The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates famously said, “Let food be thy medicine.”
Modern science clearly confirms the truth of his claim, and new findings suggest that it applies to romance and fertility.
Those findings add fertility to the benefits of healthy diets — and infertility to the damage wrought by poor diets.
As we'll see, they link fruits and fish to greater human fertility, tie fast food to impaired fertility, and reveal fish as a possible aid to romance.
Fish may fuel fertility — and romance
The intriguing results of a preliminary study cast fishy diets and a fertile, sexy light.
The study was conducted by scientists from Harvard Medical School, George Mason University, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
In short, the results suggest that couples who reported eating more seafood tend to engage in sex more often — and get pregnant faster — than couples who eat fish infrequently.
The multi-university team conducted a “prospective cohort” study in which they followed 501 Michigan and Texas couples that were attempting to conceive.
They followed the couples for 12 months, looking for any statistical links between seafood intake, sexual intercourse frequency, and the length of time to acheiving a desired pregnancy within one year (Gaskins AJ et al. 2018).
Importantly, all the men and women in the participating couples recorded their seafood intake and sexual activity in daily journals, rather than attempting to recall their diet patterns later.
Compared with couples who ate seafood less than once per month, couples that ate seafood more than eight times per month (i.e., more than twice a week on average) displayed two distinctions:
And the time to pregnancy was shortest among the couples in which both the man and woman ate seafood eight times or more per month, versus couples in which only the man ate seafood that frequently.
This and other findings from the study suggest that it’s especially important for the woman in a couple seeking pregnancy to eat lots of seafood.
However, the omega-3 fatty acids unique to seafood (DHA and EPA) clearly support male fertility, while the excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids typical of the average American’s diet appears to harm male fertility ... see Fish Helps Male Fertility, Processed Meat Hurts It and Omega-3s Linked to Fertility in Mice and Men.
Critically, the statistical link between fishy diets and higher rates of pregnancy persisted even after the researchers adjusted the results to account for greater frequency of lovemaking — an outcome that suggests other biological factors were at play, such as effects on semen, ovulation, or embryo quality.
“Our study suggests seafood can have many reproductive benefits, including shorter time to pregnancy and more frequent sexual activity,” said study co-author Audrey Gaskins, Sc.D., of Harvard School of Public Health.
As she said, "Our results stress the importance of not only female, but also male diet on time to pregnancy and suggests that both partners should be incorporating more seafood into their diets for the maximum fertility benefit," she said.
The study was supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Unwarranted fear of fish
Seafood is an excellent source of protein and unsurpassed source of omega-3 fatty acids — which are critical for child development — for women who are or may become pregnant.
Unfortunately, misguided concerns about mercury have led some women to avoid fish when trying to conceive.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency agree that 90 percent of the fish sold commercially is low in mercury and safe to eat.
Although the agencies recommend two to three servings of lower-mercury fish per week, 50 percent of pregnant women still eat far less than the recommended amount.
Fruit may aid fertility, junk-food seems to impair it
Another study, also published in May of 2018, examined the role diet plays in fertility.
Specifically, researchers from Britain, Australia, and New Zealand look for associations between diet and overall fertility, as well as how long it takes to get pregnant (Grieger JA, et al. 2018).
They reviewed data collected from 5,598 women in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Ireland who were participating in the Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints (SCOPE) study.
These women had never given birth previously and were now in their first 14-16 weeks of gestation (low-risk, single-fetus pregnancies).
The research team examined data related to several criteria, including:
Midwives visited all the participating women, and asked them about their intakes of fruits, green leafy vegetables, fish, and fast food during the month prior to conception.
Among the 5,598 couples in the study, 468 (8%) were classified as infertile (taking longer than a year to conceive) and 2,204 (39%) conceived within a month.
The results linked diets high in junk food and low in fruit to infertility, which was defined as taking longer than one year to become pregnant:
Compared to women who ate fruit three or more times a day in the month before conception, women who ate fruit less than one to three times a month took half a month longer to become pregnant.
Similarly, compared to women who never or rarely ate fast food, women who consumed fast food four or more times a week took nearly a month longer to become pregnant.
The rate of infertility was only 8% among women with higher fruit intakes, versus 12% among women with the lowest intake of fruit.
And the infertility rate was only 8% among women who avoided fast food, compared with 16% among those who ate fast food four or more times a week.
As the study’s lead author, Dr. Jessica Grieger of the University of Adelaide, said, “Our data shows that frequent consumption of fast foods delays time to pregnancy.”
Fill up on fertility-friendly foods
The takeaway from these two studies seems pretty clear.
Forgo the junky fast food and instead fill up on fish and fruit — aim for at least two seafood meals per week, and three daily servings of fruit.
Additionally, research shows that following a Mediterranean diet can increase your likelihood of getting pregnant.
In a study of 161 couples using IVF (in vitro fertilization), those who followed a Mediterranean diet were more likely to conceive (Vujkovic M, et al. 2010).
This may be because the Mediterranean diet is generally anti-inflammatory and focuses on fruit, vegetables, and fish, while shunning processed and refined foods.
For couples hoping to conceive, making a few tasty, energizing improvements to their diets could raise their chances of conceiving, and doing so more quickly.
Given the growing evidence that maternal diets affect children’s genomes and future health prospects, healthy diets won’t just raise a couple’s chances of starting a family.
Instead, it’s very likely that healthy pre- and post-conception paternal diets also give children healthier head starts while providing them with good dietary role models.