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What should you avoid whilst trying to conceive?

Mr David Chui is a specialist in fertility and has experience in helping couples to conceive for over 25 years. He is currently the Medical Director of the Sussex Downs Fertility Centre, BMI The Esperance Hospital. Here Mr Chui explains how diet and lifestyle choices affect fertility and what you should avoid whilst trying to conceive.


Are there any foods and drink you should avoid whilst trying to conceive?

Alcohol [1,2]

Although the UK Government general guideline for alcohol consumption is 14 units per week for both men and women, it is advisable for women trying for a baby and those who are pregnant to avoid alcohol completely, in order to keep the health risks to any potential baby as low as possible. It should also be appreciated that alcohol can make women less fertile, but how exactly alcohol makes women less fertile is not clearly understood.

For men, excessive alcohol lowers testosterone levels and sperm quality and quantity. It can also reduce libido and cause impotence. It may therefore reduce the chance of the couple conceiving, but these effects are quickly reversed once the amount of alcohol consumption is reduced.

Alcohol is also a potent inducer of “free radicals” which in turn may be detrimental to the overall reproductive system and, more specifically, the health of your eggs and sperm.

It has also been shown that alcohol consumption in excess of one unit per day, for both men and women, over a period of time is associated with reduced chance of IVF success.

Caffeine [3]

Caffeine is present in coffee, tea, colas and chocolate. Although there is currently no suggestion that consumption of caffeine affects a woman’s or a man’s natural fertility, there is some evidence that regular intake of caffeine (2-50g/day; 100mg caffeine in one cup of coffee) may reduce the chance of success with IVF treatment.

Is there anything else you can do or avoid to increase your chances of conceiving?

Throughout this article, I have mentioned the antioxidant effects of various nutrients and micronutrients in curbing the damage caused by “free radicals”, which will adversely affect fertility for both men and women.

There are a number of environmental and lifestyle factors that may increase exposure to “free radicals”, including chemical and atmospheric pollution (for instance exhaust gas emission), smoking, alcohol intake and excessive exercises. It is generally recommended therefore that you should reduce these exposures as much as possible to enhance your fertility.


It is well known that women who smoke find it more difficult to conceive, and men who smoke are often found to have poorer sperm quality. Furthermore, women who experience passive smoking take longer to conceive. Smoking in pregnancy is also associated with increased chance of having a small baby (and the risks that come with being small) and stillbirth.

Male and female smokers undergoing IVF treatment have lower chance of successful treatment, and male smokers reduce the chance of pregnancy of IVF-ICSI treatment.

It is therefore generally recommended that both men and women should reduce or stop their smoking habit if they have fertility issues.

Body Weight [4]

Extremes of body weight are associated with difficulty conceiving and complications during pregnancy, and therefore should be avoided if at all possible.

Women with obesity, as defined by BMI (Body Mass Index calculated from weight and height) of 30 kg/m2 or over, take longer to conceive and have higher risk of miscarriage, compared to women with normal weight. They are less likely to conceive following IVF treatment.

Men who are overweight or obese have significantly reduced number of normal motile sperm, and higher incidence of DNA fragmentation of sperm, compared to men with normal weight. They may also have higher chance of having erectile dysfunction.

Women who are very slim (BMI less than 18 kg/m2) often have menstrual irregularity and therefore have difficulty conceiving. Pregnancy is often associated with premature birth and small baby.

Recreational Drug Use

In women, the use of recreational drugs or drugs of abuse such as marijuana and cocaine can adversely affect the ovulatory function of the ovaries and workings of the fallopian tubes.

In men, the use of drugs like anabolic steroids and cocaine can reduces the quality of sperm. Recently, it was noted that men who take “protein shakes” as part of their exercise regime may also have reduced sperm quality. Overall, use of these recreational drugs diminishes the fertility potential of the couple and should therefore be discouraged.

You can find out more about fertility treatments at BMI Healthcare, or you can make an online enquiry at our website and we’ll be in touch as soon as we can.


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