Feeling confused about what supplements to take to improve your chances of becoming pregnant and how to choose the right ones?
Fertility has declined to record the lowest levels, especially in industrialised countries. Numerous factors influence our ‘global public health issue’ WHO; they include; having children later in life, poor diet and lifestyle choices, pesticides used in conventional farming, toxins used in healthcare, beauty and household products. With society having everything at our fingertips, we are becoming lazy; it has become easier to take a pill to fix anything wrong.
We are substituting our diets with supplements or meal replacements when we seek ways to improve our diet. I get that life is busy, and I understand how difficult this is for couples trying to conceive or undergoing fertility treatment; one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘what supplements should I take?’
Unfortunately, there is a danger in thinking that a supplement will ‘substitute’ a healthy diet and give us everything we need to have a baby, but I can’t help and feel that we are not addressing the route issue of needing to change up our diets. Therefore, we will consume the wrong type of foods that encourage the depletion of essential nutrients necessary for conception and pregnancy. Understanding what we need for our bodies to function and our dietary needs will help adjust our micro and macronutrients accordingly for what we require for conception.
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the nutrients needed by the body in large quantities which provide us with energy: in other words, fat, protein and carbohydrate (incl fibres):
Fats are essential to protect our organs, keep our body warm, metabolise and absorb nutrients, and produce hormones. Without fats, we can’t make those precious reproductive hormones, which may lead to hormonal imbalance and infertility.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body tissues, essential for creating our cell structures. The protein we eat forms collagen, hormones, enzymes, nerve tissues, muscles, blood, and immune cells. Without enough protein, our bodies will struggle and impact our reproductive capacities.
Carbohydrates provide energy to our bodies to function and feed every cell, including skin, brain and reproductive cells. Carbohydrates are the most accessible source of energy our body uses to function. Carbs in fibres will help promote gut health and better digestion, helping our endocrine system.
What are micronutrients?
Micronutrients are nutrients (vitamins and minerals) needed by the body in tiny amounts (micro). However, their impact on health is critical, and deficiency in any of them can cause severe and even life-threatening conditions. They perform various functions, including enabling the body to produce enzymes, hormones, and other necessary substances for normal growth and development.
Micronutrients play essential roles in physiological bodily processes, especially during female and male reproductive health. Adequate levels are crucial for many functions, including:
- menstruation and ovulation
- thyroid function
- energy production
- immune function
- oocyte (egg) quality and maturation
- Sperm health
- Fertilisation and implantation
Antioxidants’ are micronutrients that play a massive role in reducing oxidative stress caused by those factors I mentioned that impair fertility.
Antioxidants can be from natural nutrients, such as eating a well-balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables or synthetic forms from supplements.
The antioxidants come from nutrients such as vitamin A, C and E and minerals like; copper, zinc and selenium.
A food supplement is ‘any food the purpose of which is to supplement the normal diet and which is a concentrated source of a vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect, alone or in combination and is sold in dose form’.
A wide range of nutrients and other ingredients might be present in supplements. These can include:
- amino acids
- essential fatty acids
- various plants and herbal extracts
Food supplements correct nutritional deficiencies to maintain an adequate intake of certain nutrients or support specific physiological functions. They are not medicinal products and cannot exert a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action. Therefore, their use is not intended to treat or prevent diseases in humans or modify physiological functions. In the UK, food supplements are required to be regulated as foods and are subject to the provisions of general food law.
Companies pander to the indulgence and market supplements well in believing that they will help you have a baby. There is plenty of information in books and the internet about improving egg and sperm quality using supplements. Before considering supplements:
- Firstly, it’s advisable to address our diet and beverage intake and use supplements as an extra measure to ensure adequate amounts of nutrients.
- Secondly, it’s worth seeking guidance from a trained nutritional practitioner who can analyse your diet and look at your nutrient deficiencies.
Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs)
RCTs performed concluded there is evidence to suggest that supplementing with micronutrients to optimise nutritional status may beneficially affect female fertility. Antioxidant supplements also had the necessary positive effects of reducing oxidative stress caused by toxins and poor lifestyle.
The RCTs noticed that multi micronutrients and single supplementation positively impacted the endometrium, follicles, egg and embryo quality, implantation and birth.
They come in different forms, and there is no specific type that is the best; all have pros and cons, and it depends on individual circumstances; the forms typically include:
- Tablets and capsules are the most widely used as they are effective, reliable and efficient with a vast amount of active ingredients but can be hard to swallow.
- Chewable forms tend to be more accessible and tastier but may have added sweeteners and may not be compatible with other ingredients.
- Powders can hold large doses of ingredients; in natural form, they can be bitter and may contain sweeteners to make them taste better.
- Liquids are convenient as they can be added to drinks and foods and contain large doses of active ingredients.
- Injections can deliver considerable doses but can have health risks.
What supplements should I be taking to optimise fertility?
The micronutrients showed to be at low levels in those struggling to conceive: B12, B6, calcium, iron, iodine, selenium and folate. Those lower in IVF patients are selenium, zinc and copper. Oxidative stress is also higher in IVF patients, usually due to stress levels.
Taking a multi micronutrient supplement will help normalise trace element levels. Considered supplementation:
An excellent prenatal multivitamin should include essential vitamins for conception for both men and women:
- Vit A Betacarotene and not Retinol is an antioxidant.
- Vit B2 Riboflavin prevents and improves hypothyroidism.
- Vit B6 Pyridoxine is a critical player in oestrogen and progesterone balance.
- Vit B9 Folic Acid (a synthetic form of folate) is essential for producing genetic material DNA and RNA for cell reproduction and works well with B12.
- Vit B12 works well with B12 and the building of DNA and RNA. Ensure sperm and ova cells reproduce perfectly.
- Vit C, this antioxidant, protects cells and keeps them healthy, especially sperm cells. It also helps the absorption of iron.
- Vit D (D3) is fat-soluble and can help the absorption of calcium and regulate phosphate; if taken separately, it should be an oil-based mouth spray. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with conditions that decrease fertility, such as PCOS, and adversely affect fertility.
- Vit E is fat-soluble, acts as an antioxidant, and helps with hormonal balancing. It also helps with sperm count.
- Calcium is involved in the production of sperm.
- Copper is essential for forming red blood cells.
- Iodine helps make thyroid hormones that can interfere with the release of an egg from your ovary (ovulation), which impairs fertility.
- Iron is vital to the proper function of haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen around the body; a shortage of iron can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia. It also guards against miscarriage and congenital disabilities and works well with vitamin C.
- Manganese maintains sex hormones, and a lack affects menstrual flow, ovulatory degeneration and testicular degeneration.
- Magnesium is involved in thousands of enzymatic processes. It’s essential for optimal fertility reduces congenital disabilities and symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression.
- Selenium, an antioxidant that plays a critical role in metabolism, reproduction and thyroid function, helps protect your body from oxidative stress and DNA damage.
- Zinc, this antioxidant forms and maintains reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone. It helps cell replication, growth and development and works with folic acid.
Other supplement suggestions
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant, and sufficient amounts are in a good prenatal multivitamin. Your body produces CoQ10 on its own, but increasing the amount may have benefits if you’re TTC, as it could improve ovarian response. It may also improve sperm concentration and motility.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an antioxidant that is both fat and water-soluble, meaning it can be better absorbed and move into the bloodstream quicker and to the parts of the cells. It works well taken with CoQ10, both anti-ageing, so it benefits cell replication.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALC) is an Amino acid found in meats but can be taken as a supplement (L-Carnitine) if you’re on a non-meat diet. L-carnitine is a promising supplement that might help growth hormone release, supports the normal functioning of sperm cells and increase sperm count.
- D3 (oil-based spray) is fat-soluble and can help the absorption of calcium and regulate phosphate; if taken separately, it should be an oil-based mouth spray. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with conditions that decrease fertility, such as PCOS, and adversely affect fertility.
- Essential Fatty Acids (Omega 3) provide us with energy and keep cell walls functioning. Your body can’t produce omega-3s, so you need to get them from food or supplements. Omega-3s help regulate your hormones, are essential for ovulation, increase blood flow to the uterus, reduce inflammation in the body, and improve the embryo’s ability to implant in the uterus. It also helps with normal sperm function.
- Probiotics are live bacteria that are essential for gut health, and quite often, our diets are loaded with unfriendly gut foods such as alcohol, sugar and processed foods that can upset the balance within our gut. As 70% of our immune system lies within our gut, it can affect our body and hormones, directly influencing our reproductive system if our gut microbiome becomes unbalanced. You can find good supplements with many friendly bacteria, especially looking out for acidophilus and Bifidus.
- Pre-biotics help support the probiotic growth of gut bacteria, and it feeds these bacteria to promote a healthy gut microbiome. Foods rich in fibre like asparagus, onions and bananas can help, and a prebiotic supplement with probiotics can make your gut biome more effective.
When choosing supplements, the food standards agency suggests that:
- Your supplier should be registered as a business with their local authority and provide fully referenced invoices and receipts.
- Don’t buy supplements over the internet unless you are confident the supplier is reputable.
- Beware of counterfeit products, mainly if you buy products over the internet when the price is lower than other suppliers.
Other things to consider
- Supplements can be full of binders with no nutritional benefit; ensure you read the label carefully. Does it say ‘all-natural ingredients? It’s best to have organic ingredients.
- Cheaper products may contain foods grown conventionally; therefore, they may contain pesticides that could damage fertility. A USP or consumer Lablabel-verified product includes the listed ingredients at the strength indicated — and is not contaminated with any other substances, such as heavy metals or microbes.
- Some products may contain herbs suggested to improve fertility; you can research these on PubMed to understand if there is any evidence of use for conception.
You must get your dietary requirement from food first; I am fully aware that sometimes this isn’t possible, and we may need more help. Supplementation is a great way to get extra nutrients to make our body optimal for fertile health.
Not everyone is the same, and therefore people may vary in nutritional requirements. Equally, some may not be able to absorb the nutrients properly, having a weak gut lining, food allergies, microbiome imbalances, damage to the intestines from infection, autoimmune disease–all possible causes that lead to poor nutrient absorption.
Tests can detect issues with nutrient absorption, and you must get the correct and individualised advice from a nutritional specialist.
Good luck in your fertility journey
World Health Organisation (WHO) – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility
British Dietician Association – https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/a-clinical-update-on-diet-and-fertility.html#:~:text=There%20is%20evidence%20to%20suggest,fat%20have%20higher%20fertility%20rates.&text=In%20addition%2C%20higher%20intakes%20of,ovulation%20infertility%20(OI)6.
Food supplements – Food Standards Agency. https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/food-supplements
Fertility Medical Terminology
Get up to speed with the fertility medical terminology……
Be in control of your fertility and prepare yourself with the medical fertility terminology you will need during your journey, your fertility clinic will be using this during your consultation and appointments.
Many who begin fertility treatment, are confused with all the information that is thrown their way, this list will give you a head start, making you feel in control of your journey. Understanding the terminology prior to appointments, will allow you to ask questions about what it means to you and your partner.
Although, the list is long, it does make for easy reading, use the QR code below or use the link to access the full list.
Please go easy on yourself whilst learning fertility terminology, take your time and ask questions to your clinic if you’re unsure.
This information was gathered from the NHS website where you can find a plethora of information.
For further reads: