Despite years of battling infertility, I recently found myself unexpectedly pregnant (WOOHOO!!!). Since my four year-long battle trying to conceive my daughter, I have made many lifestyle changes. Chief among them were losing weight and adopting a vegan diet.
On another blog, I made the suggestion that my veganism could have contributed to my increased fertility, and I received a comment that that couldn't have been the reason at all. This made me really interested in learning about how a vegan lifestyle can affect a woman's fertility and I have been delighted with the results that I have found!
My major issues hindering my fertility were: Obesity, endometriosis, PCOS (with insulin-resistance), and not ovulating. I was fascinated to learn that each of these issues can be countered by a plant-based diet!
“If this type of diet means less heart disease, less diabetes, less cancer, it’s no surprise to me that you’re going to find it leads to less infertility,” says Susan Levin, R.D., director of nutrition education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that promotes health through nutrition (“Natural Fertility,” 2011; Tarkan, 2010).
So here’s a little bit of information I found regarding each of my specific issues. I am not a medical expert and while I *DO* *absolutely* condone a plant-based diet for EVERYONE, I’m not telling you what to do, nor promising it will reverse your infertility. However, if I had this information sooner, perhaps I wouldn’t have struggled the way I did trying for our first miracle. But remember, there are plenty of UNHEALTHY ways to go about a diet, so if you are interested in taking the leap into veganism, please take your time to learn about the important specifics regarding the lifestyle! : ) (Hint: You need a B12 supplement and to do your own research on soy)
I didn’t ovulate on my own. Every time I took an OPK it was positive (EVERY time) but according to my three specialists there was a good chance I NEVER ovulated the months I didn’t take Clomid. So, I took Clomid when we were trying for baby #1.
Studies have “found that women who received more protein from vegetables than from meat had a significantly lower rate of infertility caused by ovulatory problems than those who ate more meat. Ovulatory infertility accounts for as many as 25 percent of all infertility cases" (Tarkan, 2010).
“By eliminating animal products from her diet, a woman may ovulate more regularly. A study by the University of British Columbia showed that vegetarian women ovulated normally more than 95 percent of the time. According to Neal D. Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, this is because eliminating animal products from the diet stabilizes hormone levels. Adhering to a high-fiber vegan diet helps the body expel excess estrogen and protects one from the harmful growth hormones given to cows (which can cause a person’s hormone levels to fluctuate)” (Harper, 2008).
PCOS & ENDOMETRIOSIS:
When I was 14, I was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis. It was then that I was told to prepare myself to perhaps never have children. I didn’t want to believe the diagnosis and for the first three years of my marriage I tried to get pregnant without ever accepting I had these disorders. Though I refused to accept their presence in my body, they played a huge role in my life, and living as I did, I could not get pregnant without drugs to counter their affects. I truly believe my plant-based diet has helped me overcome the obstacles associated with both PCOS and endometriosis.
"Take note that dairy foods such as milk and cheese may be congesting to the body. In cases of congesting fertility issues such as PCOS and Endometriosis, they may aggravate the imbalance. Observe how your body does with it. Dairy that is not organic should be avoided as it contains added hormones and antibiotics which can contribute to increased estrogen levels in the body" ("The Natural Fertility Diet," 2011).
“Adhering to a vegan diet can keep the ovaries healthy. Barnard’s research suggests that following a low-fat, plant-based diet can help to prevent polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis. It can also protect the ovaries, since one of the simple sugars in lactose is toxic to the ovaries” (Harper, 2008).
"Women who eat a diet high in red meat may be at increased risk of endometriosis, which can lead to infertility, a new study has found. The study, published in the August 2004 issue of Human Reproduction also showed that eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables may reduce the risk of the condition" (Rodriguez, 2011).
Tied in with PCOS is insulin-resistance. When I started trying to get pregnant with a fertility doctor, I was confirmed as having Metabolic Syndrome/pre-diabetes.
"Also, animal protein tends to be high in saturated fats, which can increase insulin resistance, a known culprit in infertility. When there’s more insulin circulating in your body, it can affect the hormones that regulate ovulation, explains Jorge Chavarro, M.D., lead author of the Nurses’ Health Study and author of The Fertility Diet (McGraw-Hill, 2007). Insulin resistance is one component of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), another leading cause of infertility in women" (Tarkan, 2010).
"PCOS typically involves insulin resistance, which means the body cannot properly use insulin to deliver glucose (blood sugar) to the cells. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for the body. When glucose remains in the blood instead of being used by the cells, it leads to problems such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. This means it is important for women with PCOS to eat not only a diet that helps regulate blood-glucose levels but also a diet that meets other heart-healthy dietary guidelines. These guidelines recommend a diet based on whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, unsaturated fat and lean protein (including vegetarian alternatives to meat, fish and dairy). A typical vegan diet scores high for compliance with these guidelines" (Basilicato, 2011).
There is so much that could be written about obesity and infertility and there is so much out there relating to obesity and veganism. So I’ll keep it simple:
"Vegetarians tend to weigh less than meat-eaters, and vegans are even lighter. And there’s good evidence that being overweight or obese decreases fertility" (Tarkan, 2010).
And the safety of this type of diet? “The American Dietetic Association just lately revised their position about vegan and veggie diets during pregnancy stating that they are safe” (“Natural Fertility,” 2011).
So, in all, I feel more confident than ever that my veganism absolutely COULD have played an ENORMOUS role in getting pregnant!
Final note: Not all of these articles are in support of being completely vegan, though all of them recommend more plants and less meat. I encourage you to read up for yourself, of course!
Basilicato, Linda. (2011). Vegan PCOS Diet. In eHow. Retrieved November 27, 2011 from http://www.ehow.com/way_5752435_vegan-pcos-diet.html#ixzz1ext7UsmZ
Harper, Sarah. (2008, July 8). Veganism and Pregnancy – Do I Have to Eat Meat to Have Multiples? Retrieved November 27, 2011 from
"The Natural Fertility Diet." (2011). Retrieved November 27, 2011 from http://natural-fertility-info.com/fertility-diet
Rodriguez, Hethir, B.S., M.H., C.M.T. (2011). Study: Endometriosis Linked to Red Meat. In Natural Fertility. Retrieved November 27, 2011 from http://natural-fertility-info.com/study-endometriosis-has-been-linked-to-red-meat-consumption-but-i-dont-completely-agree.html
Tarkan, Laurie. (2010, Mar 04). Can a Vegan Diet Help You Conceive? In Parenting. Retrieved November 27, 2011 from http://www.conceiveonline.com/articles/can-vegan-diet-help-you-conceive
“Vegan Diet Can Help If You Can’t Get Pregnant.” (2011, April 5).
In Natural Fertility Retrieved November 27, 2011 from