Preconception nutrition research has shown that the diet influences fertility in both women and men. Yes, you read that right!

Infertility is a growing problem worldwide. While infertility is not always treatable, it can sometimes be improved with a healthy diet, supplements, lifestyle and medical interventions.

This article lists some of the main factors, foods, nutrients and supplements that have been associated with improved fertility in both men & women.

Pre conception Nutrition Preparation For Women

Maintaining a healthy weight and body fat percent are crucial pre- pregnancy and play an important role for conception. Being overweight can cause hormonal fluctuations that hamper fertility. Moreover, obese mothers have poor pregnancy outcomes. They are at risk for gestational diabetes which can affect the fetus in the long run. Overall, the mother’s health before and during pregnancy determines the child’s health at birth and future health risks as an adult.

Losing weight after pregnancy is more difficult in the case of mothers  who are obese pre conception.

That weight gain increases risk of pregnancy related complications and affects the health of your child is a known fact but did you know that not being able to lose previous pregnancy weight also increases birth complications for the 2nd child?

List of supplements recommended to be taken at least 6 months prior to conception:

Folic Acid: Women of childbearing age should obtain 400 micrograms of folate or folic acid each day. Folic acid may be obtained naturally through leafy, dark green vegetables (i.e. spinach), citrus fruits, nuts, legumes. It is easily destroyed during cooking. These foods can be supplemented with a prenatal vitamin.

Iron: Most of the Indian women are deficient in iron, hence it’s important to keep your iron levels in check. Iron supplements should be taken if anaemic.

Calcium: It is recommended that women get at least 1,000 mg of calcium a day if they are considering getting pregnant. Calcium may be obtained from natural sources such as dairy products, fish.

Vitamin D aids in absorption of calcium and bone strength. During pregnancy vitamin D in fetus is maintained at the expense of mother’s stores. To prevent future osteoporosis and osteomalacia in mother, vitamin D stores at conception is of utmost importance. Suboptimal levels are known to cause miscarriages. Megadose supplements must be considered if the levels are insufficient.

Vitamin E enhances the reproduction process. It maintains the integrity of egg and sperm.

Vitamin B6: Woman on contraceptive pills shows low Vitamin B6 levels. Thus, vitamin B6 supplementation becomes necessary if birth control methods have been used. Sunflower seeds, fish and chicken, avocados, spinach are good sources.

Vitamin B 12: the fetus uses the mother’s reserves. Hence B 12 supplements during conception ensures sufficient maternal stores. Vegetarians and vegans have very low stores of vitamin B 12, so supplements are recommended.

Zinc: There are several studies that indicate that deficiencies in zinc affect both male and female fertility.

Omega 3: Studies have demonstrated that omega-3s may improve ovulation. Supplements are needed as the Indian diet is low in omega-3 fatty acids.

Iodine: requirements increase during pregnancy as this mineral is needed to make thyroid hormone and to ensure normal metal brain development. Low iodine levels cause hypothyroidism, which is linked to infertility and poor pregnancy outcomes.


Women’s age is the most important risk factor for infertility and there is a significant effect of age on assisted reproduction outcomes.

Women experience major physiological changes in reproductive functions as they age, and it is possible that such changes could mask influences from other environmental factors, such as diet quality, that impact fertility and IVF success rate.

Older age and being overweight has a pronounced negative influence on IVF success.

Studies show that adherence to a healthy diet during the 6-month period before IVF was associated with a higher chance of clinical pregnancy and live birth.

Interestingly this applies to the males as well, suggesting a possible relationship between the father’s diet and IVF success rate.

Couples undergoing IVF should be advised to abstain from alcohol prior to and during their procedures.

The quality of protein and carbohydrate in the diet also affect the risk of infertility.

Preconception Nutrition Preparation For Men

Research says that the father’s diet and lifestyle can affect sperm quality and thus fertility. This refers to highly processed junk food (especially rich in carbohydrates) and alcohol consumption.

Alcohol can cause high estrogen levels which disrupt hormone balance essential for normal sperm production.

There is a strong correlation between high levels of reactive oxygen species (oxidative stress) and increased sperm DNA damage and decreased sperm motility.

Not only is this detrimental to general health, but it further shows that the father’s diet matters equally when one is planning a baby. Apart from fertility, a father’s unhealthy eating habits have also shown to cause genetic changes that increase his child’s future health risks.

Essential nutrients:

Zinc: It is an essential mineral found in high amounts in animal foods, such as meat, fish, eggs and shellfish. Adequate zinc intake appears to be one of the cornerstones of male fertility; vital for optimal testosterone production.

Vitamin C and Co Q10: Since oxidative stress may lead to infertility in men, adequate intake of antioxidants, such as vitamin C, may help counteract some of these harmful effects. There is also some evidence that vitamin C supplements may improve semen quality.

Vitamin D: boosts testosterone levels.

Folic Acid: Getting enough folic acid can help improve sperm count in men.

Omega-3: have also been known to promote male fertility.


Smoking – Smoking is estimated to account for 20 to 30% of low-birth-weight babies, up to 14 % of preterm deliveries, and about 10% of all infant deaths according to the American Lung Association. In men, it decreases sperm motility & count.

Drinking Alcohol – There is no safe amount of alcohol to consume if you want to get pregnant so it is always better to avoid it completely. In men sperm quality is affected.

Prescription Drugs – There are many prescription drugs that are teratogenic (cause birth defects). Talk with your healthcare provider about all the prescription and over the counter drugs you are taking.

Herbs – Most herbs and herbal remedies are not mandated by the FDA, and therefore, there is little to no research on the effect they have on pregnancy. Discuss any herbal or natural remedies you plan to use with your healthcare provider.

Stress – Stress has been linked to hormonal fluctuations which can cause difficulty tracking ovulation and thus getting pregnant. You may find it helpful to employ relaxation techniques such as mediation or yoga to help moderate your stress level through counselling perhaps.

Caffeine – Some studies have shown a link between high levels of caffeine consumption and delayed conception.


Exercise – It’s always better to take a structured program 6 months prior so that the body adapts and it may be continued during pregnancy under supervision.

Read – Read books on pregnancy and childbirth. It is important that you are educated and prepared.

Couple counselling: Pre-conception counselling, during which experts guide you towards planning a healthy pregnancy and offer treatment, if required, is slowly becoming the norm among couples in urban India.

Get sound sleep – Eight hours of sleep is recommended if you are trying to become pregnant.


At least 6 months before you plan to conceive, look into the following:

-Lifestyle correction: Alcohol, smoking, sleep deprivation.

-Weight check: get your exercise and diet in order.

-Supplements: Folic acid and Calcium.

-Pre conception physical exam: Speak to your Dr.

-Genetic risk assessment: Find out if your baby will be at high risk for certain diseases.

-Medication: Check with your doctor if you are undergoing treatment.

-Blood tests: Ensure thyroid levels, vitamin D and blood sugar are within range.

-Research says that the father’s diet and lifestyle can affect DNA and sperm quality and thus the health of your child.

~Shwetha Bhatia, Registered Dietitian, Indian Dietetic Association

Barbara Melton

Barbara Melton

Phasellus nam maecenas luctus potenti dui etiam libero gravida placerat rutrum.

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