Veganism and Fertility: How Does a Vegan Diet Impact Your Fertility?-image

Veganism and Fertility: How Does a Vegan Diet Impact Your Fertility?

The vegan diet is often hailed as having many health benefits, but what about when it comes to our fertility? In this article, we’ll cover the benefits veganism can have for your conception journey and which nutritional deficiencies to be aware of with a plant-based diet.  Quick facts: What is a vegan diet? A vegan diet omits any produce derived from animals including meats, fish, dairy products, eggs and even honey. Vegans tend to eat lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, pulses, soya products, tempeh and sometimes meat alternatives.  Plant-based diets have become increasingly popular and ubiquitous in recent years. The Vegan Society estimates that the number of UK vegans has quadrupled over the last five years, with lots of people going either fully or partially vegan for health, environmental or animal welfare concerns.  As veganism grows in popularity, the range of vegan food substitutes has rapidly expanded. You’ll now find different varieties of plant-based milk and the fake meat industry has boomed. As such, adopting a vegan diet is now easier than ever, but will switching to a plant-based diet improve your health and fertility? Health benefits of a vegan diet A vegan diet has a multitude of health benefits. Vegans typically have lower BMI and are up to 78% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This is because plant-based foods are typically lower in sugars and fat.  Consequently, many people make the switch to a plant-based diet to lose excess weight. Indeed, studies show that individuals following a vegan diet lose more weight on average than those following calorie-restrictive diets. Veganism and fertility benefits Diet and lifestyle factors can greatly impact your fertility. Will veganism boost your fertility? No, not directly. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t fertility benefits to a vegan diet.  The link between obesity and infertility is well-documented. Being overweight or obese not only makes you less likely to conceive but also increases the risk of miscarriage and pregnancy complications.  In this way, following a vegan diet may be beneficial if you are currently overweight and trying to conceive—helping you to reach a healthy pre-baby body weight.  In addition, following a vegan diet has been shown to decrease your risk of gestational diabetes. However, regardless of the diet you follow, it is important to ensure that you are obtaining all required nutrients when trying to conceive and then throughout pregnancy.  Veganism and fertility risks You can definitely follow a vegan diet and have a healthy pregnancy, but a vegan diet can put you at greater risk of some nutrient deficiencies which may impact your fertility. Whilst a vegan diet may be low-fat, a plant-based diet can increase the risk of certain nutrient deficiencies.  It’s important to remember that with the correct planning, supplementation and nutrition, these deficiencies can be avoided even with a vegan diet.  Iron deficiency Low iron intake can cause anaemia, a condition in which you have a lower-than-normal red blood cell count. As red blood cells are responsible for providing cells with oxygen, anaemia can cause fatigue, breathlessness and headaches, among other symptoms. Iron deficiency is common in pregnancy, even if you eat meat. However, vegans are at a much higher risk of anaemia. Whilst anaemia is detrimental to general health, the direct effects of iron deficiency on conception and fertility remain unclear.  However, anaemia has been shown to increase the risk of preterm birth and can also lead to developmental delays in the foetus. Anaemia can be easily treated by taking iron supplements. Vitamin B12 There is evidence that vitamin B12 deficiency can decrease your infertility and that, in severe cases, vitamin B12 deficiency can cause infertility. This infertility is normally temporary and can be resolved by taking vitamin B12 supplements.  In addition, vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause anaemia. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products such as milk, eggs and meat, and is essential for metabolism. With the exception of fortified cereals, vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based foods and so vegans are often unable to obtain sufficient vitamin B12 from their diet. Therefore, to avoid health risks and maintain good reproductive health, it is really important that vegans take vitamin B12 supplements.   Vitamin D Whilst we obtain vitamin D from sunlight, it is also found in lots of animal products. As such, vegans can be at risk of vitamin D deficiency, particularly throughout the winter months. It’s generally recommended that everyone in the UK take a vitamin D supplement throughout the autumn and winter regardless of their diet or conception plans. The links between vitamin D deficiency and fertility are unclear and require further research. However, observational studies indicate that vitamin D deficiency is a risk marker for subfertility (not being able to conceive after a year of trying). Therefore, if you are following a vegan diet whilst trying to conceive, it is worthwhile taking vitamin D supplements. Deciding if a vegan diet is right for you Switching to a plant-based diet may seem daunting, but if you ensure you’re eating a balanced diet with the correct nutrition and supplements, there is little risk to a vegan diet whilst trying to conceive.  In fact, arguably, with the required vitamins and supplements, the preconception health benefits to a vegan diet are significant. A vegan diet won’t work for everyone, but if you want to get healthy before trying to conceive then it may be worth giving it a go. Even switching to a plant-based diet for a few meals a week has been shown to have health benefits. If you need some help with your diet and nutrition to switch to a plant-based diet, book a consultation with one of our fertility Nutritionists today. Resources: