Inflammation is something we probably associate with injury or acute inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. However, many of us could be suffering the negative effects of inflammation in our bodies without even knowing it. Acute inflammation caused by injury produces symptoms such as pain, redness and swelling, however a chronic low grade inflammatory response can be happening in our bodies without producing any obvious symptoms. Research indicates that this low level of chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on reproductive health for both men and women trying to conceive. Hence, knowledge on inflammation and nutrition is important, especially if you are on your fertility journey.
When our body is in an inflammatory state we can pick up elevated numbers of inflammatory markers in our blood. For women elevated levels of these markers have been found to be associated with poorer egg quality, irregular ovulation, and reduced chances of both getting pregnant and staying pregnant. The two most common female reproductive disorders, endometriosis and PCOS, promote inflammation in the body and this is one way in which they can negatively impact fertility.
Men experiencing infertility have been found to have higher than normal levels of inflammatory markers and it is believed that inflammation can negatively impact the sperm production process, potentially leading to a lower number of poorer quality sperm being produced.
The gut inflammation connection
An imbalanced gut can be a major source of inflammation in our bodies. If the population of good bacteria that live within our intestines is out of balance inflammatory messengers called LPS can enter our bloodstream through the gut wall. These LPS are known to promote inflammation and have been found to interfere with both male and female reproductive health. The research also indicates that using a probiotic supplement containing the bacterial strain Lactobacillus Rhamnosus GG reduces the number of LPS in our bloodstream and therefore reduces this gut-associated inflammation.
Diet and Inflammation
The foods we eat can either increase or decrease the levels of inflammation in our bodies and, therefore, including specific anti-inflammatory foods in our diets while also reducing our intake of pro-inflammatory foods can help prevent inflammation from having a negative impact on our chances of conceiving.
Get your fats right
Fat has had a bad reputation for too long, in fact increasing our intake of certain good fats is the most important dietary change we can make to reduce our levels of inflammation. Omega-3 fats that are most commonly found in oily fish have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, our body actually converts these fats into anti-inflammatory messengers (called resolvins because they resolve inflammation). We should be aiming to get around 3 servings of oily fish (such as salmon, mackerel or sardines) every week to get enough omega-3 fats in our diet. However, it can be difficult to source quality oily fish, and when trying to conceive poor quality oily fish can expose the body to high levels of toxins and heavy metals, which we really don’t want.
Sourcing a high quality omega-3 supplement from a brand that screens for toxins or heavy metals can be an appropriate way to get your omega-3 fats when trying to conceive. Click here for a rich omega-3 fats recipe: Glazed Salmon with Mustard. We can also increase our intake of omega-3 fats from non-fish sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
However, it isn’t just enough to try and increase our consumption of these good fats, we must also try and reduce our consumption of fats that can be converted into pro-inflammatory messengers. If we have too many of these pro-inflammatory fats it can actually block the beneficial activity of omega-3 fats. The bad fats that promote inflammation are the omega-6 fats mainly found in vegetable, corn, or sunflower oil (yes, those fats that we were encouraged to eat for our heart health). Even if you don’t use these fats to cook with they are often added to processed or convenience foods so keep an eye on food labels to make sure you aren’t eating much more of these fats than you are aware of.
Extra virgin olive oil is another potent anti-inflammatory fat that can directly reduce inflammatory activity, possibly one reason why the Mediterranean diet is known to reduce inflammation. So why not copy some of those Mediterranean habits and have some extra virgin olive oil daily drizzled over salads or vegetables.
Did you know that fibre is anti-inflammatory?
For a long time, we’ve focused on the role of fibre in promoting good digestive health and keeping us regular. But, eating enough fibre can actually help reduce levels of inflammation throughout our whole body. The problem is that most of us don’t get enough fibre: on average we eat around 18g daily when we should be aiming for at least 30g. Try filling up on the following high fibre foods:
|Food||Fibre content per serving|
|Oats||8g in 1 cup|
|Chickpeas||12.5g in 1 cup cooked chickpeas|
|Lentils||13.1g in 1 cup cooked lentils|
|Pear||5.5g in one medium pear (with skin)|
|Banana||3.1g in a medium banana|
|Aubergine||8g in ½ an aubergine|
|Flax seeds||5g in 1 tbsp|
|Dark chocolate (80% cocoa)||3g in 30g piece|
Anti-inflammatory Super Foods
Brightly coloured fruits, vegetables, and herbs contain antioxidants that reduce the impact of inflammation in our bodies. So filling up with 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily is a must and cooking with spices is a great way to prevent the
negative impact of inflammation. Certain fruits and vegetables deserve special attention because they have been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory effects:
Broccoli – is rich in sulphur, which the body uses to make anti-inflammatory compounds
Pomegranate – pomegranate seeds contain unique compounds that have powerful anti-inflammatory activity
Onions – boring old onions contain a potent anti-inflammatory compound called quercetin, which is also found in green tea and apples
Cherries – cherries are rich in anti-inflammatory substances and the antioxidant melatonin and are sometimes used to treat arthritis
Turmeric – an anti-inflammatory powerhouse try and include it in your diet on a regular basis
Ginger – eating raw ginger root in curries and stir fries will reduce inflammatory activity in the body
Avoid pro-inflammatory foods
While increasing our intake of anti-inflammatory foods, we must also aim to reduce our intake of foods that are known to increase levels of inflammation in our body. In addition to the omega-6 fats found in sunflower oil or vegetable oil other foods known to increase inflammation include:
Trans fats: found in margarine and processed baked goods
Processed meats: salami, bacon and sausages
Refined carbohydrates: crackers, crisps, white bread
Alcohol: binge drinking leads to an increase in LPS from the gut in the bloodstream
Sugary drinks: soft drinks (even diet drinks) and fruit juices
By keeping our intake of these foods to a minimum (for example have bacon and sausages once a week as a treat) and filling our diet with anti-inflammatory foods we can make a huge difference to the impact of inflammation on our reproductive health.
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