How Intermittent Fasting Affects Your Fertility

It's noon, and the rest of the world is eating lunch. If you're following an intermittent fasting lifestyle, though, you might just be digging into breakfast, or if you're doing the 5:2 approach, you might not eat at all today, if this is one of the two days per week when you do a dry fast. One of the hottest trends in the health and wellness circles, intermittent fasting has won over many fans, who say that eating within a specific time window has helped them achieve their weight loss goals. Some research even suggests that intermittent fasting has anti-aging and immune health benefits (per Forbes).

But what about if you're hoping to get pregnant in the immediate future? Can spending prolonged periods of the day without any food affect your fertility? In an interview with The List, Dr. Zaher Merhi, MD, FACOG, HCLD, a fertility expert at New Hope Fertility Center in New York City, explained how intermittent fasting can impact your chances of conceiving.

Intermittent fasting can influence ovulation patterns

According to Merhi, "intermittent fasting seems to have both positive and negative impacts on female fertility." The positive effects are related specifically to weight loss. "It is important to know that body metabolism and body weight affect fertility," he said. While women of all weights do successfully conceive babies, there are certain fertility challenges that can be addressed by weight loss, Merhi explained. 

"Women who are overweight have elevated body inflammation, and are more likely to have irregular menstrual cycles and potentially have difficulty conceiving — especially those with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)." For these women, any sort of weight loss can help them conceive. "Fasting in general leads to weight loss, which, ultimately, could improve fertility by regulating the menstrual cycle and having more organized ovulation time," Merhi explained.

That being said, if you weren't previously struggling with PCOS or irregular cycles prior to trying intermittent fasting, this restrictive way of eating actually could get in the way of normal ovulation, warned Merhi. "There is a real concern that it causes stress on the brain due to the prolonged periods of fasting," he said. "Because the brain controls the ovaries by sending hormones via the blood, the ovaries would not receive the usual messages from the brain due to the stress of the intermittent fasting. This could cause an indirect dysfunction of the ovaries."