The Mediterranean diet, with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and legumes, has long been praised for its many health benefits. Now, new research shows it can also help overcome infertility, making it a non-intrusive and affordable strategy for couples trying to conceive.
A review by Monash University, the University of the Sunshine Coast and the University of South Australia found that a Mediterranean diet can improve fertility, assisted reproductive technology (ART) success and sperm quality in men.
Specifically, researchers found that the anti-inflammatory properties of the Mediterranean diet can improve couples’ chances of conceiving.
Infertility is a global health problem affecting 48 million couples and 186 million individuals worldwide.
UniSA researcher, Dr. Evangeline Mantzioris, says preconception nutritional modification is a non-invasive and potentially effective means of improving fertility outcomes.
Deciding to have a baby is one of life’s biggest decisions, but if things don’t go according to plan, it can be very stressful for both partners.
Research shows that inflammation can affect fertility in both men and women, affecting sperm quality, menstrual cycles and implantation. So in this study, we wanted to see how a diet that reduces inflammation—like the Mediterranean diet—might improve fertility outcomes.
Encouragingly, we found consistent evidence that eating an anti-inflammatory diet – one that is high in polyunsaturated or ‘healthy’ fats, flavonoids (such as leafy green vegetables) and limited in red and processed meat – can improve fertility.”
Dr. Evangeline Manzioris, Research Fellow, UniSA
The Mediterranean diet is primarily plant-based and includes whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, herbs and spices. Yogurt, cheese and lean protein sources such as fish, chicken or eggs; red and processed meat is consumed only in small amounts.
By comparison, the Western diet is high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein, making it energy dense and lacking in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Typically, a Western diet is associated with higher levels of inflammation.
Monash University researcher Simon Alesi says understanding the link between anti-inflammatory diets such as the Mediterranean diet and fertility could be a game-changer for couples hoping to start a family.
“The Mediterranean diet is consistently ranked among the healthiest diets in the world. But knowing that it can also increase your chances of conceiving and having a baby is extremely promising,” says Alesi.
“Modifying your diet is a non-invasive and affordable strategy that could potentially improve infertility.
“Of course, more research needs to be done, but at the very least, switching to a Mediterranean diet will not only improve your overall health, but also your chances of conceiving.”
University of South Australia
Link to journal:
Alesi, S., et al. (2022) Anti-Inflammatory Diets in Fertility: An Evidence Review. Nutrients. doi.org/10.3390/nu14193914.
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