5 Ways Your Nutrition Could Increase Your Risk for Miscarriage and Infertility
Ciara Dove-Reid, RDN
April 28, 2022
In light of National Infertility Awareness Week, I want to discuss 5 nutrition related risk factors that could increase your risk for infertility and miscarriage (spontaneous abortion).
1. Ingesting Heavy Metals
Toxic metals continue to be associated with an increased risk of infertility, developmental abnormalities, and pregnancy loss oftentimes due to their ability to disrupt hormones and directly damage the fetus.
In fact, a study published this year found that women with higher levels of cadmium and lead in their blood had a high incidence of pregnancy loss.
Choose your food wisely.
Unfortunately, eating natural and whole foods and taking supplements are two of the primary ways you can ingest an excess heavy metals.
For example, rice typically takes up a lot of arsenic from the soil making it one of the highest dietary sources of arsenic. Organic dark chocolate is often high in cadmium since most cocoa is sourced from areas with cadmium-rich soil. Seaweed is often very high in lead, especially if harvested from certain waters with high contamination from industrial byproducts.
Be careful with supplements:
This is also why supplements can be dangerous in excess. Concentrated plant extracts, like raw cocoa powder, may allow you to consume more heavy metals in a smaller volume. I get consumer alerts daily about new supplements that have been flagged for heavy metals.
Be sure to visit out homepage and join our newsletter as I will be sending alerts and warnings regarding various compounds and foods to limit for proper hormone balance and pregnancy.
Play it safe:
But as a safety net, I emphasize decreasing intake of foods that we know to be high in heavy metals, and eating a varied diet ! Eating foods in rotation can lower the chances that you get to much of a bad thing from a good thing. I also advocate for paying close attention to what you use to cook and store food, and reducing your exposure to other harmful compounds buy buying certian foods organic. You can learn more abouthow to ensure your food is organic here.
2. Poor Energy Intake
Poor energy intake is the number one reason I see missing or absent periods and ovulation in women. You can also be “over weight“ according to your doctor and still be undereating, which characterizes the majority of my clients. And you can not get pregnant if you are not ovulating and having a period.
Menstruation is an energy-demanding process. You need fat, protein, and some unrefined carbs to optimally fuel your hormones and thicken the lining of your uterus, let alone fuel an embryo that has been implanted into your uterus.
Excessive exercise, undereating, constant fluctuations in weight, and avoidance of food groups must be addressed immediately if you are trying to regulate your period and conceive.
Typical calories needed during pregnancy can be about 300-500 calories more a day after the first trimester, which can be easily accomplished in most situations.
However, some medical and psychosocial conditions such as eating disorders, cancer, and so on, may cause both mom and baby to be at risk for undernutrition and malnutrition.
We know that women with anorexia nervosa for example, experience an increase in both thier risk for infertility and miscarriage. Those who are unable to meet the energy intake and weight gain goals during pregnancy may be interested in working with a prenatal dietitian to strategize ways to improve their energy intake.
3. Micronutrient Depletion
The body prefers to conceive under optimal conditions and that means you need adequate micronutrient intake. Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals will disrupt key biochemical processes, and in turn, tell your body that you are not in the best condition to support a baby.
For example, PCOS, a major cause of infertility, is often caused by insulin resistance. Did you know that micronutrients such as magnesium and chromium are needed for proper insulin production and utilization?
Even our thyroid hormones, which help regulate menstruation, require micronutrients such as selenium, calcium, and iodine to be created and metabolized.
The list goes on. But the take-away is that your micronutrient status can and will have a direct affect on your hormone balance and metabolism and therefore effect your menstrual cycle and your ability to conceive.
If your micronutrient status is this important for everyday reproductive functioning, how much more demanding do you think it would be during pregnancy?
Micronutrients help create and bind DNA so that your baby can be formed. Specific micronutrients that support DNA synthesis are folate, B12, riboflavin, Iron, B6 (pyridoxine) as well as compounds such as choline and DHA.
These vitamins, minerals, and compounds play such an important role in the development of your baby, yet you will be surprised to find that they are often not in prenatal vitamins in adequate amounts or adequate forms. Not to mention that many women may not be able to process vitamins in prenatal due to genetics.
Folate for example, is a B vitamin that needs to undergo a process called methylation in order to be used in the body. But a decent percentage of women lack the gene to do so. As a result, they could be at a 30-45% higher risk of miscarriage.
This is why I help clients maintain a nutrient-dense diet during pregnancy and help them choose a prenatal that will serve as a good safety net for their current diet. I also recommend discussing with your clinician genetic concerns and getting comprehensive micronutrient blood work with a professional that is familiar with the goal ranges of nutrients during pregnancy.
4. Poor Sperm Caused by Poor Nutrition:
I would be remiss if I left men out of the micronutrient discussion. We like to say that half of your babies DNA comes from the father! The quality of that DNA plays a role even in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
Poor sperm quality is linked to an increased risk of improper DNA fragmentation and therefore and increased risk of spontaneous abortion. There are several nutrients that are needed for the development of optimal sperm. You can read about what nutrients support optimal sperm development here.
It can take over 70 days for new sperm to be created and for that reason, it may be a good idea for your husband to improve his overall diet and nutrient intake for 2-3 months before trying to conceive.
This may also be a good idea for women as well, as it can take 3 months for nutrients like folate to build up in your body to an amount that is protective of neural tube defects.
5. Food Borne Illnesses
This last one is for our expecting mothers! Mothers are very susceptible to food-borne illnesses during pregnancy especially since their immune systems are slightly suppressed to promote the physical relationship between mom and baby.
Studies show that many pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica, can be passed to the fetus and result in stillbirth, spontaneous abortion, premature delivery, and other perinatal complications.
While modern food practices have lowered the risk of food-borne illness quite a lot, it is still vital to make sure that your food has been prepared as safely as possible.
I personally heavily emphasize food hygiene with my clients, as I believe food born illness is alot bigger of an issue than we think it to be. I also suggest that my pregnant patients avoid raw or undercooked meat at all costs, to me it is just not worth the risk. Yes! That means no sushi or rare steak.
And for my Christian readers, avoiding raw food should already be commonplace. The Bible is clear in the new testament that we are not to eat the blood of animals (Acts 15:19). It was not just an old testament thing!
God has always been about eating wisely to protect our temple, especially when pregnant. Stay tuned because we will be doing a deeper dive into Biblical dietary insights and pregnancy that touches more on this topic!
Click here to read about tips from the FDA on avoiding food-borne illnesses while pregnant.
Research Supporting Topics Covered:
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Wolfe, William H., Joel E. Michalek, Judson C. Miner, Alton J. Rahe, Cynthia A. Moore, Larry L. Needham, and Donald G. Patterson. “Paternal Serum Dioxin and Reproductive Outcomes among Veterans of Operation Ranch Hand.” Epidemiology 6, no. 1 (1995): 17–22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3702444.
Kaur M, Sharma P, Kaur R, Khetarpal P. Increased incidence of spontaneous abortions on exposure to cadmium and lead: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2022 Jan;38(1):16-21. doi: 10.1080/09513590.2021.1942450. Epub 2021 Jun 25. PMID: 34169802.
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Ryterska K, Kordek A, Załęska P. Has Menstruation Disappeared? Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea-What Is This Story about? Nutrients. 2021 Aug 17;13(8):2827. doi: 10.3390/nu13082827. PMID: 34444987; PMCID: PMC8401547.
Baker JM, Al-Nakkash L, Herbst-Kralovetz MM. Estrogen-gut microbiome axis: Physiological and clinical implications. Maturitas. 2017 Sep;103:45-53. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.06.025. Epub 2017 Jun 23. PMID: 28778332.
Matei A, Saccone G, Vogel JP, Armson AB. Primary and secondary prevention of preterm birth: a review of systematic reviews and ongoing randomized controlled trials. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2019 May;236:224-239. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2018.12.022. Epub 2019 Jan 25. PMID: 30772047.
Lynne Robinson, Ioannis D. Gallos, Sarah J. Conner, Madhurima Rajkhowa, David Miller, Sheena Lewis, Jackson Kirkman-Brown, Arri Coomarasamy, The effect of sperm DNA fragmentation on miscarriage rates: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Human Reproduction, Volume 27, Issue 10, October 2012, Pages 2908–2917, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/des261
Schmid TE, Eskenazi B, Marchetti F, Young S, Weldon RH, Baumgartner A, Anderson D, Wyrobek AJ. Micronutrients intake is associated with improved sperm DNA quality in older men. Fertil Steril. 2012 Nov;98(5):1130-7.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1126. Epub 2012 Aug 27. PMID: 22935557.