Can Plant Based Diets Cause Infertility?
With all the propaganda about plant based diets, I believe most people are unaware of how nutrient deficient a strict vegan diet can be, without substantial thought and planning.
I respect people’s decisions on what is right for them when considering a vegetarian or vegan diet; I also try to do my best to inform them so they can eat in a way that provides good health.
We often think of superfoods as fruits and vegetables, and while I agree that fruits and vegetables are extremely nutritious, they are not super nutrient dense foods. We often mistakenly consider them “superfoods” because they have been marketed to us as such. In reality, organ meats like liver, pastured egg yolks, and bone broth from pastured animals are the true Superfoods. They are considerably higher in vitamins and minerals and should be eaten as part of a nourishing healthy diet, and especially by women that are trying to conceive.
A woman’s body was designed to sustain new life and give birth. And while a plant based diet can cleanse and detoxify someone who has been living on the Standard American Diet (SAD), it is well known that it is NOT the optimal diet to prepare the body for pregnancy. Here is a summary of a Nourishing Pre-Conception Diet and why it is the necessary diet for conception, a healthy pregnancy, a trouble-free child birth, and the best start possible for a new life.
As I explained in one of my earlier columns (Look at the pull-down menu under the Healthier Lifestyle tab) cholesterol is the precursor to the steroid hormones, those being glucocorticoids, mineral corticoids, estrogens, androgens, and progestins. They are all critical components to preparing the body for pregnancy, and cholesterol is the critical component of these hormones. They are all regulated by proper cholesterol intake. Plant based diets especially lack cholesterol, as the best forms of it come from animals. Please do not underestimate the importance of cholesterol's positive effects on hormones- it is absolutely essential. Each hormone has a unique function. Every single one is necessary in the right amount and at the right time for successful conception. If you have inadequate cholesterol levels, hormones will not function properly. If the hormones are unbalanced and not functioning, conception becomes impossible.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids also assist in conception. Not only do they help regulate hormones, they promote ovulation and cervical mucus, and improve blood flow to the reproductive organs. Cervical mucus aids in carrying the sperm to the egg when the woman is ovulating. While there are many excellent plant based sources of omega 3 fatty acids, such as chia seed, spirulina and chlorella (algae), as well as walnuts, they don't contain nearly the same concentration of the oh-so-important omega 3s as grass-fed meats, pastured eggs and wild seafood.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, isn't often talked about as one of the necessary vitamins for conception despite the fact that it's actually one of the most important. B6 has been shown to lengthen the luteal phase, or the time from ovulation to menstruation. Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) occurs when this phase is less than 10 days, the ideal is 11-16. A luteal phase that is too short cannot maintain a pregnancy. In short, have adequate amounts of vitamin B6 in the diet reduces the risks of miscarriage. As a bonus, B6 also fights depression, reduces PMS and helps regulate hormones. The best forms of B6 are wild tuna, liver from grass-fed or pastured animals, and grass-fed beef.
B12 cannot be obtained from plant foods. It is found exclusively in animal foods, like liver and eggs. B12 deprivation affects how the ovum responds to the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), or what stimulates egg production. B12 is not only essential to a healthy embryo and fetus, a lack of B12 can interfere with cell division and growth. It helps develop the endometrial lining, assists in normal and regulated ovulation, and improves blood flow to the organs.
Vitamin A, or retinol, helps nourish cervical fluid. While this may not seem like an important task, cervical fluid helps the sperm travel to the egg. The more vitamin A, the more cervical fluid, and better the consistency. Vitamin A also helps develop tissues in the fetus. In the famous book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price, Dr. Price states “Dr. Sherman states further that vitamin A must be supplied in liberal proportions not only during the growth period but during the adult period as well, if a good condition of nutrition and a high degree of health and vigor are to be maintained...Hart and Gilbert have shown that the symptoms most commonly seen in cattle having a vitamin A deficiency are the birth of dead or weak calves, with or without eye lesions...Hughes has shown that swine did not reproduce when fed barley and salt, but did so when cod liver oil was added to this food...Dr. Sure has shown that a lack of vitamin A produces in females a disturbances of estrus and ovulation, resulting in sterility." (Page 306)
We now know that vitamin A is necessary for the differentiation and patterning of all of the cells, tissues, and organs within the developing body. It is especially important for the development of the communication systems between the sense organs and the brain. Even mild vitamin A deficiency compromises the number of functional units called nephrons in the kidneys, which could predispose a person to poor kidney function later in life. Vitamin A is also necessary during fetal development and through adult life to maintain the presence of cells lining the lungs that are covered in hair-like projections called cilia. These hairs sweep away debris and foreign material, protecting the lungs from pollutants and infectious diseases. During and after the formation of all these systems, vitamin A is necessary for their continued growth.
Unfortunately, the majority of people are under the impression that beta carotene is the same thing as vitamin A. The carotenes that are found in colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots serve as precursors that are converted to vitamin A in the small intestine of healthy individuals. But many people today, especially infants, diabetics, and those with thyroid or digestive disorders, lack the necessary enzymes to make the conversion. True vitamin A, also known as retinol, is absolutely necessary for optimal health, and is found in pastured animal foods like liver, eggs, and raw dairy products.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin that is necessary for our bodies to properly produce and regulate the sex hormones. Insufficient vitamin D intake can wreak havoc on the body, particularly if you're a woman trying to conceive. The team from Yale University School of Medicine studied 67 infertile women and took Vitamin D measures from them. Only 7 per cent of them had normal vitamin D levels and the rest had either insufficient levels or clinical deficiency.
In men, vitamin D increases testosterone, which is the hormone responsible for producing sperm. In women it properly develops the lining of the uterus, which the embryo can cling to. It regulates cell growth in both men and women.
In the late third trimester, the fetal skeleton enters a period of rapid growth that requires calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D. An infant born six weeks prematurely has laid down only half the calcium into its bones as an infant carried to term. There is evidence that vitamin D plays a role in lung development, and it probably plays a much larger role in fetal development in general due to vitamin D’s interaction with vitamin A. At birth, the infant’s blood level of vitamin D is closely correlated to that of the mother. Adequate levels of vitamin D protect the newborn from tetany, convulsions and heart failure.
The rapid skeletal growth that occurs in late pregnancy taxes the vitamin D supply of the mother and her blood levels drop over the course of the third trimester. One study conducted in Britain showed that 36 percent of new mothers and 32 percent of newborn infants had no detectable vitamin D in their blood at all; another showed that 60 percent of infants born to white mothers in the spring and summer had levels under 8 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), a level that is overtly deficient.
The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends 2,000 IU per day of vitamin D from cod liver oil, and small additional amounts from fatty fish, shellfish, butter, and lard. Although no studies have directly assessed the use of this dose during pregnancy, a study of over 10,000 infants in Finland conducted between 1966 and 1997 showed that direct supplementation of 2,000 IU per day to infants in the first year of life virtually eradicated the risk of Type 1 diabetes over the next 30 years.
Ovulatory infertility, or the inability to produce healthy eggs, is greatly reduced by adequate levels of iron in the diet. There are two types of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme is easily absorbed, while non-heme is very difficult to absorb. As you might've guessed, heme is the iron found in meat, while non-heme is from plant sources. The best sources are liver, clams, oysters and grass-fed red meat.
The Problems with Soy
The USDA reports that 94% of soy in this country is genetically modified. This study from the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology found, “High pup mortality was characteristic of every litter from mothers fed the GM soy flour. Pups from “GM-soy” group have higher mortality and third of them were sick and weighed several times less than pups from the control groups.” They also discovered this: Obtained data showed a high level of anxiety and aggression in rats from GM-soy group: females and rat pups attacked and bit each other and the worker, who took care of them.
Professor Lynn Fraser from King's College London has found, "A study in humans has shown a compound in soya called genistein sabotages the sperm as it swims towards the egg." And let’s not forget this study from Harvard Medical School that found that men consuming the equivalent of one cup of soy milk per day had 50% lower sperm count than med who did not consume soy. I've seen women following a plant based diet carry babies without complications, but even more so I've seen women eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) carry babies without complications. Does this mean it was the optimal diet for them and their offspring? Does this mean the children won't have health issues later in life? Does this mean they were provided the best nutrition available? Absolutely not!
What about Supplementation?
While most if not all of the above vitamins and minerals can be supplemented via synthetic sources, it is a well-known fact that they are not nearly as bioavailable as vitamins and minerals from whole food sources. Fortification is not the better option. A multivitamin does not compare to whole food sources. To obtain all of these vitamins and minerals from plants is nearly impossible when the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors naturally present are taken into consideration.
Whole Food Nutrition for Fetal Growth
An intake of meat protein below 25 grams per day during late pregnancy and an intake of carbohydrate above 265 grams per day during early pregnancy are associated with a decrease in birth weight. A low intake of animal protein relative to carbohydrate is also associated with an increase of blood pressure at forty years of age. In order to obtain adequate glycine for growth, meat and egg protein should be balanced with the liberal use of liver, skin, bone broths, legumes and green vegetables. When Dr. Price traveled to and studied remote cultures untouched by Western diet and subsequently disease, he asked why they ate the way they did. A common response was, “so we can make perfect babies.” This really resonated with me. If we aren't going to take care of our bodies to give our children the best chance in life, to set them up for healthiest and happiest future, then maybe we shouldn't be having children at all. In order for the human race to continue to thrive, we must take the utmost care in preparing the human womb for the seed of life to be planted, just as we prepare the womb of the earth for the seeds of the plant life from which we and our animals will take nourishment. A generous intake of all nutrients—especially the fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids, biotin, folate, choline and glycine—will supply the soil of the womb with everything the life developing within it needs for robust and vigorous growth and a long, healthy life to come.
1. Ayala FJ. The Mechanisms of Evolution. Scientific American. 1978;239(3):56-69.
2. “Milestones of Early Life,” http://www.abortionfacts.com/literature/ literature_9438MS.asp. Accessed November 16, 2007.
3. Allen MC, Donohue PK, Dusman AE. The Limit of Viability – Neonatal Outcome of Infants Born at 22 to 25 Weeks’ Gestation. N Engl J Med. 1993;329:1597-1601.
4. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Nutrition. “The prophylactic requirement and the toxicity of vitamin D,” Pediatrics, March 1963; 512-525.
5. Price WA. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration: 6th Edition. La Mesa, CA: Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation (2004) pp. 399-403.