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Can you boost your fertility?

Does eating lots of pineapple increase your fertility? Can green tea help? We speak with fertility specialists to get the answers.

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Illustration: Erin McPhee

Trying to get pregnant can be stressful and confusing work, especially if you’ve been trying to conceive for several months. Often, when struggling with infertility, the first thing a couple will do is consult Dr. Google.

So common is this ritual that there are more than 58.9 million articles related to “improving fertility” on the Web. The only problem is, many of these “tips” to boost your fertility aren’t actually accurate.

That’s where we come in. We contacted three of the country’s leading fertility specialists and asked them to corroborate some of the most common theories on how to boost your fertility. The result is some serious myth busting, alongside a healthy dose of practical and pragmatic conception advice.

Age trumps all
As women get older, egg quality and quantity decrease and the body begins to prepare itself for menopause (this typically happens in a woman’s 40s but can start much earlier). The odds of a 30-year-old woman conceiving every cycle are just 20 percent; they drop to five percent per cycle after the age of 40. Several studies have also noted that there’s a significant decrease in female fertility around the age of 35.

While there’s no need to panic, it’s important that women understand that age heavily affects conception, says Marjorie Dixon, who specializes in women’s reproductive health and is the founder of Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health in Toronto. She recommends that women in their mid-30s try to conceive naturally but also consult a fertility expert to discuss the reality of the situation. That way, if a positive pregnancy test doesn’t appear after three months of trying, there’s a Plan B in place.

To determine your fertility potential, Dixon suggests that women get tested to determine their levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) on day three of their cycle, as well as get an antral follicle count by ultrasound and an Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) test. AMH corresponds to a woman’s ovarian reserve (how many eggs she has) and can help identify her chances of getting pregnant.

Magic foods don’t exist
There are several stories online that suggest eating large amounts of specific foods, such as pineapple, sweet potatoes, eggs and whole dairy, can boost your fertility, but Dixon says they’re not to be trusted. There’s little scientific proof that loading up on one food or another will increase a woman’s chances of conceiving. All that matters is that you eat a healthy mix of good-for-you foods every day.

BMI matters
“Everyone has a body mass index [BMI] threshold that is optimal for their own ovulation,” explains Sonya Kashyap, medical director of the Genesis Fertility Centre in Vancouver. “For some women, if their BMI is lower than their optimal limit, they won’t ovulate. For other women, there is an upper level.” To optimize their health and fertility, women should aim to have a BMI between 19 and 24.

Caffeine and alcohol intake is complicated
“There are many studies that show that consuming up to 300 milligrams of caffeine a day has no adverse effect on conception rates,” says Al Yuzpe, co-founder of the Olive Fertility Centre in Vancouver. That amounts to about two cups of filtered coffee a day, or six mugs of green or black tea.

He also says that a little bit of red wine every now and then is okay. “If alcohol was really an issue, women in France and Italy wouldn’t be able to get pregnant,” he says. The main takeaway is that drinking coffee and alcohol in moderation has no effect on fertility.

Kashyap says that, generally speaking, having three or four alcoholic drinks a week is fine during preconception, but downing a bottle of wine every day or in one sitting is a no-no, as is drinking during pregnancy. Dixon takes the advice one step further and tells clients that they can drink occasionally while trying to conceive but not around ovulation or after pregnancy. “It is associated with the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome,” she says, which recent studies have flagged as an issue for women who drink while trying to conceive.

Beware of lubricants
“A lot of lubricants contain spermicide,” says Kashyap, “or they’re water or silicone based, which can impair sperm function and motility.” Pre-Seed Fertility-Friendly Personal Lubricant is the only brand that is scientifically proven to help a guy’s swimmers.

Some vitamins may help, but most herbs won’t
The web is full of women crediting their pregnancies to certain herbs, such as Chinese herbs, red raspberry leaf tea, nettle leaf, maca and chaste tree, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that any of them can boost your fertility. What’s more, as Dixon points out, taking certain allopathic supplements at the wrong time of the month can actually reduce your chances of conception by messing with the body’s ability to produce and regulate hormones.

Vitamins are a different story. There is a wealth of research to show that taking a high-quality prenatal vitamin with 400 micrograms of folic acid can help prevent neutral tube defects.

There’s also vitamin D. “There have been multiple studies that show that it’s vital to pregnancy,” says Kashyap, noting that the vitamin is also key to bone development. Because many Canadians are vitamin D deficient, she recommends that patients take 1,000 to 3,000 international units (IUs) per day.

Another possible fertility-boosting antioxidant is coenzyme Q10. Researchers in Canada recently found that the substance improves egg quality in mice and reduces the decline of ovarian reserve. Though the study has yet to be replicated in humans, most fertility specialists now recommend that their patients take up to 600 milligrams of coenzyme Q10 on a daily basis.

Try to stress less
From timing ovulation to failing to get pregnant, the stress that goes along with conceiving is a fertility killer. “Stress is incredibly detrimental because it can affect ovulation and the length of the luteal phase,” says Kashyap. “Anything that relaxes a person—yoga, massage, acupuncture—will help and won’t be detrimental.”

Exercise in moderation
Forget those stories that warn that exercise can negatively influence fertility. “There are plenty of women who get pregnant even though they exercise every day, so to say that you should stop doesn’t make sense,” says Yuzpe. He notes that it’s only when workouts are done to an extreme (for example, if someone is training for a marathon and their BMI drops to dangerously low levels) that menstrual irregularities can emerge.

Dixon recommends that clients exercise for 30 minutes five days a week, not only to reduce stress but also to increase circulation, which can help increase blood flow to the pelvis.

Position doesn’t matter
“From lying down to keeping the pelvis elevated post-coitus to keep sperm inside the uterus, there are all kinds of myths about how sexual positions affect conception,” says Kashyap. “None of them makes sense.” The reason is simple: A man’s semen is made up of several things, including 100 million to 200 million sperm. Once inside the uterus, it only takes a few minutes for each to start swimming its way through cervical mucus to the Fallopian tubes.

The final word
In the end, our experts agree there isn’t a lot anyone can do to improve his or her fertility. Timing and age are key, as is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “There’s only one way to get pregnant, and that’s to be healthy and have sex regularly,” says Yuzpe. “Reproduction is a normal physiological process. Physiologically, these myths don’t make sense.”

  • Click here to see our guide on how to get pregnant

Read more:
Your fertility treatment guide
5 reasons you’re not getting pregnant
5 things you should know about IVF