nourish fertility with dietary fats

Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc

Eat More Fat To Nourish Your Fertility


Nutrition plays such a key role in fertility and in recent years, there has been a growing appreciation for good fats (healthy fats) when it comes to female and male fertility. In my clinical practice, my fertility patients are sometimes surprised to hear me not only encourage them to consume plenty of good fats, but also to consume more “fat” in general. This includes saturated fats. 

Some facts about FAT

Consuming more fat in your diet can play a crucial role in regulating menstrual cycles, enhancing ovulation, and optimizing sperm production, just to name a few. 

Eating more fat keeps us feeling full longer, gives us energy, balances our blood sugar levels, and helps maintain hormonal balance. 

Saturated fats are the easiest fats for your body to break down and are critical for the functioning of our bodies. They are needed for a healthy brain and nervous system, strong bones and teeth, and lung and liver function. Saturated fats contain cholesterol which is the building block of our reproductive hormones. More about this below. 

Our brains are made up of mostly fat. 60% actually! We need fat to feed our brains. It’s essential for our moods and our memory. 

Fat is part of every cell in your body because fats make up the cellular membrane of all cells. .  

Low body fat can cause lack of ovulation, lack of periods, and menstrual irregularities due to lack of estrogen and progesterone. 

 

What about Trans Fats?

Do NOT consume trans fats as they can increase inflammation in the body, can cause insulin resistence, and they are just not healthy altogether! Read the labels and avoid any food that say they are hydrogenated. Eat whole, fresh, natural foods instead. There was a study that found that women who regularly consumed trans fats are 70% more likely to experience fertility issues than women who did not consume trans fats. See the study here

Some examples of trans fats are deep-fried foods, doughnuts, pre-packaged baked goods like pie crusts, cookies and cakes, as well as frozen pizza, margarine, and other spreads.

Recommended Sources of Fats

  • Nuts, including walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, 
  • Seeds, including hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Fatty, cold water fish; I really enjoy salmon
  • Fatty grassfed, pastured meat
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Eggs
  • Avocado oil, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, macadamia nut oil, MCT oil, Walnut oil
  • Bacon fat
  • Butter
  • Lard/leaf lard (from pastured, organic pigs)
  • Palm oil (not to be confused with palm kernel oil)
  • Poultry fat (typically from goose, duck, or emu)
  • Full fat yogurt

 

Building Blocks For Hormones

Fats are the building blocks for the production of hormones, including those critical for fertility. Hormones like estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the menstrual cycle and support embryo implantation, rely on a healthy balance of essential fatty acids and cholesterol. Including fats in your diet ensures that your body has the necessary raw materials to produce and regulate these vital hormones.

Fats, more specifically cholesterol, is the building blocks of hormones such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, DHEA, and testosterone. If you don’t eat enough cholesterol, you won’t be able to make these hormones. Remember, cholesterol from saturated fats are not evil but rather are essential in your diet. 

 

Enhance Egg Quality And Sperm Health

For both men and women, the quality of egg and sperm cells are of course a key determinant of good fertility.

Fats contribute to the structural integrity of cell membranes (the outer barrier of cells that separate the inside of the cell with the external environment). A fluid and flexible cell membrane is essential for the proper functioning and development of the egg and sperm cells.

Fats influence the ability of egg and sperm cells to is develop and mature properly and maintain their viability.

Also, because fats can aid in healthy hormone balance, this will have a postive affect on the environment that the eggs and sperm are developing for best quality.

Fats can also improve the mitochondrial funciton of the cells. The mitochondria are like the battery of the cells, enhancing energy production of the cells. 

 

Support a Healthy Menstrual Cycle

Fats play a role in promoting a balanced and regular menstrual cycle. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have been associated with reduced menstrual pain and improved menstrual regularity. A well-regulated menstrual cycle is indicative of a harmonious hormonal balance, setting the stage for optimal fertility.

 

Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation can be a hidden barrier to fertility, disrupting the delicate processes involved in conception. Good fats have anti-inflammatory properties, creating a more conducive environment for conception. Chronic inflammation in the reproductive organs can hinder the fertilization and embryo implantation. Inflammation has a negative effect on sperm health also, including low sperm count and low motility. 

Some examples of inflammatory conditions that harm fertility are endometriosis, implantation failure, and recurrent miscarriage. 

 

Balance Blood Sugar Levels

Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is essential for overall health, and it also plays a role in fertility. Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can affect hormonal balance, potentially leading to conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and insulin resistance, which are very common conditions that can negatively impact fertility. Good fats contribute to stable blood sugar levels and support metabolic health, promoting a more favorable environment for conception.

 

Absorption of Nutrients

You require fat to be able to absorp nutrients that are fat-soluble. Some examples are Vitamin A, D, E, and K. It also helps us absorb other phytonutrients and antioxidants.


Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) perspective of Dietary Fats for Fertility

 

Now let’s switch gears to the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective of how dietary fats support healthy fertility. Dietary fats are blood nourishing, yin nourishing, yang warming, and can support kidney energy (qi) and essence. 

 
Blood Nourishing Fats

 In Chinese medicine, the concept of blood is very profound. Blood nourishes, moistens, and gives life. You can read about the concept of blood in my past blog post: The concept of blood and Chinese medicine

Qi is the life force (or energy) that flows through the body. Qi and blood are two of the vital nourishing substances in Chinese medicine. They work together by the Qi flowing smoothly and the blood nourishing and moistening the skin, tissues and organs. Dietary fat can act to nourish the blood in our bodies and also help in circulating the Qi and blood to our reproductive organs. Having a lack of proper Qi and blood circulating in our bodies can disrupt hormonal balance and lead to menstrual irregularities and fertiltiy issues. 

Individuals with pronounced blood deficiency signs are those who have cold hands and feet, pale complexion, insomnia, anxiety, and light periods to name a few. 

Some specific examples of blood nourishing fats are essential fatty acids found in flaxseeds, fish, and walnuts.


Yin Nourishing Fats


Another fundamental concept in traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of Yin and Yang. Yin represents the nourishing, cooling, and receptive aspects of the body, while Yang represents the active, warming, and transformative qualities. For optimal fertility, there must be a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

In addition to fats being blood nourishing, many are also considered Yin-nourishing. They help to cool the body, reduce inflammation, and provide a supportive environment for reproductive organs. By incorporating these fats into the diet, individuals may enhance their Yin fluids, promoting a more balanced, fertile, and juicy state. Individuals with more distinguished yin deficiency signs are those who may have light periods or delayed periods, have dry skin, and feel hot easily. Some examples of yin nourishing fats are coconut oil, avocados, and olive oil. 


Yang Warming Fats

Yang warming fats contribute to heating the body and are very beneficial for those who feel cold all the time, have sluggish metabolism, are tired, or gain weight easily. Some examples of yang warming fats are animal fats like beef, lamb and chicken. 


The Importance of Kidney Qi and Essence

In Traditional Chinese medicine, the Kidneys are considered the foundation of reproductive health. Kidney Qi and Kidney Essence, which represents the body’s innate vitality and reserve energy, is closely linked to fertility and reproductive health. Dietary fats, being rich in nutrients and energy, contribute to nourishing Kidney Qi and essence and supporting overall reproductive function.

 
Moderation and Balance are Key: Beware of Dampness and Phlegm

 A fundamental approach in Chinese medicine is to have moderation in the diet and lifestyle. As this article has outlined, dietary fats are wonderful to nourish our fertility and hormonal balance. But overconsumption of fats can contribute to an accumulation of dampness and phlegm. Dampness and phlegm can get in the way of proper circulation of Qi, interfere with digestion, and lead to various health issues. 

As TCM doctor, I tell my patients that incorporating good amounts of fats into the diet is not just a nutritional choice; it is a holistic approach to enhancing fertility by nourishing blood, promoting proper Qi and blood circulation, nourishing the yin, warming yang, reducing inflammation, and nourishing Kidney Qi and essence. 

 
Acupuncture and customized Chinese herbal medicine can help stimulate Qi flow and address specific imbalances, but a comprehensive approach that includes a healthy diet and lifestyle are essential for optimal fertility. 

As always, individuals seeking to improve fertility should consult with healthcare professionals, including TCM doctors and nutritionists, to develop a personalized plan that aligns with their unique needs and circumstances.


Omega 3 Supplementation

One thing you can do to get started is to include an Omega 3 supplement into your regimen if you are not already doing so. Most people, if they are not consuming fish at least three times per week, may not be getting enough omega 3 in their diet. Omega 3 essential fatty acids are called essential because our bodies do not produce them on their own. They must be obtained in the diet or in supplement form. Visit my online shop for the Omega 3 supplement that I prescribe to my fertility patients.

You can continue to take Omega 3 throughout your pregnancy too as it is essential for fetal brain development and many other important health aspects. 

 

Female Fertilty Online Health Assessment (Quiz)

Find out how healthy and in balance your body is, what your customized fertility TCM pattern of disharmony is, and powerful tips to get you started on your path to motherhood! Check out my Female Fertility Online Assessment (Quiz) 

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