With their jet-setting lifestyle, unlimited budget, and flawless selfies, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West seem to have everything
So it was surprising, and somewhat poignant, to hear their fertility struggles over the past few years surface in the media. “There is nothing I want more on this earth than to be pregnant again,” said Kardashian-West in interview after interview earlier this year.
Kim and Kanye got their wish—they’re expecting their second child, a boy, this winter—after being open about trying anything and everything to have another baby. And however you might feel about the high-profile couple, their fertility struggle is very familiar to a surprisingly large portion of Americans.
In fact, 12 percent of women struggle with infertility. The causes of this condition vary, but typically can be linked to issues regarding the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus, according to the Center for Disease Control. And that’s the complicated thing about this issue—women don’t know that they can’t conceive until they actually start trying to have a baby. Often that’s after years of putting off starting a family because of a host of other reasons— building a career, traveling, or waiting to find the right partner.
Infertility is a tricky medical issue and seeing a specialist is integral to treating it effectively, but there are a few things that women can do on their own—without artificial hormones or painful shots—that can help encourage conception. For $5,000 a month, you can be like Kardashian-West and hire a fertility nutritionist… or you can just follow these tips on your own!
Sure, it may make Friday night a tad more exciting, but if you’re on the quest to become a parent, it’s time to say goodbye to alcohol for a while. After studying the habits of 250 women who were trying to get pregnant, researchers at the University of Auckland found that those who avoided alcohol were twice as likely to conceive as their cocktail-swilling counterparts. The reason why is unclear, but alcohol does have seriously affect the body’s hormonal balance
and reproductive hormones. Add that to the small window of time that a woman can get pregnant (about two days a month!), and even the smallest hormonal changes can hinder fertility.
In the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers followed 18,000 women trying to conceive over 10 years. Women were polled about their diets, daily habits, and overall health as well as their fertility status. Following the study, a group of Harvard researchers examined the data and discovered some interesting trends. Most surprising? Carbohydrates, and their quality, are hugely influential on human fertility. Women who chose slow carbs—or carbohydrates that were minimally processed and full of fiber like fruits, vegetables, and legumes—over processed, simple carbohydrates increased their fertility factor. And those who ate lots of processed carbohydrates like white bread, potatoes, and soda noted more struggles with ovulatory infertility.
Dietary fat is closely tied to fertility, as is a woman’s actual body fat percentage. Women with a BMI below 20 or above 25 had more difficulty conceiving, with the “sweet spot” for fertility between BMI 21-24. Basically, being at a healthy weight made it easier to get pregnant, but those who were underweight or overweight had more challenges. In fact, many women who lack substantial body fat—below 12 percent—experience amenorrhea, or loss of a menstrual cycle. It’s the body’s way of saying, “Hey! I see you’re not getting enough food because your body fat is so low… You probably are trying to survive a famine and you can’t support a child right now. So I’m gonna make sure you don’t get pregnant.”
And sure, you may not be living through a famine, but if body fat levels are too low, your body probably can’t support a healthy pregnancy.
Body fat can affect fertility, but so can dietary fats. Thanks to the Nurses’ health study, Harvard researchers discovered that eating foods heavy in trans fats deeply affected a woman’s fertility. In fact, when women replaced carbohydrates with trans fats in their diets, the risk of developing an ovulatory disorder shot up to 73 percent. Fortunately, trans fats are getting ousted from the American diet in the next three years due to new legislation that bans their usage, but food manufacturers still have 36 months before they technically need to make changes to their product.
For women trying to increase their chances at getting pregnant, cutting out trans fats is crucial. Instead, choose healthy fats like the ones found in nuts, olives, avocados, and of course, coconuts. These foods are full of vitamin E that helps support follicle development, which can contribute to creating healthy eggs in the ovaries.
Infertility is a complex and individual process for every couple—and there’s certainly not just one cure or explanation for this diagnosis. But, taking care of your body by eating a more balanced diet complete with complex carbs and healthy fats could help.
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast
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