Stopping or reducing substance use: smoking, alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, is likely to enhance fertility. 

The above is a simplified overview of how lifestyle changes can enhance fertility. Factors may well be interactive and complex. For example, one intensive lifestyle intervention found that women were experiencing a significantly better sex life five years later, thus continuing to improve the chance of becoming pregnant! 

The Temple Vitality Lifestyle programme is designed to assist women in the analysis and improvement of factors that impair health and well-being, fertility issues being one area in which we can be of help.

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