When you think about organs with an important role in reproduction, the liver most likely doesn't spring to mind. But a report in the February 2011 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, shows that estrogen receptors in the liver (sites within liver cells that are targets for estrogen action) may play a surprisingly important role in maintaining fertility.
Carrying out their research on mice, researchers found that mice with the least active estrogen receptors in the liver were also the most likely to experience infertility. What seemed to make the difference in whether mice had healthy estrogen receptors was the amount of protein in their diets. Mice on a calorie-restricted diet that was also low in amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) showed an overall decline in hormone activity—and fertility. However, when the calorie-restricted mice were given more protein, estrogen receptors in the liver became more active and reproductive cycles got back on track. Researchers speculate this may be why women with eating disorders, such as anorexia, commonly experience skipped menstrual cycles.
"This is the first time it has been demonstrated how important the liver is in fertility," says Adriana Maggi of the University of Milan in Italy. "The idea that diet may have an impact on fertility isn't totally new of course, but this explains how diet, and especially a diet poor in protein, can have a direct influence."
You are not a mouse, of course, but paying attention to your preconception diet is one of the best ways to give your fertility a boost. What are you eating? Following a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy sources of protein—lean meats, beans, nuts, eggs, fish—is helpful for maintaining healthy hormone function (as this study finds) and provides your body with the vital nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy.