If you are exploring fertility treatments, from in vitro fertilization (IVF) to intrauterine insemination (IUI) to egg and sperm freezing, you will find an overwhelming amount of information online covering all the ways to mentally and physically prepare for the process to come. That’s a good thing! But the advice, suggestions, and list upon list of “tips and tricks” all tend to focus on minute, step-by-step ways to manage the various medications and hormones required for each process. While that's important, it misses a really important piece of the puzzle.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to conceive naturally or with assistance—and especially if you’re considering freezing your eggs or sperm—your chances are best when you start with a good egg and good sperm.
The Value of Preconception Health
Preconception health is exactly what it sounds like–the health of both parents in the period before they successfully conceive. It’s a wonderful truth that all of the things we can do to improve our reproductive health align with what we do to improve our health as a whole. And that doesn't change when you’re pursuing IVF, IUI, egg freezing, or sperm freezing. Fans of the Barefoot Contessa will be familiar with her advice of starting with good ingredients. The same logic applies here!
Plan for the Healthiest Egg & Sperm
By prioritizing preconception health, couples can actively support their health with lifestyle choices that improve egg and sperm quality. One of the most meaningful steps is also the easiest—popping a daily prenatal vitamin. Actually, experts recommend that both men and women take high-quality prenatal vitamins at least three months before they start trying to conceive. And the reasoning is sound. Both partners will benefit from key micronutrients (1) that have been shown to support the processes that drive preconception health. Another bonus—starting prenatals early helps build up the nutrients you’ll need once you become pregnant and start the very taxing work of growing an entire little person.
Keep in mind that a man’s health preconception directly affects not only his partner’s pregnancy but the health of their baby, too. In addition to embracing healthy lifestyle habits, taking a prenatal vitamin specifically formulated for men is an easy way to support and optimize sperm health.
Beyond prenatal vitamins, here’s what women planning on IVF, IUI, or freezing their eggs can do to bump up egg quality.
- Quit smoking and seriously curb the alcohol. Nicotine not only accelerates egg loss in the ovaries, it also prematurely ages them. Worse, all those toxins in your cigarettes damage the ovarian follicles. On the plus side, fertility rates for smokers significantly improve (2) about twelve months after ditching the habit. Alcohol, meanwhile, is pretty darn detrimental to female fertility, so taking a conservative approach here is a benefit.
- Mind your nutrition. Nutrition can directly improve egg quality–science (3) says so. Diets high in protein, low in processed carbohydrates, and rich in full-fat dairy are best. Fill in the inevitable gaps with the specialized nutrition of a really great prenatal vitamin. Vitamins and minerals, including B6, B12, E, K2, and folate, nourish egg health by regulating hormone balance and helping to shield against oxidative stress. Magnesium, iron, and vitamin D (4) also support female fertility, and collagen also appears to play a role.
- Find healthy outlets to manage stress. This is easier said than done, but it really is important (and possible, we promise). The last thing women need when they’re actively trying to promote egg quality is stress hormones zooming around. Cortisol and prolactin can directly interfere with ovulation, so start a yoga habit pronto. If that’s not your jam, consider massage therapy, guided meditation, journaling, ceramics, or whatever else sounds appealing.
- Exercise, but moderately. Daily movement is important, but dialing down the intensity is the best way to support hormone function.
- Do what you can to minimize toxin exposure. Endocrine disruptors wreak havoc on egg quality, and they’re just about everywhere these days. But some simple swaps can go a long way. A good way of hedging your bets is to ask yourself what will benefit the planet and proceeding from there. Switching from plastic to glass or metal for things like water bottles and food containers is a great first step. Use eco-friendly detergents and soaps, which have fewer worrisome ingredients, is another easy option, as is ditching the synthetically-fragranced candle for one made with essential oils.
Of course, the egg is only half of the equation. Healthy sperm is just as important as healthy eggs, and men can take specific steps to support and nourish their fertility health in much the same way as women. For men, fertility health comes down to sperm health, something measured with a few key parameters. We have a lengthy post detailing all the ways men can promote their sperm health right this way, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll share the highlights here:
- Get the right amount of sleep.According to one study (5), men who sleep too much or too little are the least likely to conceive with their partners. Testosterone production peaks during sleep, so prioritize that seven to eight hours of shut eye every night.
- Eat more healthy fats and skip the soy. Higher amounts of healthy fats (avocados, nuts, olive oil) positively affect male fertility, but soy definitely does not. One study found that men who eat soy-related food products have higher percentages of chromosomal abnormalities in their sperm, not to mention lower sperm motility. You can blame the phytates in the soy, which interferes with zinc absorption (an essential mineral for sperm production).
- Avoid overheating. There’s a reason the testicles are outside a man’s body—sperm need a stable temperature roughly four degrees cooler to maintain optimal health. Skip the hot tub, don’t rest your laptop on your lap, and try switching to boxers, just to play it safe.
- Be smart about exercise. Regular exercise increases male sperm count, reduces body fat, and can double as an effective stress buster. But don’t overdo it. Excessive amounts of high-intensity exercise not only kills a guy’s libido, it can be outright harmful to his sperm quality.
The Bottom Line
If you’re freezing your eggs or sperm, or you’re actively pursuing IVF and IUI, we’ll give you the very same advice we offer to anyone hoping to become pregnant. Spend three to six months doing everything you can to nourish your body. It’s the best way to support your reproductive health to support your eggs and sperm. Lifestyle habits (6) directly affect our fertility health, and unlike so many things on the journey to parenthood, these are truly within our control.
- Cetin, et al. (2010). Role of micronutrients in the periconceptional period. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19567449/
- Smoking and infertility: a committee opinion. (2012). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2012.07.1146
- Silvestris, E. et al. (2019). Nutrition and female fertility: an independent correlation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6568019/
Chavarro, J. et al. (2007). Use of multivitamins, intake of B vitamins and risk of ovulatory infertility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2366795/
Wise, L. et al. (n.d.). Sleep and male fecundity in a North American preconception cohort study. https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(16)61644-8/fulltext
- Sharma, R. et al . (2013). Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3717046/
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This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Beli.