Women who want to get pregnant naturally, especially if they have been trying for some time, are always in search of lifestyle tweaks that can improve their chances. Because Paleo happens to be very popular right now, many women in the TTC (trying to conceive) crowd want to know if Paleo can make it easier to have a baby.
As a nutritionist who specializes in fertility and women’s issues—and as a woman who has had trouble conceiving—I can say that the answer to the question of whether Paleo can help you get pregnant or not is both yes and no.
Fertility issues come in all shapes and sizes. 1 in every 6 couples will have fertility issues of some kind, and nearly 1/3 of those will be categorized as “unexplained infertility,” which means that doctors can’t find a definitive reason as to why the couple hasn’t had a baby.
So how much does diet—including Paleo—affect a couple’s chances of getting pregnant? Chromosomal issues are the least likely to be affected by diet, but many other causes of infertility can be positively impacted by dietary changes. These can include autoimmune or chronic disorders, thyroid disease, hormone imbalances, low sperm counts, obesity, and even genetics, among others.
Paleo supports healthy fertility because it provides ample B12 and folate, two necessary vitamins for optimal fertility. It also provides foods that are rich in omega-3s, zinc, B6, vitamin E, vitamin D, and iron. Basically a plethora of fertility nutrients!
The Standard American Diet of fast food, processed items, and preservatives wreaks havoc on fertility in both men and women. Nutrient deficiencies, impaired digestion, inflammation, and weight issues are all normal side effects of eating this typical American food. Sure, many conceive and have healthy pregnancies while regularly hitting up the drive-thru—but it’s becoming less common. Infertility is on the rise for a number of reasons and it would be foolish to think that diet has nothing to do with it.
Chris Kresser, who is quite well known in the Paleo community, has written about the significance of how a mother’s health before and during her pregnancy can affect her child’s health well into adulthood. I can’t stress enough how imperative it is that we consider the food that we eat before we attempt to conceive and throughout a pregnancy. Research has even shown that a baby’s time in the womb can play a role in how they later respond to stress, their mental health, their metabolism, immunity, and even personality!
So how is Paleo better than other diets? Micronutrient density. Few, if any, other food plans stress whole, unadulterated foods like Paleo does, while also promoting pregnancy-friendly nutrients at the same time. Grassfed animal products contain healthy fats and vitamin B12 that are essential for fetal development. You won’t get the same benefits from a vegetarian diet or from conventional meat products.
Paleo is also great for fertility and pregnancy because it stresses nutrient-rich foods that have otherwise gone out of style. We’re talking organ meats like liver, bone broth, fermented foods like sauerkraut, cod liver oil, and wild caught fish. Few other diets—except maybe that of our grandparents—will regularly promote these items. It’s not coincidental that as these foods have faded from our tables, so infertility rates have risen. Sure, there are other factors, like increasing levels of toxins in the environment, a higher percentage of the population dealing with obesity, and choosing to delay having kids—but the need to eat food is something that all people everywhere have in common.
More Than Popping Pills
Modern society’s answer to nutrient deficiencies is prenatal vitamins. While it’s still a great idea to take them in addition to a whole foods diet, they should never be anything more than supplemental. They can’t undo a terrible diet, void of all nutrients. On top of that, many prenatal vitamins these days contain synthetic forms of the nutrients that don’t even absorb well in our bodies. Paleo addresses these deficiencies because it gives ample amounts from food alone. Any supplement on top of a Paleo diet is just icing on the micronutrient cake.
Paleo men and women with chronic diseases or other infertility problems like hormone imbalances or low sperm counts will still benefit from additional whole food supplementation, but the average healthy person could eat Paleo and never swallow a single vitamin. That could never happen on a modern, processed food diet.
Eating Paleo also reduces the risk of encountering toxins like BPA, which can affect the baby in utero, because it encourages a lifestyle of minimally processed ingredients. Raw, fresh, organic foods are the best thing to promote fertility and overall wellness. This will never change.
Paleo Is Amazing, But It Isn’t Magic
Sadly the answer to all of these is a resounding no. Diet has limits. But frankly, every fertility treatment is going to work better if diet isn’t working against your fertility. Paleo improves the digestive system and allows the liver to work better. This means that hormones from medication or fertility treatments, which the liver breaks down, will work more effectively. Paleo helps to calm autoimmune reactions, which is vital to ensure an immune system won’t attack a fetus.
I’ve been dealing with infertility problems for two years in the form of recurrent miscarriages. For the first few, I was eating Paleo, but definitely in the 80/20 realm. I would frequently have gluten free bread, quinoa, and cheese. After I’d had three pregnancy losses, I switched to 100% Paleo, but still allowed myself to have honey and other Paleo-friendly sweets. I didn’t notice much of a difference and my hormones were still a mess. Another few miscarriages later, I cut out all forms of sugar, allowing some only on very special occasions (like birthdays or Christmas).
When I finally started working with an infertility specialist, I was diagnosed with several autoimmune factors (beyond my known issues with Hashimotos, Celiac disease, and fibromyalgia) and some clotting issues. I also discovered a progesterone deficiency. These were issues that needed help above and beyond my diet. But since quitting sugar, my antibodies have dramatically been reduced, and my doctor feels hopeful that my string of traumatic miscarriages has reached an end.
Should Paleo Be Your Fertility Diet?
Eating Paleo is choosing to eat the old-fashioned way—the way our grandparents and great-grandparents did. Sometimes the wisdom of old (eat butter, ferment your veggies!) dramatically trumps modern ideas (fat is bad, sugar is good!). This is fundamentally true when it comes to a pre-conception or pregnancy diet.
While I would love to say that Paleo cured my infertility and that I now have a healthy baby, I haven’t gotten pregnant again yet. But what I haven’t had is another miscarriage. I am healthier than ever—in spite of the fact that my hormones were beaten up from six miscarriages in two years. I’m on minimal fertility medications, and my doctor is amazed at how balanced my hormones are. That’s all Paleo.
While it isn’t a quick fix or the magical path to having a baby fast, Paleo is a strong fertility diet that will enable your body to be in its best shape. However you go about trying to get pregnant—natural, medicated, and even IVF—Paleo will set you up for dietary success. Because it can be customized for your individual needs, Paleo isn’t a “one sized fits all” approach either, beneficial for both men and women, and applicable to all health conditions and fertility challenges.