We all know that a trip to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s, or any other fast food restaurant is a less than stellar choice for our waistlines, but can consuming fast food also impact your fertility? In this article, we will break down some of the most common ingredients in a standard fast food meal and review their negative impact on systems in the body and how this may have negative effects on fertility.
Oils—The Good and The Bad
Many fast food meals, particularly anything that is fried, contain industrial seed oils. These seed oils can causing inflammation and reduce nutrient absorption as well as disrupt the endocrine system. Inflammation is linked to many health conditions; many of which may influence fertility.
Some inflammation is generally not harmful to the female reproductive system and even useful in the role of cellular repair. However, excessive or chronic inflammation can lead to conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), ovarian cysts and fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and poor egg quality. Chronic inflammation is also associated with hormonal imbalance, affecting ovulation and the ability of a fertilized egg to successfully attach to the uterine wall. It is also a relevant concern to male fertility, as inflammation can lead to poor sperm quality.
In addition to causing inflammation, when oils are heated over and over again, as is often the case in the preparation of fried fast foods, toxins are released that can have a negative impact on your fertility. Specifically, when corn oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil are heated and reheated, a toxin called 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE), derived from fatty acids, forms. HNE is known for its negative effects on cardio health and link to neurodegenerative diseases, but can also cause oxidative stress in early pregnancy and contribute to male infertility.
Absent from many fast foods are good, healthy fats. Sex hormones necessary for conception, implantation, and a healthy pregnancy require good fats, like those found in fish, avocados, and nuts. It is crucial to female and male fertility that sex hormones are supported by these good fats, so they can properly function and carry out their roles.
Preservatives and Additives
Many fast food chains add preservatives to their foods to prevent decomposition, to the effect that if left out for long periods of time no evidence of mold or signs of deterioration occur. One common food additive, Monosodium L-Glutamate (MSG), also known as 621 or E621, is linked to nervous system and reproductive disorders in both males and females. It is applied as a wax to non-organic produce and found in foods like gelatin, crackers, tortillas, and other processed foods.
Aspartame, an artificial sweetener used in most diet sodas, is linked to hormonal and menstrual imbalances in women and impotence in men.
Other common preservatives and food additives found in fast food meals and known to disrupt the endocrine system, include butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytuluene, and propyl gallate.
Fast food meals also tend to contain a lot of sugar, particularly oversized sodas. Consuming too much sugar can have an adverse effect on your health in many ways: inducing diabetes, increasing blood pressure, and contributing to weight gain.
Aside from leading to weight gain and obesity, which can contribute to infertility, when you consume sugar, your body responds by producing insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is similar to hormones that regulate egg growth in the ovaries. This can confuse your body and cause it to decrease its production of ovarian hormones, negatively impacting ovulation and egg growth.
Obesity and Nutrient Deficiency
Fast food meals are typically high in calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. The average meal at a fast food restaurant contains 700 calories—almost one third of the daily recommended 2,000 calories for an average woman. However, though a fast food meal takes up a large portion of your recommended daily calories, it is generally very low in nutrients. Specifically, fast food meals tend to be lacking in crucial minerals and vitamins like Vitamin A, B12, D, Iodine, Iron, and Magnesium.
The increased risk of obesity and nutrient deficiency caused by a fast food diet can cause hormonal disruptions and inflammation, resulting in disturbances to ovulation and menstruation. Even if you are consuming some vegetables in your fast food meal or ordering a simple salad, fruits and vegetables grown in nutrient depleted soil are likely to lack adequate micronutrient content.
An overall poor diet can also contribute to inadequate nutrient absorption of the vitamins and minerals you do consume. To promote and support fertility, you need to have adequate micronutrient content in the cellular environment of your body for hormonal regulation and egg, uterine, and sperm health.
Foods that Promote Fertility
So, what foods do we recommend you eat? In general, a whole foods or even plant-based diet yields the best results for promoting fertility and overall health. A whole foods diet includes whole grains, plenty of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and organic meats. If you choose to consume dairy, make sure you’re opting for organic dairy products that promote gut healthy with good probiotics.
There are also certain foods you can consume that specifically promote fertility by reducing inflammation and supporting the health of your endocrine system. These foods include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Wild Salmon
- Mature cheeses
- Full-fat yogurt
As much as possible, try to make sure the foods you consume are organic to reduce your exposure to toxins that can compromise your reproductive health.
Above all, care for your body and nurture it with good foods. Taking the time to plan and prepare organic, nutrient-dense meals that nourish your body will help to support your body’s systems and roles, promoting fertility.