Cape Fertility Observes World Health Day 2023


The World Health Organisation’s World Health Day is celebrated in April each year, and aims to raise awareness of the vital role of good health and access to medical services in providing all people with a decent quality of life.

Poor health caused by lifestyle factors and medical conditions affect all aspects of a person’s well-being – including their fertility and their ability to achieve a pregnancy. In this article, our team at Cape Fertility contributes to observing World Health Day by sharing some great advice to improve general health, which will also boost fertility.

Observed annually on 7 April, World Health Day is an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness about the important role of health in the well-being of each person. It affirms that the right to health is a basic human right. This means that every human being has a right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and that everyone must have access to the health services they need when and where they need them without financial hardship.

This year’s World Health Day is themed “Health For All” and envisions that all people have good health for a fulfilling life in a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.

The WHO also recognises that poor health due to lifestyle factors or medical conditions are among the most well-known causes of infertility, stating that: “Environmental and lifestyle factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake and obesity can affect fertility. In addition, exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins can be directly toxic to gametes (eggs and sperm), resulting in their decreased numbers and poor quality, leading to infertility.”

Health is increasing recognised as a factor in fertility

In its recently published guide Fertility Patients Care Guidance, produced by a global team including 15 fertility experts, the European Fertility Society (EFS) also flags general health as an important issue that needs to be emphasised more strongly when it comes to understanding and treating fertility challenges.

It notes that: “Various lifestyle-related factors such as obesity, smoking, substance abuse and heavy alcohol consumption are known to have a negative impact on both male and female fertility and the success of ART [assisted reproductive therapy]. Other lifestyle habits may also adversely affect reproductive health, and advice on modifiable lifestyle factors should be given to couples to help them make positive changes to potentially improve their chances of a healthy pregnancy.”

In addition, various chronic health conditions – ranging from diabetes and cancer to hypertension and hormone imbalances – can also affect fertility.

Diet and lifestyle factors in fertility

The EFS recommends that diet and lifestyle factors should be raised with couples seeking fertility treatment, sensitively and without apportioning blame, with the aim to help them to improve their general health, and thereby their fertility. The EFS recommends the health practices listed below.

* Stop smoking.

* Reduce or avoid alcohol consumption.

* Reduce obesity through slow, steady weight loss.

* Get 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night, to feel refreshed on waking. For those with sleeping problems, some recommendations include meditation apps, gentle yoga exercises, installing blackout blinds and establishing a healthy bedtime routine.

* Partake in gentle exercise for 30-60 minutes daily, such as walking, swimming, yoga or Pilates. Some muscle building is preferable since this helps to increase the metabolic rate but, over-exercising may be detrimental for both partners.

* Reduce toxic exposure by, for example, avoiding walking or cycling in traffic, using more natural hygiene products and cleaning products, purchasing an air purifier if living or working in a polluted environment, and reducing the use of plastics such as cling film, plastic food containers or water bottles.

The aim is to start from the couple’s current position and to move forward step by step, ideally with both partners involved in the process. The reason for this is that everyone has a different ‘baseline’, and too much change too soon can be overwhelming. This approach applies to all health the improvements: to reduce alcohol consumption, to stop smoking, to lose weight sustainably or to get more exercise.

The best results are often achieved when the couple agrees with the steps to be taken. For example, the EFS recommends that when looking at reducing alcohol consumption, the couple should consider if total abstinence is the best option for them or whether they would prefer to consume a set number of units on set days of the week or each month. Where couples seeking fertility treatment feel involved in discussions, the targets set are more achievable.

Managing weight for improved fertility

With regard to managing weight and reducing obesity, which is known to reduce the chances of pregnancy, we gladly share the advice below from the Fertility Patients Care Guidance. (You can download the pocket version of the Guide from

* Do not follow a low-fat diet, but rather limit carbohydrate intake (potatoes, pasta, rice, beans) to no more than a small portion at each meal.

* Include healthy fats, protein and fibre in each meal to keep hunger pangs at bay – consider for example eggs, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds as well as all vegetables.

* Foods to include in a healthy eating plan include legumes, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, poultry, eggs, fish – including oily fish twice a week, as well as herbs and spices.

* Foods that should be limited include red meat, sweets, and products made from refined flour such as white bread and pasta.

* Snack on high calorie, nutritious foods such as nuts, seeds and avocado on crackers.

* Cook from scratch wherever possible and avoid heavily processed foods.

* Underweight partners should not eat ‘junk foods’. Instead, it should be explored whether their digestive systems require attention and screening for coeliac disease is important, as this may affect nutrient absorption without exhibiting any gastrointestinal symptoms.

* The Mediterranean diet is mostly akin to the types of foods that promote fertility. Use the Mediterranean diet pyramid or a good Mediterranean cookbook.

With timelines in mind, any length of time is beneficial, but three to six months is an ideal timeframe to focus on nutrition and lifestyle changes to enhance fertility health.

Concerned about your health impacting your fertility?

At Cape Fertility, we recommend diet and lifestyle improvements to all our patients.

This is because we know that infertility rates in both male and female smokers are about double the rate of infertility found in non-smokers. The negative impact of alcohol on pregnancy rates is also well-documented. We have also seen in practice that obesity decreases the rates of successful pregnancy in natural conception, as well as in women who are undergoing fertility treatment. Furthermore, we also know that a long list of chronic health conditions – ranging from diabetes and cancer to hypertension and hormone imbalances – can also affect fertility.

If you are concerned about your fertility, or if you have a medical condition that may be affecting your fertility, we would like to invite you to contact us by simply clicking here

At Cape Fertility, we value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with individualised and personalised care, affordable quality fertility treatment, and higher success rates at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town.