Infertility is a problem that happens to a lot of people. It affects up to one in five people trying to get pregnant in the US and 186 million people around the world. In many cases, a thorough medical evaluation can identify key contributing factors in a woman, a man, or both partners that might respond to treatment or call for tools like in vitro fertilization (IVF) to help with reproduction.
But in a lot of cases, there is no clear reason why someone can't have children. New research suggests that inflammation might be to blame for some of these cases. And if so, will a diet or way of life that reduces inflammation help with fertility?
Investigating the link between inflammation and being unable to have children
Many health problems, like heart disease, stroke, and cancer, have been linked to long-term inflammation.
Even though it's not clear what role it plays in infertility, some evidence suggests a link:
Women with infertility who had IVF and ate a diet low in inflammation were more likely to get pregnant than infertile women who didn't follow the diet.
Could a diet that reduces inflammation help with getting pregnant?
It is not impossible. Researchers noticed decades ago that women who ate a certain diet for fertility ovulated more often and were more likely to get pregnant. Now, a review of several studies published in Nutrients in 2022 suggests that people who are having trouble getting pregnant might benefit from eating in a way that reduces inflammation. Even though the studies were done years apart, many of the same things were found in both diets.
The 2022 study found that a diet that helps reduce inflammation may be helpful.
Improve pregnancy rates (though exactly how is uncertain).
IVF and other forms of assisted reproduction work better when sperm quality is better in men.
The authors also say that eating better could cut down on the need for invasive, time-consuming, and expensive fertility treatments. There needs to be more high-quality research to support this because the studies' quality and consistency of the findings varied.
Will live in a way that reduces inflammation help with getting pregnant?
Even though recent research is interesting, there isn't enough proof to show that a plan to reduce inflammation will improve fertility. A plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet and other steps that are thought to be part of an anti-inflammatory way of life is good for the heart and have many other benefits.
It's not clear if this is because inflammation has gone down or not. But there is little to no risk with this approach. And there is a lot of evidence that it can improve health and even help fight diseases.
What is a lifestyle that reduces inflammation?
Experts in health haven't come up with a single definition. These are some of the most frequently suggested solutions:
Eat more plant-based foods, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil and less red meat, processed foods, and saturated fats.
Stop smoking or vaping.
Get rid of any extra weight.
Be active with your body.
Get enough sleep.
Take care of conditions that cause inflammation, like rheumatoid arthritis or allergies.
Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
Manage your stress.
In some cases, such as when treating an autoimmune disease, anti-inflammatory drugs may be helpful. But not everyone needs to take them. And for people trying to get pregnant, it's not clear that any possible benefit would be more important than the risk of side effects for both parent and child.
It's possible that inflammation plays a big role in infertility that isn't fully understood and that a diet or way of life that reduces inflammation could help. But we need more proof to be sure of this. Until we find out more, it makes sense to take steps to improve your overall health and maybe lower chronic inflammation.