How do vegan and vegetarian diets affect fertility in women?

Fertility - Food - Posted onWednesday 3 March 2021

There is a lot of literature on the importance of diet for pregnant woman, in the interest of good foetal development and the mother’s health. Many articles are already dedicated to the micronutrients needed to compensate for the diet of a vegan or vegetarian woman.

But what about women who want to become pregnant? How can they be supported in compensating for the deficits and/or deficiencies in their diet and thus promote fertility?

In the Western world, following a vegetarian or vegan diet has made a strong comeback in recent years, with ethical and ecological arguments added to health concerns, as well as family or cultural traditions, in some cases. It should be noted that diet is not exceptionally implicated in subfertility among women. Although it seems tenuous to consider veganism a factor in existing infertility, it is interesting to consider the possible consequences of this type of diet on female fertility, especially as women of childbearing age are often much more culturally inclined to take an interest in this practice than their elders!

As a vegetarian or vegan, it is therefore perfectly legitimate to ask yourself these questions: is my diet compatible with my desire to become pregnant? What is the impact of my diet on my fertility?

Vegetarianism and veganism: what are the differences?

Vegetarianism is a very common diet and means rejecting the consumption of all animal flesh (meat, fish and seafood). Veganism goes further by also excluding all foods of animal origin, such as eggs, dairy products, honey and gelatine, etc.

Diets that are beneficial to health when monitored!

These two diets, by reducing the consumption of saturated fats found in particular in meat and dairy products, have many health benefits, including better digestion, prevention of obesity, and reduction of cardiovascular diseases, etc.

However, there is a risk of deficiency.

Unlike the vegan lifestyle, it is easier for a vegetarian diet to remain sufficiently varied and balanced to provide everything the body needs to function. However, it may still require medical support, particularly for newcomers, pregnant women and, of course, women wishing to become pregnant.

Vegans lack vitamin B12, which is only present in food products of animal origin. A supplement is therefore imperative to compensate for this deficiency.

A micro-nutritional assessment, essential for every vegan before pregnancy!

The French National Authority for Health (HAS) recommends a preconception consultation to check the good health of future parents. This visit can be carried out by your general practitioner, your gynaecologist or a midwife. Elements for assessing your eating habits, as well as your nutritional and micro-nutritional status (vitamins, zinc, copper, selenium, etc.), can be added to the usual check-up. This consultation can therefore be a good source of advice to enable you to optimise your chances of pregnancy.

And if falling pregnant is taking some time?

In this case, a micro-nutritional check-up is recommended in addition to the fertility check-up carried out by a specialist doctor.

What are the essential minerals and vitamins for women who want to have children?

Optimising your diet several months before trying to become pregnant allows you to guarantee the future embryo a detoxified environment that is recharged with micronutrients.

One of the key elements in optimising your fertility is therefore a diet that is sufficiently varied with vitamins and minerals. Each of these plays a specific role in your body:

  • Iron is particularly important in the preconception period because it optimises ovulation and the quality of the egg.
  • Iodine is essential for the thyroid and brain development of the child.
  • Calcium and vitamin D play a role in the mineralisation of bones, in the proper development of the immune and cardiovascular systems, and in the prevention of pre-eclampsia.
  • Magnesium regulates the stress hormone, cortisol, in the blood. Stress is bad for hormonal balance and fertility as it disrupts the endocrine glands.
  • Zinc protects cells from oxidative stress and plays a role in each stage of reproduction: hormonal balance, egg development, fertilisation and implantation.
  • Copper is essential for collagen synthesis and may be involved in female fertility, mainly as an antioxidant.
  • Selenium is an essential trace element for the antioxidant protection of the body. Its role is best known in sperm quality, but it also protects the egg in the later stages of follicular development.
  • Manganese plays a role in energy production and lipid metabolism. It is necessary for many functions, including reproduction.
  • Chromium, because of its role in maintaining good insulin sensitivity, is an important player in certain cases of subfertility linked to polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • B vitamins, by promoting the irrigation of the follicle, help to optimise female fertility. Vitamin B9 (or folic acid) is as important for the mother-to-be as for the father-to-be! It is essential at the time of embryogenesis because it helps prevent neural tube closure anomalies (in particular, spina bifida) and reduces the risk of other malformations.
  • Omega 3 plays a major role in the fluidity of the membranes and allows good intercellular communication, for example at the time of the meeting between oocyte and spermatozoon.
  • Vitamins C and E, with their antioxidant properties, protect the cells of the oocytes, spermatozoa and more against free radicals generated by your lifestyle (stress, alcohol, tobacco, pollution, etc.).

Where can you find the essential nutrients in your diet to optimise your chances of pregnancy?

Apart from vitamin B12, which is lacking from a vegan diet, the vegetarian and vegan diets allow you to absorb all the essential macronutrients and micronutrients recommended to optimise your health and therefore your fertility.

The diet of the father-to-be is not to be neglected!

Several months before considering a pregnancy, it is also advisable that the father-to-be takes an interest in his diet. As spermatogenesis takes place over three months, it is important to take into account the father’s diet and health beforehand. The quality of the sperm is closely linked to its micro-nutritional balance!

The intake of Q10, vitamins A, C, E and B9, zinc, arginine, antioxidants and carnitine must therefore be monitored.

The value of preventive biology in optimising the fertility of future parents

As you’ve seen, such lifestyles require that both parents have a suitable diet. However, adjustments can sometimes be necessary and preventive biology can be a very good guiding tool.

Our range includes three assessments relevant to a vegetarian or vegan couple who wish to have a child. They can also serve as a basis for a health professional to set up personalised support.

  • The VeggieCheck check-up, intended for vegetarians or vegans, allows you to check your general health and the effectiveness of your supplementation, particularly in regards to vitamin B12.
  • The FertiCheck Women’s check-up, intended for women wishing to become pregnant, enables us to establish whether your micro-nutritional status is favourable to falling pregnant.
  • The FertiCheck Male check-up, intended for men who want to become fathers, allows a preliminary exploration of the biological status of the man by examining the levels of nutrients necessary for optimal fertility.

Did you know:

Approximately 60 days before conception (at the time of gametogenesis) and until the child is two years old, the lifestyle and diet of both parents count: these are the so-called 1060 days, the most important days, during which the foundations of the child’s future health are built.

To find out more, read our dossier on optimising your chances of conceiving a child through micronutrition.