Although reproductive-health issues are often not discussed publicly, many women struggle with fertility problems. The most well-known diseases are Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. Nowadays more and more doctors and nutrition experts agree that our diet is the main cause of these diseases. A study of over 18,000 women found that those eating the highest amount of meat protein had 39% higher rate of ovarian infertility than the group eating the lowest amount. Conversely, those eating the highest amount of vegetable protein had a reduced chance of infertility than those eating the least vegetable protein. This means if you want to boost your fertility you need to first look at your plate.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and endometriosis
If you haven’t heard about these diseases before, let me give you a brief introduction. The main cause of both illnesses is the imbalance of female and male hormones. In women with PCOS, ovaries produce higher-than-normal levels of androgens (“male hormones”) and lower-than-normal levels of estrogen. This causes many follicles mature in one cycle, but none can reach the follicular rupture. Instead,they can create cysts that cause a lot of pain for many women. Endometriosis means that the thickened mucosa of the uterus appears outside the uterine cavity too. This disorder is caused by one of the female hormones called estrogen. Both illnesses can lead to severe pain and infertility.
7 years ago when I was diagnosed with PCOS I didn’t have a deep knowledge of female hormones. I just noticed that I had some abnormalities with my period. First it was very irregular and then eventually it went away completely. I was very worried that something was wrong with me so I went to a gynecologist. When I was given the PCOS diagnosis, I had no idea how much struggle this problem would cause me in the following years.
I had all the symptoms of PCOS: menstrual disorders, hair loss, acne, and weight gain. The doctor recommended that I follow a very strict low-carb diet. I had to drastically reduce sugar and carbohydrates from my diet including fruits and grains. In fact all I could eat was vegetables, meat, and dairy. I was quite persistent but I didn’t really see any positive changes. Then I also got some medicine to balance my hormones but it still didn’t become better. And it went for years and years. I went to different doctors, and tried different pills and restrictive diets.
After about 5 years I became vegan for ethical reasons. I was very worried about my health because I started to eat more carbohydrates than ever before. But after 5 years of constant struggle I decided to let it go. Honestly I expected the worst but exactly the opposite happened. Slowly I started to feel better and my symptoms of PCOS started to disappear. Today I don’t have acne, my hair falls much less, I can maintain a healthy weight and my period is regular. These results surprised me so much that I decided to get into this topic deeper and make some research. And yes, now I just wish I did it before.
Relationship between diet and infertility
Studies have shown that hormones in meat and dairy products upset the balance of female hormones: estrogen and progesterone. This hormonal imbalance causes the formation of cysts and increases the body mass index. Finally it can even cause infertility.
Very often the upset of the hormone balance not only affects the sex hormones but also the pancreatic hormone called insulin. That’s why many people with PCOS also suffer from insulin resistance.
It is very similar in case of endometriosis. Meat and dairy contains estrogen, which increases the risk of endometrosis and aggravates the symptoms of an already established problem.
How to boost your fertility
For me it’s quite clear that eating animal products doesn’t help with maintaining a hormonal balance. However, I don’t want to say that just by switching to plant-based this problem will magically disappear. I noticed a huge progress when I went vegan because I started to eat much more whole foods and less processed foods. The bases of a fertility-enhancing plant-based diet are legumes, grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
For protein I prefer beans, lentils, and peas over seitan. The starch content of these legumes regulates insulin levels that has a beneficial effect on sex hormones. To maintain adequate insulin levels I try to avoid high glycemic index foods like flour and refined sugar. Instead of flour I normally eat whole grains and for sweetening I like to use fruits like dates or bananas. I also avoid consuming margarine because the proportion of fatty acids in lower quality margarine is inadequate which inhibits fertility.
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!
Photo: Logan Weever via Unsplash