Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):868-77. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.119321. Epub 2016 Feb 3.


Background: Emerging evidence suggests potential links between some dietary fatty acids and improved fertility, because specific fatty acids may affect prostaglandin synthesis and steroidogenesis.

Objective: The objective of this exploratory study was to evaluate associations between total and specific types of dietary fat intake and 1) hormone concentrations and 2) the risk of sporadic anovulation in a cohort of 259 regularly menstruating women in the BioCycle Study.

Design: Endogenous reproductive hormones were measured up to 8 times/cycle for up to 2 cycles, with visits scheduled with the use of fertility monitors. Dietary intake was assessed with up to four 24-h recalls/cycle. Linear mixed models and generalized linear models were used to evaluate the associations between dietary fatty acids and both reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulatory status. All models were adjusted for total energy intake, age, body mass index, and race.

Results: Relative to the lowest levels of percentage of energy from total fat, the highest tertile was associated with increased total and free testosterone concentrations (total: percentage change of 4.0%; 95% CI: 0.7%, 7.3%; free: percentage change of 4.1%; 95% CI: 0.5%, 7.7%). In particular, the percentage of energy from polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the highest tertile was associated with increases in total and free testosterone (total: percentage change of 3.7%; 95% CI: 0.6%, 6.8%; free: percentage change of 4.0%; 95% CI: 0.5%, 7.5%). The PUFA docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-3) was not significantly associated with testosterone concentrations (P-trend = 0.86 in energy substitution models) but was associated with increased progesterone and a reduced risk of anovulation (highest tertile compared with the lowest tertile: RR: 0.42; 95% CI: 0.18, 0.95). Fat intakes were not associated with other reproductive hormone concentrations.

Conclusions: These results indicate that total fat intake, and PUFA intake in particular, is associated with very small increases in testosterone concentrations in healthy women and that increased docosapentaenoic acid was associated with a lower risk of anovulation.

Keywords: dietary fats; estradiol; menstrual cycle; ovulation; testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anovulation* / etiology
  • Anovulation* / prevention & control
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Dietary Fats / therapeutic use
  • Energy Intake
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / therapeutic use
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Cycle
  • Ovulation / drug effects*
  • Progesterone / metabolism*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reference Values
  • Risk Factors
  • Testosterone / metabolism*
  • Young Adult


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Testosterone
  • Progesterone
  • docosapentaenoic acid