There’s plenty of science and research that goes into fertility treatment—but what about the lore? Unsurprisingly, anecdotal evidence about certain practices and talismans have been associated with positive outcomes when it comes to reproductive interventions. So, what has some basis in science and what is speculation? Here, we break down some common fertility superstitions so you know what works—and what likely doesn’t but also can’t hurt to try.
Lucky Transfer Socks
The superstition: Traditional Chinese Medicine holds that warm feet equate to a warm uterus, which is good for fertility.
The science: There isn’t much science to this one. That said, having warm feet will make it easier to stay relaxed, which is good for the parasympathetic nervous system. In parasympathetic mode, blood flow is encouraged to the reproductive organs.
The takeaway: No scientific back up, but warm feet rock.
McDonald’s French Fries
The superstition: Eating salty foods (the overwhelming pick seems to be McDonald’s French fries) helps after egg retrieval and embryo transfer.
The science: Specifically after egg retrieval, when an individual is at risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), doctors will often recommend a high-sodium diet for a few days. This helps draw extra fluid from the ovaries post-retrieval and reduces the risk of OHSS. This is not specific to french fries, but any sodium-rich food or beverage (naturopathic doctors tend to recommend things like coconut water, olives, popcorn, organic feta cheese and prosciutto instead of deep fried foods like french fries.) There isn’t really any reason for the salt after embryo transfer, but some people carry over the recommendation from retrieval.
The takeaway: A high-sodium diet (which may include the occasional french fry) may be beneficial in reducing risk of OHSS after egg retrieval.
The superstition: Pineapples (which are often a symbol for infertility), eaten after ovulation or embryo transfer, increase the likelihood of successful implantation.
The science: The pineapple theory comes from the Bromelain content (which is mostly in the pineapple stem, and a little bit in the core) and its potential blood-thinning and anti-inflammatory effects. The evidence on Bromelain is not clear, and the amount of Bromelain likely necessary to gain any type of therapeutic benefit would be difficult to get from consuming pineapple.
The takeaway: No science but pineapple is delicious, so why not?
The superstition: Acupuncture increases blood flow and decreases stress—both are good for successful implantation.
The science: This is true, acupuncture is recognized by the World Health Organization as an effective treatment for stress and cortisol regulation. Acupuncture has also been shown to improve blood flow to the uterus and reduces pulsatility index of the uterine artery.
The takeaway: True!
The superstition: Brazil nuts help encourage a healthy uterine lining which leads to successful implantation.
The science: This comes from the Selenium content in Brazil nuts, which is an antioxidant. Selenium is good for egg quality and thyroid function. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for Selenium is about 55 mcg, and each Brazil nut has about 100 mcg—it would be easy to get too much Selenium if snacking on lots of Brazil nuts. Selenium toxicity is possible, so it’s best to not overdo the Brazil nuts (stick to a maximum of two per day). It’s best to use supplements if trying to hit a specific dose of Selenium, because the amount in a Brazil nut can vary widely based on the size of the nut. There is no evidence for its support in implantation, besides potentially its general antioxidant effects.
The takeaway: Size matters when it comes to (Brazil) nuts and supplements allow for a more targeted dose if required. That said, brazil nuts can certainly be included in moderation in a healthy diet.
The superstition: The term 'rainbow baby' honors children born after miscarriage and fertility warriors often use rainbows to symbolize hope after a particularly difficult time.
The science: The only science behind rainbows and fertility is that eating all of the colors of the rainbow provide a full range of the antioxidants we require! But, from a symbolic perspective they represent a baby born after loss (miscarriage, stillborn or neonatal death). Rainbows only appear after the rain, when the sun starts to shine, so they represent the light at the end of a difficult journey.
The takeaway: They provide hope to those waiting for their rainbow, and joy for those who have received theirs.
The superstition: Pomegranate juice—a source of antioxidants—can protect sperm and egg from oxidative stress.
The science: There are antioxidants in pomegranate juice, mainly polyphenols, which reduce oxidative stress. Like other antioxidants, this can have a positive effect on reducing free radicals and protecting egg and sperm. One cup of pomegranate juice has about 1,000 mg of polyphenols (a therapeutic dose would start at about 1,000 mg). Pomegranate juice also has a fair amount of sugar and calories, so that should be factored in for those who are glucose-sensitive.
The takeaway: Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants which can help protect egg and sperm from oxidative stress. Not all pom juice will be the same, so if targeted doses are required, supplements may be a better option. Those who are glucose sensitive should also be mindful of too much juice consumption.
The superstition: Wishing “sticky” thoughts specifically (over the generalized “good” or “positive” thoughts) makes for better embryo stickiness to the uterus.
The science: Not the same as sticky thoughts, but some clinics use something called embryo glue. This might be considered ‘sticky science’ to some since the studies are variable, but some suggest it may slightly improve implantation rate after embryo transfer. Otherwise, sticky thoughts refer to positive thoughts for successful implantation—and having a good emotional support system can help lower stress hormones which could improve implantation success.
The takeaway: We’ll take all the sticky thoughts we can get.