Does Food Play a Role in Fertility? [An Interview with Dr. Kiltz]

Did you know that the food you eat plays a role in your fertility? We got the chance to interview Dr. Kiltz to learn more about how important diet is when trying to conceive and how most couples don’t need to jump straight into IVF.

An Interview with OB/GYN and Reproductive Endocrinologist, Dr. Kiltz

Can you tell us a little bit about you and what you specialize in? 

I am a father, author, artist, potter, jet pilot, motivational speaker…but I am also a board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, and the founder and director of the CNY Fertility, one of the largest, most dynamic, and affordable fertility centers in the country. Over four decades in training and practice as a fertility specialist, I’ve helped thousands of men and women create families by blending cutting-edge Western protocols with Eastern healing practices. I’ve also earned recognition outside of the fertility world for pioneering the holistic health movement and for my insights on mindfulness, mental health, and nutrition. 

I believe that eating a high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet enhances mental clarity, fertility, and health, empowering people to live their best lives. Each week I host a weekly live Q&A session on Facebook and Instagram, during which I share my thoughts on wellness, spirituality, fertility, and ways to improve your overall health. I’ve also written The Fertile Secret:  10 Steps to Living Your Most Fertile Life, The Fertile Feast, and the soon-to-be released Living Your Best Life.

If a couple is struggling to conceive, what are the first steps you would recommend taking? 

Take a deep breath. If you’re age 35 and over and you’ve been trying for a year with no success, make an appointment at a fertility clinic.  Having a fertility evaluation doesn’t mean you’re committing to any treatment or doing anything at all. It’s merely an assessment of your and your partner’s fertility. It gives you and your doctor a chance to see what’s going on, where there may be a problem with either partner and a chance to openly discuss your goals and your thoughts on likely treatment protocols, some of which may be as simple as diet and lifestyle changes and taking supplements. Not everyone struggling to get pregnant jumps right into IVF.  If you’re older than 35 and have been trying for 6 months, make an appointment. 

Don’t be afraid to discuss your challenges with your doctor. Usually, the earlier you check in with a fertility specialist, the better, particularly if you’re a little older or know you have a pre-existing medical condition that might make it more difficult for you to get or stay pregnant. Again, a fertility evaluation is just an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see what’s going on. If nothing else, a fertility doctor can get you on the right path to pregnancy by suggesting a good pre-conception diet and supplements that can help get any inflammation under control. Healthy bodies are fertile bodies, so take the time to focus on what and how often you’re eating, drinking, and making sure you’re moving and doing, but not heating up and taxing your body with high-intensity exercise day after day. We’re always looking to calm inflammation for the best chances of pregnancy.

What is one common myth about infertility? 

Two of the most frequent myths I run up against are (1) that infertility is a woman’s problem and (2) that everyone requires IVF. Both are false.  Men and women bear equal responsibility for conception or the lack thereof.  Typically, I tell couples that 40% of infertility is related to male factor alone; 40% is related to the female factor alone, and 20% of the time there’s a combination of male and female factors. So, up to 50% of fertility can be related to a male factor. This is the reason that we recommend both partners get evaluated.  Without an evaluation of both partners, we really don’t have the full picture. 

By the time couples are referred to a fertility specialist like me, this breakdown looks more like 70% male and 30% female because OB/GYNs are able to help with easier female fertility problems. 70% of the time, those more challenging cases involve a male issue.

While IVF is an incredible tool, many patients are amazed at the various treatment options available to them.  I’m referring to some of the eastern protocols we recommend as well, like acupuncture, massage, yoga, and other lifestyle and diet changes, along with things like timed intercourse, the many versions of IUI, and INVOCell. We seek to find the best treatment option for your specific scenario. Developing a treatment protocol is an open discussion. You and your partner should be part of the conversation.

The good news is that I’ve had couples come to me for an evaluation, schedule a follow-up appointment, and then cancel the follow-up appointment because they started to eliminate carbs, boost the fat consumption, and by getting rid of some inflammation, they were able to get pregnant on their own. Sometimes just making the appointment with a specialist helps to unburden the stress.  You feel like you immediately have another partner in this journey and that can be very comforting and empowering.  And as effective as IVF is on its own, I’ve had patients who only achieved success with IVF when they added in acupuncture and diet changes. There’s no one right answer in fertility medicine and the same protocols don’t work for everyone. We really have to custom-tailor our approach to each patient. There’s a little bit of art to the science. 

How does food play a role in fertility? 

Diet wasn’t a big topic of conversation as it relates to fertility back when I went to medical school and did my REI fellowship.  This blind spot seems crazy knowing what we know now, but food wasn’t our focus. We now know that what we eat plays a huge role in helping our bodies function properly and that the reproductive system is interconnected with all of the other systems in the body. In fact, the reproductive organs sit next to the gastrointestinal tract, so inflammation and heat there can impact sperm quality in men, and eggs, ovulation, and implantation in women.

We’ve all been given incorrect information when it comes to nutrition. Most of us eat way too many carbs, processed foods, and sugar, and way too little fat because we’ve blindly followed the food pyramid as gospel. We eat too much and too often.  As a result, inflammation is up and disease is on the rise, even with all of the resources and technology of modern medicine.  Food is the single biggest cause of inflammation, and inflammation is one, if not the, leading cause of infertility.

Carbs and sugar cause inflammation. Constantly eating 3-6 times a day means we’re always pumping insulin. Our bowels are constantly full and blood sugar is high. One study shows eating just 50 grams of carbohydrates increased levels of the inflammatory marker Nf-kB. Fiber generates heat in the gut because our bodies aren’t really capable of digesting it. That heat can cause problems with reproductive organs in both men and women. 

Fat provides key building blocks for every cell in our body. Fat is vital for fertility. It’s essential for reducing inflammation and balancing and synthesizing hormones. A fertile diet must contain fat, and animal products are the best source.

Can you list out some foods that are beneficial to women trying to conceive? Are there some foods that have a negative effect? 

I recommend a diet high in fats, moderate in proteins and low in carbohydrates. It’s really important to limit or eliminate carbs, processed foods, and sugars. A ketogenic diet is ideal and one that leans carnivore even better. We’re looking to bump up fat intake. I tell my patients to focus on the B.E.B.B.I.S. (pronounced “babies”) Diet, which is bacon, eggs, butter, beef, full-fat ice cream, and salt. Some foods that we’ve gotten away from eating pack the biggest nutritional punch like liver. Steak is a great meal. A fatty cut like a rib-eye is ideal. Eggs, salmon, sardines, and other seafood high in Omega-3s are some other fertility-enhancing foods, along with pork belly, butter, and full-fat dairy products like heavy cream (see my ice cream recipe here), and mature cheeses like parmesan and aged cheddar. There are a handful of fruits and vegetables that are low in carbs and high in antioxidants that I recommend from time to time:  asparagus, pomegranates, walnuts, berries, sunflower seeds, beans, lentils, and some citrus. 

I’m also a big believer that how often you eat is as important if not more important than what you’re eating. Many of us are eating 3-6 times a day, which means insulin is constantly pumping, there’s glucose in the bloodstream, and our bowels never get a chance to empty. This takes a toll on the body and leads to inflammation and ultimately glycation.  Intermittent fasting (or “feasting” as I like to call it) gives the body ample time to digest and recover. I recommend eating one meal a day (OMAD) at night just before bedtime.  If you need a snack during the day, that’s fine too, just make sure it’s keto-friendly. You just want to make sure you’re spacing out your meals.

I don’t eat a lot of salads or fruits and vegetables. Many people are surprised to hear that fruits and vegetables contain powerful toxins and antigens that are responsible for negative effects on our bodies. Soy-based foods can also be problematic because of the high levels of phytoestrogens. A woman’s ovarian function can be affected by high levels of soy.  I don’t recommend a lot of soy-based products in women trying to conceive. Steer clear of edamame, imitation meats, and soy products like soy milk, tofu, and tempeh.

You can read more about what to eat when you’re trying to conceive here.

What Rookie Moms Like You Want to Know

Is the connection between food and fertility science-backed information? 

Absolutely. The research is obviously newer and not as robust as in other areas, but researchers have been studying how certain diets affect live birth rates and the effectiveness of certain fertility treatments like IVF. We know overweight women who lose weight improve their chances of a live birth. Some of the research has focused on women diagnosed with PCOS and whether dietary changes can work to lower body weight, rebalance hormones, and decrease insulin resistance which can help a woman with PCOS to start ovulating regularly, boosting her chances of becoming pregnant on her own or with fertility assistance.  Several studies have shown this to be the case.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School found that women who consumed approximately 60% of their calories from carbohydrates (vs. 40%) had a 91% higher risk of ovulatory infertility.

Three other recently published studies concluded that consuming sugar sweetened beverages (not including diet soda or fruit juice) was linked to lower fertility in both men and women.  A preconception diet that includes high amounts of fast foods and very little fruit resulted in a longer time to become pregnant versus women who ate healthier diets. And seafood lovers get pregnant faster than those who rarely eat seafood.

Research has been able to answer some questions about what men and women should not be eating and also what they should to maximize fertility. We know extra folic acid, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids are a must for women. And that men benefit from a diet rich in vitamin C, vitamin B12, and lycopene. 

Is there any truth behind certain foods increasing the odds of having a boy or girl? 

At this point, I don’t think there’s enough evidence to draw reliable conclusions.  There’s been some anecdotal information that points to preconception diets high in magnesium and calcium helping to conceive a girl, but most of these studies have been on animals, not humans. Right now, the only dependable way to choose gender is through Preimplantation Genetic Testing (PGT) in conjunction with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). 

What will I learn from The Fertile Feast

This book explores the fascinating connection between food and fertility and emphasizes the importance of diet and how it influences the overall wellbeing of the mind, body, and spirit and ultimately your ability to conceive. I’ve included recipes, some food plans, and why I recommend certain foods and suggest steering clear of others.  In my own patients, I’ve seen diet and lifestyle changes have a profound effect on their ability to get and stay pregnant, and I wanted to share the benefit of my knowledge with anyone thinking about starting a family with or without help from a fertility specialist. Reducing inflammation is key to maximizing your fertility and a fertile food plan can significantly improve your odds.

You can grab a copy of “The Fertile Feast” here if you are looking to expand your knowledge even further!

Expert Bio

Dr. Robert Kiltz is a board-certified OB/GYN and reproductive endocrinologist, and Founder and Director of CNY Fertility, one of the largest and most dynamic fertility centers in the country, featured in the Wall Street Journal, Today Show, and CNBC for helping shape the future of fertility medicine.

Dr. Kiltz has earned recognition outside of the fertility world for pioneering the holistic health movement and the keto lifestyle. He is the author of several books including “The Fertile Feast” andDaily Inspirations which offers 365 exercises and ideas for mental wellness each day.  In addition to his own media outlets, Dr. Kiltz appears regularly on numerous popular blogs and has shared his views as a TEDx speaker. His latest book “Living Your Best Life: How to Think, Eat, and Connect Your Way to a Better Flow” will be released in Spring 2021.

For more information, Check out Dr. Kiltz’s website and YouTube Channel, or follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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