Planning to have a baby soon? Then make sure you fill up on foods that increase FSH hormone levels. FSH, or follicle stimulating hormone, supports reproductive health. Doctors test FSH levels when evaluating pituitary function, fertility issues or menopause symptoms, among other things.
The Role of FSH Hormone
Reproductive health is strongly connected to your hormone levels. In addition to estrogen and testosterone, several other hormones influence sexual development and reproductive processes.
Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), for example, play a key role in fertility. They are produced by gonadotropic cells in the anterior pituitary gland and regulate gonadal function in both men and women.
Gonads, or reproductive glands, are specialized organs that produce gametes, or ovules in women and sperm in men. In the female body, these glands — known as ovaries — are found on each side of the uterus. Men have the gonads, or testes, located behind the penis.
Sexual hormones, such as FSH and LH, stimulate the gonads in both men and women. For this reason, they are also called gonadotropins. FSH hormone helps both the ovarian follicles and sperm cells reach maturity, while LH stimulates the production of sex steroids.
Low FSH levels can affect fertility and make it difficult to conceive. This condition may be caused by disorders of the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus, a brain area that regulates the pituitary gland, appetite, libido, memory and other functions. If left unaddressed, low FSH and LH levels may put you at risk for ovarian cancer, warns the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC).
Having too much FSH or LH in the body is just as dangerous. In general, FSH levels increase during menopause, which is perfectly normal.
However, if you're in your 20s or 30s and have elevated FSH, you may suffer from an underlying condition, such as primary ovarian failure. In men, primary testicular failure is often the culprit behind high FSH levels. Certain factors, such as hormonal treatments and the use of birth control pills, may affect FSH test results.
Increase LH and FSH Naturally
According to Yale Medicine, FSH levels fluctuate daily and reach their peak before ovulation. If they are higher or lower than normal, though, it may be a sign of an underlying issue that could affect fertility. Women with irregular menstrual cycles, for example, tend to have very low FSH levels and may find it difficult to get pregnant.
Your doctor can recommend FSH and LH tests to assess your reproductive function and check for disorders that may affect the pituitary gland. These tests can help detect ovarian or testicular failure, fertility problems and other reproductive issues.
As the University of Rochester Medical Center points out, normal FSH levels are as follows:
- 1.4 to 15.5 international units per milliliter (IU/mL) for men
- 1.4 to 9.9 IU/mL during the follicular phase of a woman's menstrual cycle
- 6.2 to 17.2 IU/mL during ovulation
- 1.1 to 9.2 IU/mL during the luteal phase
FSH levels should be 19 to 100 IU/mL in post-menopausal women.
It's important to note that the role of FSH goes beyond fertility. This hormone affects every system in your body, according to a March 2019 mini-review published in Frontiers in Endocrinology. It plays a vital role in energy metabolism, bone health, cardiovascular function and cancer risk. Elevated FSH levels have been linked to obesity, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and other disorders.
What if you have too little FSH? Depending on the underlying cause, you may need hormonal therapy, medications or even surgery (in case of ovarian cancer, for example).
Eat Selenium-Rich Foods
Fill up on tuna, sardines, shellfish, Brazil nuts, turkey and other selenium-rich foods, as they help increase glutathione peroxidase (GPx) in the body. This enzyme reduces oxidative stress, protects the nervous system and fights inflammation.
According to a February 2018 study published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders, higher GPx concentrations are linked to elevated FSH levels. Also, there seems to be a relationship between higher waist circumference and low FSH.
Another study, which was featured in the journal Obesity in April 2015, pinpoints a direct relationship between FSH hormone and body weight. As the scientists note, weight loss may slightly increase FSH levels in overweight, postmenopausal women.
One way to boost your GPx is to eat a diet rich in selenium. According to a small clinical trial published in Nephro-Urology Monthly in May 2014, this mineral is an integral component of glutathione peroxidase. Selenium supplementation has been shown to elevate GPx activity in chronic kidney disease sufferers.
Organ meat, muscle meats, seafood and whole grains are all excellent sources of selenium, as the National Institutes of Health points out. Brazil nuts, for example, provide 777 percent of the daily recommended selenium intake per serving (1 ounce), according to the NIH. Eggs, beef liver, steak, cottage cheese and baked beans are high in this mineral, too.
Fill Up on Leafy Greens
Leafy green vegetables won't directly increase FSH levels. However, they are low in calories and can help you lose weight, which in turn, may raise FSH concentrations, as noted in the above studies.
Swap starches for kale, spinach, arugula, lettuce, watercress, broccoli and other leafy green vegetables. These foods boast high doses of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support reproductive health. Antioxidants are particularly important when you're trying to conceive.
Oxidative stress may contribute to reproductive disorders and pregnancy complications. Alcohol consumption, bad eating, pollution and obesity only make things worse.
The antioxidants in vegetables and other whole foods neutralize free radical damage and reduce oxidative stress, according to a research paper posted in Frontiers in Pharmacology in October 2018. These compounds protect against age-related diseases, cellular damage and chronic inflammation, among other health issues.
Men can benefit from an antioxidant-rich diet, too. Oxidative stress affects male fertility and sperm production, making it difficult to conceive. In women, it may cause inflammation in the reproductive organs and impair fertility.
Read more: 10 Scary Facts About Men's Sperm Count
Kale, for example, is rich in vitamin C, polyphenols, beta-carotene and other potent antioxidants. Cooking seems to increase its antioxidant levels, as reported in a March 2015 review featured in the International Journal of Food Properties. One serving, or one cup of cooked kale, has only 42 calories and 6 grams of carbs, including 4.7 grams of fiber, so it fits into any diet.
Choose Your Foods Wisely
No single food increases FSH levels. If you're planning to have a baby, follow a diet that supports reproductive health. Beware that some foods, such as soy and dairy, may affect FSH levels.
The isoflavones in soy, for example, may slightly decrease FSH levels and affect reproductive function. Full-fat dairy products, on the other hand, have been shown to affect sperm motility, size and shape. The same goes for junk food, deli meats, red meats, soft drinks and refined grains, which have been linked to a low sperm count in men.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, nuts, seeds, fish and other unprocessed foods should come first on your list. Prioritize those with high selenium and antioxidant levels. Kick bad habits like smoking and drinking as they may affect your fertility.
If you're obese or overweight, take the steps needed to lose a few pounds. Cut down on sugar, fill up on leafy greens and increase your fiber intake. Choose lean meat over fatty cuts and processed varieties. As mentioned earlier, FSH levels tend to be lower in obese women.
- Colorado State University: "Gonadotropins: Luteinizing and Follicle Stimulating Hormones"
- Hopkins Medicine: "Conditions We Treat: Gonadal and Menstrual Disorders"
- Mount Sinai: "Hypothalamic Dysfunction"
- American Association for Clinical Chemistry: "Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH)"
- Yale Medicine: "Women, How Good Are Your Eggs?"
- University of Rochester Medical Center Rochester: "Follicle-Stimulating Hormone"
- Frontiers in Endocrinology: "FSH Beyond Fertility"
- Endocrine Connections: "Effect of Lifestyle Intervention on the Reproductive Endocrine Profile in Women With Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- EBI: "Glutathione Peroxidase"
- Molecular Psychiatry: "Glutathione Peroxidase 4: A New Player in Neurodegeneration?"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Activation of Glutathione Peroxidase 4 as a Novel Anti-inflammatory Strategy"
- NCBI: "The Association Between Follicle Stimulating Hormone and Glutathione Peroxidase Activity Is Dependent on Abdominal Obesity in Postmenopausal Women"
- NCBI: "Weight Loss Increases Follicle Stimulating Hormone in Overweight Postmenopausal Women"
- NCBI: "Effect of Selenium Supplementation on Glutathione Peroxidase Enzyme Activity in Patients With Chronic Kidney Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial"
- NIH: "Selenium"
- Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Protection: The Science of Free Radical Biology and Disease: "Role of Oxidants and Antioxidants in Female Reproduction"
- Frontiers in Pharmacology: "Antioxidant and Oxidative Stress: A Mutual Interplay in Age-Related Diseases"
- Oxidative Stress and Antioxidant Protection: The Science of Free Radical Biology and Disease: "Role of Oxidants and Antioxidants in Male Reproduction"
- Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: "A Novel and Compact Review on the Role of Oxidative Stress in Female Reproduction"
- Advances in Hygiene and Experimental Medicine: "The Role of Oxidative Stress in Female Infertility and in Vitro Fertilization"
- International Journal of Food Properties: "Effect of Domestic Cooking Methods on Antioxidant Capacity of Fresh and Frozen Kale"
- USDA: "Cooked Kale"
- NCBI: "Current Evidence on Associations of Nutritional Factors With Ovarian Reserve and Timing of Menopause: A Systematic Review"
- NCBI: "Dairy Food Intake in Relation to Semen Quality and Reproductive Hormone Levels Among Physically Active Young Men"
- European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology: "Dietary Patterns and Testicular Function in Young Men"