By Breea Johnson, MS RD LDN
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Growing Power's Urban Agriculture Farm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founder Will Allen is a national guru of local and sustainable food and grows food year round to supply many restaurants, farmers markets and schools in the Midwest. So, what does this have to do with fertility, you ask? Well, Allen believes that farming isn't as much about the growing of fruits, vegetables and grains; rather it's about building soil which he often refers to as "fertile soil." His message is this: Without nutrient-rich soil, plants won't grow, his land will be barren and he will have no fruits or vegetables to sell. As I listened to him speak, I couldn't help think about the relationship between "soil fertility" and "human fertility" and my work at Pulling Down the Moon specializing in fertility nutrition. While growing vegetables may seem like a huge departure from helping women conceive, there are actually many more similarities than you might think.
If you have ever tried to grow organic vegetables this thought may have crossed your mind. I'm personally finding in my spring venture the amount of work required to grow vegetables organically, with no pesticides, fertilizers or Miracle Gro. Vegetables may sprout in ordinary potting soil but in order to get them to grow and thrive and produce offspring they need soil that is completely nutrient-rich and thriving with microorganisms – along with sun and water, of course. When you ask Will Allen what his biggest asset is on his urban farm, he won't say equipment or even the people, he will always say the worms. With hundreds of thousands of worms living on his farm, he utilizes them to compost food waste scraps into beautiful and nutrient-rich soil in order for his plants to thrive. It's easy to see with a visible eye how nutrient rich the soil is and taste of the vegetables is so unbelievable that I literally crave their spicy salad mix!
So, think about it. If soil nutrition is essential for soil fertility then human nutrition is essential for human fertility, right? Yes, there absolutely needs to be a nutrient-rich environment (body) for a baby to develop. In order for this to happen, nutrient-rich foods need to be consumed. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, quality meat and dairy, eggs and fish have what is termed "nutrient density" - lots of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals per calorie. A diet full of these foods and void of processed nutrient-empty foods is sure to turn your body into a "nutrient-rich" one - perfect for seed planting!
Another big connection between soil fertility and human fertility are the benefits of microorganisms. Our microbiota (the bacteria that live on and within us) actually outnumber cells that are on our body. We call them "probiotics" as they are "good" bacteria that can be found on vegetables (specifically fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi), fermented beans and cultured dairy such as yogurt and kefir. Almost all cultures include a fermented food or beverage as part of their daily diet, likely leftover from a time when fermentation was used to preserve foods prior to refrigeration. In our modern times of trying to kill off all bacteria we are starting to realize that the bacteria can actually be very beneficial to health, especially in fertility. Not only do the bacteria help break down food in our digestive system so we can absorb and utilize more nutrients, but they also help keep pathogenic bacteria at bay (such as E. Coli) and help keep our immune system supported. Similar to soil fertility, the worms keep the pathogenic bacteria low and the beneficial bacteria high while producing nutrients in the composted material. Plus, recent research shows that beneficial bacteria may help prevent early pregnancy loss and improve IVF outcomes.
I often get asked if nutrition is actually important in the role of fertility. While my first instinct is to say "Of course," as nutrition is important in every aspect of health, I think that comparing human fertility to soil fertility makes it a more obvious connection. Can you plant a thriving garden in a clay-filled, nutrient-void soil, shady, bug-less patch of your yard? You can try, but the chances of it growing are slim. Can you dig up some dirt, add some compost, some worms and seeds in a sunny spot and water and expect to grow tiny seedlings? Your chances are definitely better!
For more information on Pulling Down the Moon's nutrition program please visit www.pullingdownthemoon.com or call (312)321-0004 to discuss the best nutrition options for you.