Fasting and Fertility - Can both these terms go hand in hand? Can fasting affect fertility in a woman, or how advantageous is fasting for fertility improvement?
The topic is still a matter of research and a lot remains to be found out. Nevertheless, ongoing studies lay down two-sided theories - both Good and Bad!
And to be a bit clearer, when we mention fasting here, we are talking about 'intermittent fasting' - a new health fad that is trending amongst people around the world.
So, let's dive in deeper to understand the dynamics of fertility and fasting and check out the flip sides of the coin:
What isINTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting is a kind of eating pattern where you restrict the calorie intake through fasting for a set of time and thereafter you are free to have food in another set of time. This diet style is more focused on when to eat rather than what to eat.
There are several methods of intermittent fasting that divide the day or week into eating and fasting periods. For e.g.; Having just 500 calories which is almost equal to one meal during a few days of the week.
Maintaining an 'eating window' just between 12 pm and 8 pm of the day and not eating anything at any other time.
What GOODcan happen with fasting on the fertility aspect?
The good news is that researchers suggest that intermittent fasting can positively impact PCOS.
Helps in reducing weight in women with PCOS and achieving regular periods, thereby perking up fertility.
Improves insulin resistance in women with PCOS by creating a negative energy balance.
Reduction in factors causing inflammation in the body
Increases 'Autophagy' rate- removing bad cells
Reduction in disturbances to sleep patterns
Reduction in chances of cancer and other acute diseases
Improving insulin resistance and arriving at a healthy weight can lead to more regular ovulation in PCOS patients. However, there is no scientific evidence thatintermittent fasting is a good way to achieve this!
What ADVERSE EFFECTS can fasting have on fertility?
Intermittent fastingleads you to restrictive eating, adversely affecting the menstrual cycle. This, in turn, may harm a woman's fertility.
Intermittent fasting necessitates limiting your food intake. Athletes, who often follow strict diets, have shown that when the body spends too much time in "negative energy balance," the monthly cycle can be affected (more calories are being burned than eaten). This can happen even if the body is only deprived of energy for a portion of the day, as may occur duringintermittent fasting.
One rat study also looked specifically at the effects of intermittent fasting on their reproductive systems. Studies showed that fasting suppressed reproductive hormones and cycles in female rats and even slightly reduced the size of the ovaries.
So, going by this theory, intermittent fasting may not be safe for fertility because you will not be eating consistently enough to support your reproductive hormones and regular ovulation.
What can we CONCLUDE?
Fertility is a complicated process that necessitates a delicate balance of many systems throughout the body, including your brain (hypothalamus, pituitary), and ovarian hormones.
If your hypothalamus believes your body is under physical or mental stress, it will delay ovulation until the stress has passed. It is unable to determine whether the stress is real (due to drought and starvation) or self-inflicted (such as limited calories during intermittent fasting).
DO NOT fast if you are pregnant. Limiting your caloric intake while your body is developing a baby puts you at RISK FOR DEFICIENCIES and pregnancy complication
It's critical to consider how balanced and complete the meals you eat to break the fast. Hydration, proper protein and fat intake, and eating foods rich in a variety of minerals and vitamins are all necessary to ensure your body receives adequate reserves for hormonal functioning.
Having said that, fasting is undeniably also a part of various festivities. For example, this is the month of Ramadan and many Muslims worldwide fast during the daytime for around 12-19 hours. So, does it pose a risk to their fertility status? Although it is said to be good for overall well-being, fasting can be beneficial to some and harmful to others, especially those who already have hormonal imbalances and cycle issues, who have underlying nutritional deficiencies, or women who are TTC (trying to conceive). Thus, it completely differs from person to person.
Interestingly, the reason for not having a definite answer is that though researchers have experimented with fasting, it has mostly been done on rodents, men, and postmenopausal women. There have been no significant studies on intermittent fasting and its impact on human female fertility.
Your TAKEAWAY Message
Lastly, we conclude by saying that currently, there is no evidence that intermittent fasting can help with fertility in the general population. On the other side, there is no evidence that it is harmful as well. In theory, it appears to negatively affect the nature of hormone release for ovulation in women.
If you are having a hard time with infertility issues and are thinking of en-routing the intermittent fasting path, consult our fertility specialist at MMC IVF. With a cumulative experience of decades and top-notch infrastructure, Dr. Gautam Allahdadia extends quality care with a supportive and empathetic environment. Our fertility clinic makes your journey to parenthood a pleasant one while providing a proficient line of treatment for infertility.