Can we all agree that what we put into our bodies matters? Still, how do nutrition and nutritional supplements relate to fertility? If there’s one subject that confuses would-be moms and dads, it’s supplements.
And just to make things more complicated, not everyone needs the same advice. That’s where a little bit of knowledge and the help of your doctor can make the difference between sharing the good news or feeling the blues. To get started, first ask yourself, are you familiar with what nutrients your body needs to be as fertile as possible?
Below, we’ll examine what nutrients may aid you in bringing a new life into your family. And while there are many highly effective fertility treatments, we can all (women and men alike) benefit from better nutrition.
Nutritional Supplements vs. Fertility Treatments
Before we dive into each supplement, let’s first be clear that these supplements are NOT the same as fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF). While better nutrition may be just what you and your partner need to conceive, no one nutrient has proven to aid conception to the degree of FDA-approved fertility treatments. Therefore, think of supplements as important ingredients to improve your chances of conception, not as replacements for the fertility therapies your doctor provides.
In reality, it’s not a question of supplements versus treatments, but more likely a combination of approaches that makes the most sense for you. And when we say ‘you,’ we do mean you and your partner alone. Just because a friend or family member had success with one option doesn’t make it the best or only one for you.
Supplements vs. Nutrients
For purposes of our discussion, nutrients and supplements can be considered the same. Typically, we call helpful vitamins and minerals contained in food, nutrients. However, when delivered in pill form, those same nutrients are considered supplements because they supplement or add to your daily intake. Either way, take a look at what your body may be lacking and why it’s important.
The Best Supplements to Aid Fertility
1. Folic Acid
Folic acid, a part of the B9 family of vitamins, is rarely a strong enough component of women’s diets, and in some studies, its deficiency has lowered ovulation-related fertility. So, it could be what your body needs. And also, consider that, within two to three weeks after conception, folic acid may help with neural tube closure, an important step in your baby’s early development.
But folic acid’s benefits don’t stop with hopeful mothers. In men, it’s believed to aid in healthy sperm production. For example, a UC Berkeley study found that men with the highest levels of folic acid had 20% less abnormal sperm.
2. DHA (Fish Oil)
Otherwise known as an Omega-3 fatty acid, DHA is a helpful supplement that, unfortunately, our bodies do not produce on their own. Instead, it’s found in freshwater fish like salmon. Research has shown the DHA can increase blood flow to the uterus and bring hormonal balance. For men, DHA is believed to enhance semen quality.
3. CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoEnzyme Q10 has shown itself to improve egg quality in animal trials. Important for older parents, CoQ10 is also believed to reverse age-related decline in both egg and sperm. In humans, when taken with the supplement Clomid, CoQ10 also improved fertility rates in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And, as for male benefits, C0Q10 has demonstrated the ability to improve sperm concentration, motility, and density. To increase the enzyme in your diet, consider adding organ meats like liver and kidneys, fatty fish like trout, and plant sources like spinach and oranges.
4. Vitamin D
In a Yale study, 40% of women with ovary dysfunction were clinically low in vitamin D. That may be because vitamin D is known to reduce inflammation, some of which may hamper the fertility process. For men, there is evidence that vitamin D can boost testosterone levels. So where can you find it? Some food sources are freshwater fish, egg yolks, and fortified foods like milk or cereal.
While iron deficiency can cause various health challenges for women, one that can be overlooked is infertility. One large, long-term study demonstrated that patients with a healthy level of the mineral had a decrease in their risk of ovulatory infertility. However, for men, the benefits of increased iron are less clear except in cases of anemia, and over-supplementation can be dangerous. To consume more iron, consider adding shellfish, spinach, legumes, or organ meats to your diet.
Iodine is a mineral that is believed to be deficient in nearly 1 out of 2 American women. In a recent study conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, patients with moderate-to-severe iodine deficiencies had a 46 percent lower chance of getting pregnant than those with healthy levels. And similar to other nutrients, deficient levels of iodine have been associated with lower semen quality in men. To up your iodine supply, look to foods like liver, red meat, lentils, and tofu.
7. Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC)
Acetyl L-Carnitine is an amino acid that aids the body in burning fat. In research, ALC has lessened symptoms of PCOS, endometriosis, and amenorrhea (the absence of a period). ALC, in combination with other supplements, has also been shown to boost sperm motility in men. As for food sources of ALC, consider consuming red meats, dairy products, beans, and avocados.
Selenium is an antioxidant is believed to fortify the uterine follicles where your body forms, stores, and releases eggs. Without healthy selenium levels, experts believe you are at greater risk for gestational and fetal health complications. And for men, healthy selenium levels promote better sperm motility. Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats are known as the best food sources of selenium.
Individual Supplements vs. Prenatal Vitamins
While the proper diet may be enough to boost your levels of all these essential nutrients, sometimes it’s just not enough.
As you can guess, each of the nutrients we’ve discussed is available both as an individual supplement, as well as an ingredient within prenatal vitamins. As a rule of thumb, to top off your levels in multiple nutrients, choose a broad spectrum prenatal vitamin. However, to address more severe deficiencies, individual supplements may be the answer.
For example, if you and your doctor find that your vitamin D levels are deficient, a prenatal vitamin may not deliver a high enough dose to bring your body back to a healthy level. And let’s not forget, the more supplements you take, the higher the cost.
In the end, it’s best to decide with your doctor what course to take and remember that supplements are likely to be part of, and not the only answer to, your fertility needs.
Questions and Answers:
Can dietary supplements solve my infertility problems? Am I harming my baby or myself without them?
Although, as you can see, much research exists on supplements and fertility, none of it is so conclusive as to guarantee that any single nutrient will be your one magical answer to baby-making. In the same token, your overall health has an important role to play, and therefore keep it in mind when deciding what to take.
Can taking supplements prevent me from needing other, more serious fertility treatments?
Again, when considering fertility, you should never overlook your general health. When properly cared for, your body is better suited to conceive and birth a child. That said, there’s no shame in considering all of the treatment options available to you and your partner.
How to Start Your Fertility Journey
The good news is that you don’t need to walk alone on your path to parenthood. Dr. Sanaz Ghazal and Dr. Joel Batzofin of RISE Fertility are here to offer you expert advice and the best fertility treatments available. Contact them today to schedule your in-office consultation in their Newport Beach or Mission Viejo offices.