I'm getting to the age where many of my friends are starting to get married, buy homes, settle down, and plan for families. I know of a few women who have been trying to get pregnant and are struggling to do so. I have recently worked with a few women to transition to a plant-based diet and they all reported they noticed womanly changes such as more regular periods, increased libido, and even loss of unwanted facial hair. So it got me thinking, does diet affect a woman's ability to get pregnant? I, of course, believe a whole food plant-based diet has the potential to cure many bodily issues, so what I found did not surprise me.
A recent University of British Columbia study done by Dr. Neal D. Barnard found a strong correlation between eating animal products and infertility. Evidence from the study suggests that women who eliminate animal products (meat & dairy) from their diets may improve their overall ability to conceive a child. Barnard's study showed that vegan women ovulated normally more than 95% of the time, because the elimination of animal products from the diet stabilizes hormone levels. Furthermore, adhering to a high-fiber plant-based diet helps the body expel excess estrogen. The study also found that a plant-based diet can help prevent polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and even protect the ovaries because simple sugars found in lactose are toxic to the ovaries.
Let's talk more about PCOS, as it is one of the most common causes of infertility in women. PCOS is a disorder in which excessive amounts of hormones are produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. Common PCOS symptoms include obesity, hirsutism (growth of thick hair in areas where hair is normally minimal or absent, such as the face and breasts), and the absence of menstrual periods. Interestingly enough, that's exactly aligned with what the women I've worked with have mentioned have normalized (loss of weight, more regular periods, and loss of unwanted hair in unwanted places).
The majority of women with PCOS also suffer from insulin resistance. When insulin isn't working properly, hormones get out of control and a number of other issues can occur. So what has been found to control and normalize hormone issues? Fiber. And where does fiber come from? Whole plant foods, of course. 50-70% of women with PCOS also suffer from high cholesterol and/or diabetes, both of which have been shown to be linked to meat, dairy, and processed food consumption.
Let's also not forget that the male partner has a major impact on a woman's ability to become pregnant. A Harvard Public Health study showed that men who consumed processed meats such as bacon and sausage had 30% fewer normal sperm. Furthermore, eating processed red meat resulted in abnormal sizes and shapes of sperm's cell structure, which can contribute to infertility. A Danish study found that men who ate the most saturated fats (from meat & dairy) had a 38% lower concentration of sperm and a 41% lower sperm count than those who ate less saturated fats. A 2011 study done in Brazil found that men who ate more grains and fruit improved their sperm concentration and mobility. Also, alcohol and coffee consumption and smoking were linked to an increased chance of infertility.
Again, I can't say any of this surprises me, as I have personally experienced and continue to experience the healing power of eating a whole food plant-based diet (what I 100% believe our bodies are meant to consume in the first place). But this one really saddens me. Aside from the fact that animal and processed food consumption is linked to increased chance of obesity, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, and a slew of other issues, the thought that it also can prevent women from having children is heart-wrenching.
Just like any other disease among us today, when a woman is having infertility issues, she is medicated - given hormone pills, medications to stimulate ovulation, and in some cases antibiotics and even surgery! Instead of looking at what the root cause of the infertility is (almost always diet and lifestyle!) and addressing that, doctors prescribe drugs to try and solve the problem. That's the world we live in. We treat the symptoms and we don't address the underlying cause of the symptoms, which is a poor diet and lifestyle.
Although I am not a father (yet... I hope to be!), I imagine having children is one of the most incredible and powerful experiences life has to offer. To think that a western diet (consisting of meat, dairy, and processed foods) can rob a woman or a couple of that experience brings tears to my eyes.
Eat plants (for) baby!