Charred barbecued food could be contributing to infertility, study finds

Too much sugary and processed food could be affecting your fertility.
Too much sugary and processed food could be affecting your fertility. Photo: Fairfax

Blackened barbeque meals and sugary foods could be contributing to infertility in women, according to an Australian study.

It is already well known that obesity can lead to difficulties ovulating, and therefore falling pregnant.

But scientists from Melbourne’s Hudson Institute of Medical Research have also discovered that having a diet high in sugary and processed foods may also be having an impact on conception.

The study examined the uterus cavity of 17 lean and fertile women, and 16 obese women struggling to conceive, and found that the obese group had “very significantly elevated” levels of a sugar by-product called advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

It can form naturally in the body, or through consuming sugary, processed and blackened foods.

Dr Jemma Evans, who led the study, said the sugar by-products impeded fertility by causing inflammation affecting the cells in the lining of the womb, making it harder for an embryo to implant.

“We also found that AGEs interfere with placental development, which may contribute to pregnancy complications,” Dr Evans said.

“This is the first time anyone has demonstrated in laboratory studies that specific toxic factors in the womb can compromise fertility.”

The findings could have significant implications for fertility treatments and the dietary advice offered to women planning to get pregnant.


People with high AGE levels may be told to forgo IVF and try changing their diet first. There are also drugs that could be used to force AGE levels down in older women who do not have time to implement lifestyle changes.

The study’s co-author Professor Lois Salamonsen said women hoping to have a baby could be told to avoid sugars and highly-processed and highly blacked food.

“If you really grill or barbecue food, the browner it gets the more AGEs there are there,” Professor Salamonsen said.

“So therefore one could advise that you don’t eat really heavily barbecued food, or heavily fried, or heavily grilled, but cook things more gently.”

The research may also have implications for women with polycystic ovary syndrome, after another study found women with the condition (which can also cause infertility) had higher rates of AGEs in their blood.

“Intervening with a low AGE diet could improve the health of women with polycystic ovary syndrome,” Dr Evans said.

Infertility is a growing global phenomenon – thought to affect about one in six people in developed countries.