If you're trying to conceive, try these foods and cleanses to maximize your fertility.

Jacquelyn White
June 22, 2018

Increasing fertility is a more common problem than you might think—and it's a problem that isn't always accompanied by a medical diagnosis. "One in six women or couples experience infertility. 40% of infertility is attributed to women, 40% is to men, and the last 20% is ‘unexplained,'" points out Kristen Darcy, fertility coach and motivational speaker. While there are many factors that can contribute to infertility, certain lifestyle choices can also make conception more difficult.

There are many ways to increase fertility that simply involve tailoring your lifestyle to a healthier, happier way of life. It's no secret that eating healthy, staying active, and maintaining a positive attitude are the foundations of any fertility treatment. Of course, in today's hectic world, accomplishing these goals can seem impossible—especially when facing difficulty trying to conceive. But there are many ways you can start making lifestyle choices that will serve as natural fertility boosters, whether used alone or in conjunction with traditional medical treatments like IVF.

In recent years, a number of different studies have been released to indicate the direct correlation between diet and fertility rates. Of course, not all diets are created equal. "Everybody says that you have to watch your calories and that you can't be overweight, but it's really about the components of what you're eating," says Dr. Russell, one of the many reproductive endocrinologists who have taken an interest in this subject. Though there has always been an emphasis on healthy eating when it comes to fertility, certain nutrients play larger roles in priming the body for conception than others.

In fact, eating healthy is proven to be one of the best natural fertility boosters. And many doctors believe that what a woman eats has a greater impact on her ability to conceive than her weight. "A lot of people focus on obesity and weight for fertility, which is important, but when you look at fertility rates, overweight people who are eating healthy don't have a hard time getting pregnant," says Russell. Of course, everyone's interpretation of "eating healthy" is different, but following a specific fertility diet or fertility cleansing regimen can provide a little more structure. Below, we'll tell you everything you need to about the fertility diet, including the best fertility-boosting foods. Plus, we'll also take a close look at fertility cleanses, and how safe they really are for you.

What Is the Fertility Diet?

Here we combine two of the our favorite early-summer ingredients—cherry tomatoes and fresh basil—into a fresh take salsa. For the crispiest skin (that doesn’t stick to the grill), be sure your grill grates are very clean and the grill is preheated for at least 15 minutes. Avocado adds creaminess and a punch of gut-healthy prebiotics.

Caitlin Bensel

Based on studies conducted by Dr. Russell's team and many others, Dr. Russell recommends that women trying to conceive follow a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. The fertility diet, as it has come to be known, is rooted in the idea of lowering carbohydrates and boosting the intake of proteins and healthy fats. In Dr. Russell's study, patients undergoing IVF decreased their carbohydrate intake to less than 40% a day and increased their protein intake.

"What we found was a dramatic increase in the number of better quality eggs, better quality embryos, and more embryos available for them to be able to transfer back to their uterus. They conceived at a four-time increase than they did initially," he said. This study, along with others that produced similar results, inspired Dr. Russell to begin prescribing this diet to his patients across the board. Overall, he recommends that women hoping to become pregnant drop their carbs to less than 40% a day and increase their protein intake between 40-50% a day.

How to Follow the Fertility Diet

One of the best ways to follow the fertility diet is through tracking. Fitness and nutrition tracking apps allow you to keep a detailed record of everything you consume, giving you a detailed breakdown at the end of the week. Though many of these apps focus on calorie counts, some will also provide nutritional breakdowns as well—perfect for ensuring that you're reaching your nutritional goals.

It's no secret that most grab n' go food is carb-heavy, making them less-than-ideal for following the fertility diet. To ensure that you successfully achieve your goals, Dr. Russell encourages preparing meals ahead of time. "We have [our patients] packing or putting their meals together for a couple of days so they're not reaching for a donut or a cookie or something that isn't healthy. It lets them have their food within grasp and they can control their destiny and their nutritional intake during the day," he offers.

One of the best perks of this diet? It will likely help you lose weight. "My average patient loses 2-4 pounds every 7-10 days on the higher protein diet. Even though they're not hungry and they're not starving themselves, they're all losing weight. The protein satiates their desire to snack all day long," Dr. Russell notes.

Best Fertility-Boosting Foods

If you can find white asparagus, try using half white and half green. The white variety will need to boil a couple of minutes longer than the green.

Jennifer Causey

Many women suffering from infertility wonder what to eat to conceive. Science is just starting to explore the effects that diet has on fertility and it seems to be substantial. Eating the right foods is one of the easiest ways to increase fertility, but some foods are better than others. Here, you'll find some of the best fertility foods you can eat when trying to conceive. While none of these will magically wipe away physical ailments, they do contain many healthy properties that promote egg health, ovulation, and overall virility.

Avocado

Avocados have been a trendy food in recent years for a reason. These nutrient powerhouses are high in folate, potassium, and monounsaturated fats—all essential nutrients for women trying to conceive. In fact, recent studies have even shown that eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats—which is believed to lower inflammation—tripled the chance of success with IVF treatments. If you're looking for a filling food that will also help boost your chances of conceiving, look no further than the avocado!  

Greek Yogurt

High in protein and healthy fats, Greek yogurt is a health superfood—even for those trying to get pregnant. Greek yogurt boasts a number of beneficial nutrients, including calcium, zinc, vitamin B, and probiotics. Dr. Russell regularly recommends Greek yogurt as an easy replacement for other on-the-go breakfast options that are high-carb. However, not everyone agrees that dairy has a place in the fertility diet. "Dairy products are highly inflammatory. They're mucus-forming and dampening to the body, so anybody that has cysts or any lumps within the pelvic region should avoid this because it's just going to make things worse," notes Dr. Sangiuliano.

Eggs

Jamie Vespa

Considering that protein is a huge part of the fertility diet, it should come as little surprise that eggs would be considered a natural fertility booster. Despite their antiquated cholesterol stigma, eggs are now known for being one of nature's superfoods. They not only provide large quantities of protein, but also contain ample amounts of essential nutrients like iron, selenium, magnesium, vitamin B, zinc, and many other elements. This nutrient-dense food is a great addition to any diet, but especially for those who are trying to get pregnant.

Asparagus

Commonly used as a fertility food in India, this nutrient-rich veggie should regularly be on your menu if you're trying to conceive. Not only do they stimulate the immune system and act as anti-inflammatories, but they also have been thought to increase circulation—an important factor for healthy reproductive organs. Regularly eating asparagus also increases activity in the kidneys, causing higher rates of urine production that flushes toxins out of your system—leaving you with a healthy, clean system that's primed for babymaking.

Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon

Alaskan Salmon has been long-known as a health food, but its high levels of protein and dense levels of omega-3 fatty acids helps make it a fertility food. Omega-3 fatty acids are chock full of vitamin D, help create the building blocks of a healthy fetus, and are even speculated to help regulate reproductive hormones. Though there are a number of farmed salmon options at the grocery store, opting for wild caught is ideal, since farmed salmon can have a higher chance of carrying disease. Fish in general can be a fantastic source of lean protein, though raw or deep water fish that may contain high levels of mercury should be avoided.

Walnuts

Nuts are regularly praised as a healthy snack, particularly with adhering to the fertility diet. Walnuts not only contain a substantial amount of healthy fats, but are also high in Vitamin E—a nutrient with antioxidant properties that may also improve the thickness of uterine lining in women. Walnuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids compared to many other nuts. Eating nuts in general has shown some signs of combating ovulatory issues associated with infertility. For men, studies have also shown that eating walnuts can increase sperm count and vitality, making it a well-rounded fertility food for couples that are trying to build their families.

Organic, Grass-Fed Meats

Though plants are considered the favorable protein source according to many studies, eating leaner meats that are organic and grass-fed is often considered ideal when it comes to the fertility diet. While not yet fully backed by scientific study, there is some speculation that non-organically raised meats may contain more hormones in their systems, possibly throwing off your delicate hormone balance when trying to conceive. While loading up on protein is important, opt for lean, organic, and grass-fed sources of animal protein when possible.

Fermented Soy Products

If you're a vegetarian, fermented soy products can be a fantastic source of protein. Dr. Sangiuliano recommends tempeh and miso in particular. "There are some non-fermented soy products that are actually worse for your body, but fermented soy products are not gonna have quite as much of an impact on your estrogen levels and you're able to digest them a lot better, so it's not as inflammatory," she explains.

Water

While not exactly a food—water should come with as little surprise as a natural fertility booster. First and foremost, your body must be hydrated in order to perform at optimum levels—a goal that you should be striving for if you're trying to conceive. Staying hydrated can bolster liver function, allowing it to filter out more harmful toxins from your system that might be hindering your ability to get pregnant. Hydration also prevents cervical mucus from becoming too viscous, allowing sperm to easily penetrate the cervix and reach the egg inside the uterus. Being dehydrated has also been associated with increased levels of fatigue and anger, both of which are detrimental to conception. Most health professionals recommend drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day, which is about the equivalent of half a gallon.

What Is a Fertility Cleanse?

Fertility cleansing has begun to rise in popularity in recent years as a natural fertility treatment. Using special herbs, these cleanses are regularly administered by naturopaths and offered online as fertility cleansing kits. Their purpose? Flush out the heavy metals, toxins, and inflammation that have accumulated in the body—factors that may lead to infertility.

"These toxins are basically just sitting in our fat cells where they can be released very easily when we detoxify," says Dr. Sangiuliano. She administers a two-fold cleanse to her patients that focuses on cleaning the liver and uterus. Her fertility cleanse consists of orally administering specific herbs that detoxify the body and promote healthy physical function, leaving women and men with a healthy, happy body that is prepared for conception.

Why Do a Fertility Cleanse?

For women who are struggling with infertility, cleansing can be important for ensuring that their bodily systems are completely ready to conceive. "After we detoxify, we get pregnant faster because of egg quality and the environment of our womb is much healthier for conception," says Dr. Sangiuliano, who regularly administers fertility cleanses to her patients. This is especially important to consider for patients whose infertility causes are unknown.

Fertility cleansing not only gives women the perfect "blank slate" for conceiving, but can also improve the quality of her pregnancy in general. "We need to make sure that our eggs and our sperm are the best quality possible before conception takes place, because if you're conceiving with eggs that are poor quality, you're increasing the risks of miscarriage, childhood leukemia, autism, ADD, and diabetes," warns Dr. Sangiuliano.

Fertility Cleanse vs. Fertility Cleansing Kit

There are troves of different fertility cleanse kits offered in online natural foods stores—many with questionable ingredients and instructions. So what makes a quality fertility cleanse stand apart from these online kits? When posed this question, Dr. Sangiuliano says that these cleanse kits do not take individual person's needs into account. "Our methods take into consideration the individuality of the person. We look at what is going on in that person's body, because even one fertility diet for one person is not the same as it's going to be for the next person," she says. "We can put out information about what components have benefits for fertility and that may be true for the masses, but it's important that you always discuss this with a practitioner because it may not be right for you."

Many women also use these cleansing kits while actively trying to conceive, possibly consuming herbs that are contraindicated to pregnancy. Ultimately, it's important to consult an expert before taking on a fertility cleanse, which often involves herbs that can have powerful effects on the body.

Herbs for Fertility Cleanse

Greg DuPree

Though every naturopath recommends different herbs based on each woman's condition, there are certain cleansing herbs that are generally selected to detoxify the liver and uterus. For the liver, Dr. Sangiuliano likes to use milk thistle in tandem with the nutritious dandelion root for digestion and licorice root to support the hormonal system. Ginger is a great amplifier for any of these herbs, boosting their effects.

For cleansing the uterus, she utilizes a different set of herbs. "I may look at Dong Quai...which increases circulation to the reproductive organs and is iron-rich. It also helps relax uterine muscles, which is great for women who had recent miscarriages," she says. Another favorite herb she likes to apply for this stage of the cleanse is white peony, which balances hormones, reduces pain, induces relaxation, and helps reduce pelvic blood stagnation.  Dr. Sangiuliano also regularly combines red raspberry leaf tea and nettles to create a powerful fertility tea. "When you combine these two elements it help tonify uterine tissue and normalize menstrual blood flow," she says.

In today's world of prescription pills and chemical compounds, it can be easy to forget how powerful herbs are actually are. While the herbs listed above are what Dr. Sangiuliano generally likes to use in her fertility cleanses, she warns that everyone should treat their cleanse differently. "If anyone is doing any type of herbal cleansing or using any herbs for fertility, they should consult with a holistic practitioner, naturopath, or an herbalist and their doctor before doing anything on their own. There are a lot of herbs that could be contraindicated to whatever their issue is," she warns.

Are Fertility Cleanses Safe?

To cleanse or not to cleanse? That seems to be the million dollar question—a question that comes with with mixed opinions. However, most experts can agree that cleansing with powerful herbs while actively trying to conceive isn't a good idea. Instead, Dr. Sangiuliano recommends cleansing before attempting to get pregnant. "When I cleanse and detoxify with my clients, I tell them to try to not get pregnant during those three months. There are a lot of herbs that I use that may be contraindicated in pregnancy, so nobody should be cleansing with any herbs while trying to get pregnant, but you can absolutely cleanse with dietary practices and teas and those types of things," recommends Dr. Sangiuliano, encouraging a gentler approach while trying to conceive.

From a traditional medical standpoint, Dr. Russell points out that many herbal supplements and components of these cleanses are not strictly regulated. "Some of the royal jellies and herbal medicines that promote reproductive health are actually roots and herbal medicines that increase your cholesterol and estrogen levels, but they are not scientifically administered or monitored or supported in the right way they should be supported or monitored," he cautions.

So what's the verdict on the safety of fertility cleanses? While cleansing before pregnancy isn't physically harmful for most, it's important to discuss its effects with your doctor or a professional naturopath to tailor your treatment to your body. "Do your research. Do your homework. See if the information and studies are out there...Try to be smart about it," recommends Dr. Russell.