Infertility can have many causes, and often the exact cause is unknown. Some cases of infertility may be related to nutrition and can usually be corrected. Just as nutrition plays a key role in the prevention and treatment of many diseases such as heart disease and cancer, it can also play a key role in the treatment of infertility. The following are nutrition-related issues that may affect a woman's fertility:

Being either significantly overweight or underweight can be a cause of infertility. Being too thin or too heavy can interfere with ovulation. Like the ovaries, fat cells also produce estrogen which plays a crucial role in ovulation. If body fat levels are too low, you produce less estrogen. If body fat levels are too high, you produce more estrogen. Both of these instances can throw your cycle out of balance and interfere with regular ovulation. Therefore, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is an important goal for those trying to conceive.

What you eat affects how you feel, your energy level, and your overall health. A healthy diet is important for optimal reproductive functioning. Balancing your intake of protein, carbohydrate, and fat helps you to achieve optimal nutritional status and maintain a healthy weight. For optimal nutrition, it is recommended that 10-20% of your total calories come from protein, 50-70% of your total calories come from carbohydrate, and 20-30% of your total calories come from fat. Choosing a wide variety of foods each day will maximize nutrient variety and help to ensure that you are meeting your body's needs.

Infertility may be caused by an imbalance of certain micronutrients in your diet. When trying to conceive, be sure to include adequate amounts of vitamins B6, C, folic acid, and E, as well as the minerals magnesium, potassium and zinc. Vitamins B6, C and E play an important role in regulating hormone levels. Folic acid is important for preventing neural tube defects in the developing fetus. Deficiencies in the minerals magnesium, potassium and zinc are associated with reduced fertility. It is important to get adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals; however, mega doses can be toxic and dangerous. It is recommended that you take a daily multivitamin or prenatal vitamin and include foods in your diet that are good sources of these vitamins and minerals.

Both caffeine and alcohol intake have been linked to infertility and increased conception time. A high caffeine intake has also been shown to increase the incidence of miscarriage, while alcohol may contribute to an increased risk of babies born with birth defects. It is recommended that you limit your caffeine intake to one cup per day or less of caffeinated beverages and that you avoid alcohol when trying to conceive.

Mindful eating is a mind/body technique that helps you to become more aware of your food and your body's reaction to it. In today's society, too often we eat our food quickly or with distraction. By eating mindfully and focusing on slowing the pace of your eating, you will become more aware of the tastes and textures of your food. When you eat with purpose and pleasure, you become more in tune with your body and better able to meet its needs.

Cynthia DuFresne is a health educator who has also been a registered dietician for 12 years. She completed the training in Mind/Body Medicine for clinicians at Harvard's Mind/Body Institute in Boston. She now works part-time at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas; you may reach her at