Lael Agard, Nutrition Science & Dietetics Student
Sherri Isaak, MS, RD, CDCES, BC-ADM, DipACLM
Research Update: Dietary Approaches to Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health
by Kudesia R, Alexander M, Gulati M, Kennard A, and Tollefson M
A holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle involves healthy nutrition, physical activity, adequate sleep, stress management and connecting with others. In this article we will summarize the relationship between nutrition and reproductive health.
There are several factors that affect reproductive health and may contribute to difficulty conceiving. Some of these common factors include:
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): a hormonal disorder that often results in ovaries that are enlarged with small cysts along the outer edges.
- Endometriosis: a disorder where uterine-lining tissue grows outside of the uterus, potentially growing on ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or the intestines.
- Infertility: inability to become pregnant, even if careful timing is considered.
Although there is no definite cause in the connection between diet and PCOS, some studies have found that there certainly is a relationship between the two. A study conducted in India found that those who followed a vegetarian diet had reduced levels of testosterone and decreased hirsutism.1 Hirsutism is referred to as excessive hair growth in areas women typically grow little to no hair. Increased insulin sensitivity and menstrual regularity have resulted from a low-glycemic diet. In contrast, those who consumed monounsaturated fats were more likely to lose weight.1 This shows that the food choices women with PCOS make, can affect their weight. Increased intake of dietary fat, specifically saturated fat, may be associated with higher insulin resistance, lower fasting ghrelin levels and higher fasting leptin concentrations.1
Dietary factors that contribute to increased risk for endometriosis include eating foods high in fat, especially trans fat, consumption of beef and other red meats and alcohol. Consuming a plant-based diet with whole foods that focus on omega-3 fatty acid consumption has been shown to have a protective effect against endometriosis and may result in reversing the disorder.1
A good indicator of health in women is the menstrual cycle. If something seems off, talk with your health care provider and consider a plant-based diet that is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low in trans fats. This diet offers several health benefits, especially in regards to reproductive health.
Reference: Kudesia R, Alexander M, Gulati M, Kennard A, Tollefson M. Dietary Approaches to Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2021;15(4):414-424. doi: 10.1177/15598276211007113.