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Diet and Lifestyle Strategies for Secondary Infertility

Secondary infertility affects approximately 30% of couples. It can cause significant challenges and emotional strains for so many but unfortunately isn't something widely discussed or supported compared to primary fertility challenges.


Secondary infertility is when couples have difficulty falling pregnant after one or more successful pregnancies. There are a huge range of potential causes of secondary infertility, it could be that subsequent pregnancies are later in life so age may have impacted on egg and sperm quality, sleep and stress levels may be different now compared to prior pregnancies which can impact on ovulation, there may be structural problems with the uterus resulting from previous pregnancies, the list could go on. The important thing to begin with is to try and identify what may be a factor contributing to your secondary infertility which can be done through some basic baseline blood testing and investigations with your health professional (GP, gynaecologist, or fertility specialist). It's also important to take some time to accurately pinpoint when ovulation is occurring so that you can make sure that your fertile window is being accurately predicted and time unprotected sex effectively.


Fortunately, diet can absolutely play a significant role in improving secondary infertility. Adopting a mediterranean-style diet thats rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, oily fish, legumes, and dairy products, has shown promise in improving fertility outcomes. Research indicates that adhering to a Mediterranean diet correlates with higher-quality semen in men and improved egg quality in women [1]. So what are some of the main principles of the mediterranean diet that impact positively on fertility that you can incorporate right away?


Nutritional Strategies for Secondary Infertility:


  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: You've heard about the importance of this one from me before and here it is again- omega 3 can have a significant impact on your fertility and chances of successful pregnancy. It's essential for reducing inflammation around reproductive organs and supporting sperm and egg health [2]. Omega 3 is mainly found in oily fish, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Its important that if you aren't a big fan of fish and know you aren't including this in the diet 2-3 times every week then consider an omega 3 supplement rich in EPA and DHA.

  2. Antioxidants: Oxidative stress is one of the biggest negative factors impacting on egg and sperm health. The best way to counteract this? Antioxidants! Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E help combat inflammation, neutralize free radicals, and protect DNA integrity in reproductive organs. You'll mainly find antioxidants in colourful fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

  3. Zinc: A crucial nutrient for both men and women. If you're taking a prenatal multivitamin and it doesn't contain zinc- it could be worth looking at an alternative! Zinc is vital for antioxidant function and fertilization processes. Food sources include oysters, chicken, eggs, fish, beef, milk, cheese, cashews, legumes, and seeds. Another reason why meeting your baseline food group recommendations and getting enough protein is important for fertility.

  4. Vitamin D: Essential for regulating sex hormones crucial for conception. Sun exposure and dietary sources such as egg yolks, salmon, trout, and sardines contribute to adequate Vitamin D levels.




Lifestyle Modifications for Secondary Infertility:


  1. Take a high quality prenatal supplement: Make sure that this contains folic acid and iodine as a minimum, and fills any nutrition gaps that your diet is missing. I absolutely recommend you seek advice on this as incorrect supplementation can prolong your journey to pregnancy quite significantly. Based on the findings of multiple studies, women who take a high quality prenatal preconception have a 72% lower risk of preterm birth, 23% higher chance of conception, and a 70% reduction in neural tube defects (3-6).

  2. Prioritize Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep nightly to support reproductive health and hormone regulation. This can have a big impact not only on your overall wellbeing but also your ovulation and hormone production crucial for successful implantation and pregnancy. If you struggle with sleep then consider this a priority and look at changing up your current sleep routine to make it easier to wind down and have a great sleep. You can also include melatonin-rich foods in your diet like a snack of yoghurt and banana in the evening after dinner. Don't forget to consider foods like caffeine (which can stay in your system for up to 8 hours), chocolate, alcohol, and sugar which can all contributed to poorer sleep.

  3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Having a healthy body weight, particularly a healthy level of body fat, is important for egg and sperm quality plus healthy ovulation. However, now is not the time for strict diets and drastic slashes in calorie intake! Approach this with the support of a dietitian (I can help you with this) to make sure that you aren't missing out on important nutrients at the same time as focusing on a healthy body weight.


If you are struggling to conceive this time around, then know that you're not alone and there are thankfully many things that you can do to improve your fertility. If you are wondering where to begin then I absolutely recommend watching my FREE fertility nutrition masterclass on the 5 most common mistakes that people make when it comes to fertility nutrition AND (most importantly) what to do instead! You will learn some simple, actionable takeaways that you can begin with right away. Click here to register now!



References:

  1. Salas-Huetos A, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Quality of Semen: Randomized Controlled Trial. 2017;26(3):646-652.

  2. Safarinejad MR, et al. The Roles of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids in Idiopathic Male Infertility. Asian J Androl. 2012;14(4):514-515.

  3. Multiple Micronutrient Supplementation During Pregnancy and the Risk of Low Birth Weight or Small for Gestational Age Births in Developing Countries: A Meta-Analysis by Fall et al. (2009).

  4. Use of multivitamins, intake of B vitamins, and risk of ovulatory infertility: results from a prospective cohort study by Chavarro et al. (2008).

  5. Folic Acid for the Prevention of Neural Tube Defects: US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement by USPSTF (2009).

  6. Prevention of neural tube defects with folic acid in China. China-US Collaborative Project for Neural Tube Defect Prevention by Berry et al. (1999).


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