This is a question that often comes up in my 1:1 sessions with my lovely clients so I thought it was about time I posted about it!
Rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the concept of consuming warming foods to support fertility has been practiced for thousands of years. There is a belief that a cold womb can cause infertility and is linked to painful periods and a slowing down of the reproductive system. TCM also categories the internal environment based on symptoms and tendencies. These include cold, damp, hot, stagnant, dryness and according to your tendency, you should eat specific foods to balance this tendency out. Whilst there is no scientific evidence to support the concept that warming foods can improve fertility, there are several benefits. Here, I discuss why it might be a good idea to consume warming foods over raw in order to support your fertility.
1. To aid digestion.
The average body temperature runs at 37°C, so it makes sense that consuming foods around this temperature will be better received by the body whereas cold foods may impact body temperature. In addition, cooking foods changes their structure and means they will start to be broken down in the process, which in turn aids digestion. It just means the body has to work a little less to have to break these foods down, especially if digestive enzymes are not quite adequate, which can be the case in many people. Raw foods might not be fully broken down to obtain all the nutrients and benefits from them, which we want to ensure we are digesting in order to support egg and sperm quality! However, many people do find that their digestion is better first thing so if you do enjoy eating raw foods such as a smoothie for example, then consuming this at breakfast would be a good option versus a large raw salad for dinner.
2. Reduce the risk of bacterial infections.
Bacteria such as listeria and E.Coli can exist in every day food items including salads, sprouts, fruit, veg, dairy products, fish and meat, however, heating foods will hugely reduce the risk of infection by killing off the bacteria. When trying to conceive, we do want to avoid any infections, which may compromise the immune system or very early stages of pregnancy so it is important to consider the benefit of eating warm and heated foods. During pregnancy, this becomes quite important and we understand that certain foods should be avoided due to the risks they carry. In addition, ensuring you wash all fruit and vegetables before consuming is of upmost importance and a practice I like to encourage even when trying to conceive.
3. Warming spices to support fertility.
Herbs and spices are a must when cooking as they really do add so much flavour to any dish. Some spices in particular are known for their warming properties and may help to improve fertility thanks to their specific properties. For example, ginger and turmeric have been studied for their benefits in relation to male fertility and have been shown to improve hormone levels and semen parameters (Khaki et al. 2009). Another study showed that ginger helped to reduce DNA sperm fragmentation (Hosseini et al. 2016). Cinnamon has long been used to help support blood sugar balance and more recent research has supported its use in women with PCOS (Kort and Lobo, 2014).
4. Lycopene to support fertility.
Tomatoes are a fertility super food as they are rich in vitamin C, which is an important antioxidant in relation to both female and male fertility. However, there is quite a big difference in consuming raw tomatoes versus cooked! Lycopene is a carotenoid (a powerful antioxidant) found in tomatoes, which gives them their vibrant colour. The levels of lycopene increase significantly through heating tomatoes. In relation to fertility, lycopene has been shown to support semen parameters by tackling oxidative damage (Durairajanayagam et al. 2014). In order to retain the vitamin C levels, slow cook tomatoes (in a pan or by roasting) into a sauce to add to pasta dishes, soups and curries (avoid boiling them).
5. Warming herbal teas to support fertility.
Using herbs to improve fertility is another TCM principal and one that does in fact have a huge amount of evidence to support it. Whilst it is important to work with a qualified medical herbalist for specific remedies and tinctures, I do like to recommend herbal teas to clients in a similar but safe way. Not only can we draw upon the benefit of particular herbs to support fertility, but there is also the added benefit of consuming a warming drink and the ritual of tea making itself. As with food, consuming warm drinks can help aid and stimulate the digestive system as well as supporting detoxification. Specific herbal teas that may support fertility include liquorice tea, which can help reduce androgen levels (such as testosterone) in those with PCOS (Shamsi et al. 2020). Other teas such as Tulsi have been shown to have beneficial affects in those that are stressed and/or depressed (Cohen, 2014). Finally, the ritual itself of making a cup of tea is a mindful practice that can feel incredibly grounding during a stressful day. This is something Katie Sheen and I discussed in our Instagram live earlier this year - watch our chat here.
Khaki et al. 2009 - http://www.bioline.org.br/pdf?rm09002
Hosseini et al. 2016 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015668/
Durairajanayagam et al. 2014 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4023371/
Kort and Lobo, 2014 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24813595/
Shamsi et al. 2020 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7569710/
Cohen, 2014 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4296439/