Food, nutrition, and fertility: from soil to fork

Am J Clin Nutr. 2024 Feb;119(2):578-589. doi: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.12.005. Epub 2023 Dec 13.


Food and nutrition-related factors, including foods and nutrients consumed, dietary patterns, use of dietary supplements, adiposity, and exposure to food-related environmental contaminants, have the potential to impact semen quality and male and female fertility; obstetric, fetal, and birth outcomes; and the health of future generations, but gaps in evidence remain. On 9 November 2022, Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and the school's Food and Nutrition Innovation Institute hosted a 1-d meeting to explore the evidence and evidence gaps regarding the relationships between food, nutrition, and fertility. Topics addressed included male fertility, female fertility and gestation, and intergenerational effects. This meeting report summarizes the presentations and deliberations from the meeting. Regarding male fertility, a positive association exists with a healthy dietary pattern, with high-quality evidence for semen quality and lower quality evidence for clinical outcomes. Folic acid and zinc supplementation have been found to not impact male fertility. In females, body weight status and other nutrition-related factors are linked to nearly half of all ovulation disorders, a leading cause of female infertility. Females with obesity have worse fertility treatment, pregnancy-related, and birth outcomes. Environmental contaminants found in food, water, or its packaging, including lead, perfluorinated alkyl substances, phthalates, and phenols, adversely impact female reproductive outcomes. Epigenetic research has found that maternal and paternal dietary-related factors can impact outcomes for future generations. Priority evidence gaps identified by meeting participants relate to the effects of nutrition and dietary patterns on fertility, gaps in communication regarding fertility optimization through changes in nutritional and environmental exposures, and interventions impacting germ cell mechanisms through dietary effects. Participants developed research proposals to address the priority evidence gaps. The workshop findings serve as a foundation for future prioritization of scientific research to address evidence gaps related to food, nutrition, and fertility.

Keywords: dietary patterns; dietary supplements; environmental exposures; fertility; in vitro fertilization; intergenerational health; obesity; polycystic ovary syndrome; pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Dietary Supplements
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Research Design*
  • Semen Analysis*
  • Soil


  • Soil