A woman's reproductive system is complex and plays an important role in her health and well-being. The ovaries house eggs and produce hormones, while the uterus provides nutrition and a home for a growing fetus. What you eat affects the health of your reproductive system. A diet to keep your uterus and ovaries healthy needs to be filled with nutrient-rich foods in the right amounts, with a special emphasis on vitamin D, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Consult your doctor about your need for additional dietary supplementation.
Start With a Healthy Diet
Good health, no matter what body part you're focusing on, starts with a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean sources of protein such as seafood, poultry and beans. Foods rich in folic acid are important for women during the reproductive years. Getting enough folic acid in your diet decreases risk of birth defects. Citrus, leafy greens, beans and fortified breads and cereals can help you meet your needs.
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Vitamin D is necessary for bone health. It also plays an important role in ovarian health by altering serum anti-Mullerian hormone, which is a hormone indicative of female fertility, the sensitivity of follicle-stimulating hormone, and progesterone production and release. Vitamin D may be necessary for the growth of your eggs and follicle, which is the shell that surrounds the egg. Vitamin D supplementation may help balance AMH levels in women deficient in vitamin D and women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Your body can manufacture vitamin D on its own through sun exposure, and you can also get it from food, including salmon, egg yolks, mushrooms and vitamin-fortified milk.
As you get older, the antioxidants surrounding your eggs decrease, which affects egg nutrition and quality and may reduce your chances of pregnancy. Supplementing your diet with more antioxidant-rich foods may help improve egg and ovarian health. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C and E, selenium and beta carotene. Fill your diet with fruits and vegetables to up your intake of antioxidants, especially berries.
Omega-3 Fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are good not only for your heart, but also for your ovaries and uterus. They play a role in membrane fluidity and cell health and offer protection against oxidative damage. Omega-3s may also be important for the implantation of the embryo. Fatty fish, including salmon and mackerel, are good sources of omega-3 fats. Flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, soy oil and pumpkin seeds are also rich in omega-3s.
Making certain dietary changes may help limit your risk for polycystic ovary syndrome and ovarian cancer, although dietary changes alone can't be used to treat or cure either condition. Losing weight, following a low-glycemic-index diet and eating a diet rich in nutrients may be beneficial for keeping your ovaries healthy.
Healthy Ovaries and Weight
While there isn't conclusive evidence that any one particular food increases or decreases ovarian cancer risk, and body fatness may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Being overweight also plays a role in PCOS. Weight loss is one of the main treatments for PCOS, as this can help limit insulin resistance and reduce the symptoms of PCOS. If you're overweight, focus on exercising more and making changes to your diet to lose weight. This may be hard, however, as PCOS may make it more difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
Following a diet consisting mainly of low-energy-density foods, or foods without a lot of calories per gram, may make it easier to lose weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This type of diet allows you to eat larger portion sizes without going over your recommended daily calories. This means you're less likely to be hungry between meals, since it is the amount of foods and not the number of calories that determines how full you feel after eating.
Foods low in energy density also tend to be nutrient-rich foods. For example, high-fiber foods and most fruits and vegetables are low in energy density. Both sugar and fat increase energy density. Following a diet rich in nutrients may help limit mortality risk in people diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2014.
Following a diet low on the glycemic index may help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, according to a study published in Annals of Oncology in 2003. This type of diet may also be beneficial for those with PCOS, notes Brigham and Women's Hospital. The glycemic index is an estimate of how much and how strongly foods containing carbohydrates cause blood sugar levels to rise. Foods lower on the glycemic index have less of an effect on blood sugar, which can help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and minimize insulin resistance.
Processed foods and those cooked for long periods of time tend to have a high glycemic index, while acidic foods, those high in fiber and those that contain protein or fat and carbohydrates tend to be low on the glycemic index.
Nuts, beans, rye bread and most fresh fruits and nonstarchy vegetables are low on the glycemic index, while dried fruits, potatoes and white bread or rice are higher on the glycemic index.
Portion Size Importance
No matter which type of dietary changes you make, you'll need to pay attention to portion sizes to avoid gaining weight. Too much of even healthy foods can cause weight gain, with each 3,500 extra calories you eat leading to an additional pound of body weight. Likewise, if you eat a large enough portion, even lower-glycemic-index foods can raise blood sugar levels.
- Cleveland Clinic: Female Reproductive System
- Womens Health: How Food Affects Your Reproductive System
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Healthy Eating for Women
- Fertility and Sterility: Role of Vitamin D in Ovarian Physiology and Its Implication in Reproduction: A Systematic Review
- University of California at San Diego Regional Fertility Center: Lifestyle and Fertility
- Reproduction: Dietary Omega-3 and -6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Affect the Composition and Development of Sheep Granulosa Cells, Oocytes and Embryos
- MedlinePlus: Vitamin D
- Lab Tests Online: Anti-Mullerian Hormone
- MedlinePlus: Antioxidants
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids