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Nutrition for Preconception

In my last blog, I mention that the first thousand days can refer to preconception right through until baby is about 1 year of age. I thought it may be helpful to zoom into what nutrients can be beneficial (for both parties) to have during the 3 months before conceiving.

A chick walking out of its eggshell

Enhancing Egg Quality

As we may know, there isn't any way we can increase the number of eggs we have as we are born with a certain amount already. That is why, focusing on the quality of eggs is important. Here are some nutrients that can affect the quality of our eggs.

Omega 3 fatty acids have antioxidant capabilities which means they can reduce inflammation that can occur on the lining of the uterus. Inflammation can occur due to aging, medical conditions, medications or nutrition and could reduce the chances of egg implantation. Omega 3's also makes cell membranes and contributes to cell functioning, therefore, it helps to ensure the egg develops properly through the conception process. In a recent secondary data analysis of 1,036 women trying to conceive, it was found that women who were supplemented with Omega 3s were 2 times more likely to conceive naturally. (1)

Foods rich in Omega 3s include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, nuts and seeds, and plant oils,

Antioxidants, specifically Vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, reservatrol and melatonin, can help to reduce free radicals that may accumulate in our bodies. (2) Free radicals are formed by the natural processes of our metabolism and can be efficiently broken down by our body normally, however, other factors that may cause free radicals to accumulate include exposure to smoking, chemicals, UV light and pollution. At high amounts, free radicals can damage the DNA of cells, especially the DNA in eggs responsible for foetal development.

Antioxidants can be found in a large variety of fruits and vegetables, however, different coloured fruits and vegetables provide different kinds of antioxidants. That's why "eating the rainbow" of many coloured fruits and veggies is beneficial for fertility and overall health.

Zinc is essential for egg cell development, maturation and release of the egg. Additionally, zinc has a role in hormone development which can assist with regular ovulation, therefore, increasing the chances of conception.

Foods rich in zinc include oysters, protein foods, milk, cheese, dairy, legumes, and seeds.

CoEnzyme Q10 is a specific antioxidant that can suppress age-induced oxidative stress by directly reducing DNA damage in egg cells. This means egg quality and viability can be improved.

CoQ10-rich foods include meat, fatty fish, legumes and nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D enhances egg survival and growth as it may have direct impacts on the ovaries and endometrium. Additionally, Vitamin D also regulates epigenetics (genes that can be switched on or off by environmental factors or behaviours) and therefore, play a role in the genetic makeup of your eggs. In a meta-analysis, it was established that there was a significant increase in the likelihood of becoming pregnant. (3)

Rich sources of vitamin D include sunlight, mushrooms and salmon.

An egg and sperm

What About Sperm Health?

Zinc is required for the creation of sperm and assists in sperm mobility and strength to reach the egg. It also has a role in increasing testosterone levels which increases the quantity of sperm and contributes to overall higher sperm counts. However, zinc intake alone will not increase the chances of conceiving, ensuring adequacy in all other nutrients is also necessary as there is minimal evidence to suggest that zinc has a direct impact on improving fertility.

Food sources: meat and poultry, muscles, fish, seeds, dairy and spinach

As I mentioned previously, Omega 3s reduce inflammation that may lead to interferences with chemical processes and the creation of hormones specifically for fertility. Omega 3s can improve sperm structure by strengthening their tales for motility and ensuring the membrane around the head of the sperm contains the contents required for egg fertilisation.

To maximise omega 3 intake, it is suggested to have 2-3 servings of oily fish each week. This may include mackerel, sardines, and salmon. For those who are vegan or vegetarian, algae-based supplements are available.

Folate is essential for preventing neural tube defects (NTDs) and has a role in making new cells and creating DNA in sperm. Furthermore, several studies have indicated that folate has a significant impact on sperm quality and quantity. (4)

Food sources: dark leafy green veggies, fortified foods, legumes and whole grains.

Antioxidants, specifically selenium, and vitamins C and E can help reduce inflammation also which in turn, could increase sperm quality and quantity.

Food sources: brazil nuts, citrus fruits, tomatoes, capsicum, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils.

Nutrition Factors That Can Negatively Affect Your Fertility

Some cooking methods can create compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). AGEs are created when proteins or fats combine with sugar (glucose) in our bodies. This natural process called glycation reaction occurs as we age. However, cooking methods like barbequing, grilling and toasting can activate this process leading to increased production of AGEs.

Some ways to avoid this can include boiling, stewing, steaming and poaching foods and/or marinating our meats in vinegar or lemon juice, as these are acidic and may reduce AGE production.

Another thing to consider is the amount of processed food we may be having. It's not to say to never have processed foods but if we are having a considerably large amount, we may need to think about how this may affect our fertility. Processed foods are often high in saturated and/or trans fats as well as sugar. Saturated and trans fats can contribute to chronic inflammation. In terms of fertility, this inflammation can then impact the development of your egg, and the production of sperm and cause an imbalance of reproductive hormones necessary for ovulation.

As for sugar, if we eat large amounts over time, this can cause stress on our pancreas to release insulin to manage our high blood sugar levels. High levels of insulin in our body are associated with increased release of androgens that can negatively affect ovulation, necessary for conception.

As alcohol is a toxin it may reduce the absorption of nutrients (especially zinc) if had in excessive amounts. It may also affect sperm production and health. Therefore, it is suggested to have alcohol in small amounts or not have it during the conception phase (3 months prior to conceiving).

The Main Takeaways

  • Both parties should enjoy a wide variety of foods containing healthy fats and colourful fruit and vegetables

  • Consider the amounts of processed foods that are being eaten by both parties and aim to reduce it if need be

  • Limit your alcohol intake

It may be good to consider seeing your GP for a blood test if you are planning on conceiving so you can start to implement these nutrients through food or supplementation. If you need help with your nutrition for conception, you can book in with me here, so we can get you on your way to preparing you for a healthy pregnancy!

  1. Stanhiser, J., Jukic, A. M. Z., McConnaughey, D. R., & Steiner, A. Z. (2022). Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and fecundability. Human reproduction (Oxford, England), 37(5), 1037–1046.

  2. Tesarik J. (2021). Towards Personalized Antioxidant Use in Female Infertility: Need for More Molecular and Clinical Studies. Biomedicines, 9(12), 1933.

  3. Meng, X., Zhang, J., Wan, Q. et al. Influence of Vitamin D supplementation on reproductive outcomes of infertile patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis.Reprod Biol Endocrinol21, 17 (2023).

  4. Hoek, J., Steegers-Theunissen, R. P. M., Willemsen, S. P., Schoenmakers, S., Paternal Folate Status and Sperm Quality, Pregnancy Outcomes, and Epigenetics: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Mol. Nutr. Food Res.2020, 64, 1900696.

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