Can you guess the most common question I am asked by both patients and friends? They all want to know “What supplements should I be taking to help fertility?” If you’re trying to conceive, or even if you aren’t, you may have seen a social media post recommending a specific supplement to help with your fertility. However, before you start putting things into your body, let’s take a step back and understand what you are ingesting.
But, let’s be real first. The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar (and growing) industry. And, like all industries, they are in the business of making money, so it is in their best interest to promote their products to attract more customers, namely you. By the time you are seeing their, often-targeted advertisements, you are likely already anxious about your fertility. You may even be considering experimenting with different ways to improve your chances of being pregnant. These are both factors that the supplement industry tries to capitalize on.
However, thanks to this blog post, you can learn how to be a smart supplement consumer. Here, you’ll learn that not all supplements are for everyone, that different supplements have different purposes, and there is no “one miracle” supplement. And, of course, before starting any supplement, you should speak with your medical team to discuss what is right for you.
Prenatal Vitamin Supplements
The first supplement one should take when thinking about becoming pregnant is a prenatal vitamin. Contrary to what you may think, it is important to take prenatal vitamins before pregnancy to prepare your body, and during pregnancy to support the growth and development of a fetus. Your doctor may recommend 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, but recent data suggest that higher doses of 800 micrograms a day may improve the chance of achieving and maintaining a pregnancy. In terms of recommending a specific brand, I personally would recommend any brand that meets the aforementioned requirements, but I prefer brands that have independent quality testing. Look out for this label on the bottle!
Vitamin D for Fertility
Vitamin D has been studied for a long time since its receptors are widely distributed across the reproductive system. Much of our Vitamin D3 comes from the sun, but can also be obtained from Vitamin D supplements. In regards to Vitamin D & fertility, there are 3 studies I want to highlight:
- One study has shown that pregnancy rates vary with the seasons. In this study, pregnancy rates were observed to peak in the summer and autumn, which showed a correlation between pregnancy and sun exposure and vitamin D.
- Another review analyzed 11 studies of women undergoing Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), which is a fancy way of saying procedures like IUI and IVF. This study showed increased live births in women with normal Vitamin D levels compared to women with insufficient values.
- Another study suggested that low vitamin D levels might be associated with first-trimester pregnancy loss. This data suggests that Vitamin D supplementation may be recommended for patients attempting pregnancy.
Despite promising results in these preliminary studies, more research is needed to look at vitamin D and fertility. Personally, thanks to studies like these, I recommend all of my patients start a vitamin D supplement. And remember, don’t just listen to the doctor on the Internet to make medical decisions. Always consult your doctor before starting any supplements.
Omega 3 to Improve Fertility
Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation has been shown to improve fertility in animals, but the jury is still out for humans. Recent data suggests omega-3 supplementation increases the chance of one conceiving naturally, while other studies have shown no difference in pregnancy rates based on omega 3 blood levels. However, despite the lack of conclusive data, I usually recommend omega 3 because it can possibly help with fertility and has other known benefits for a developing fetus.
CoQ10 for Increased Pregnancy Rates
Coenzyme Q10’s impact on female infertility is at the center of ongoing debate. CoQ10 is an antioxidant and, like other antioxidants, it can help eliminate toxins that negatively impact female reproduction. Animals studies have demonstrated that CoQ10 protects ovarian egg counts and may even protect against the normal decline in egg numbers as female animals age.
In humans, studies have shown that CoQ10 supplementation in patients undergoing assisted reproductive technologies has increased pregnancy rates, improved ovarian response to stimulation, and better embryo quality. How it improves fertility, however, is still being studied, which is why many doctors can’t yet agree on who should take CoQ10. Even though the data is still inconclusive, many individuals with low egg counts are often started on CoQ10 before the start of an IVF cycle.
Inositol for PCOS
Inositol is a biological compound that can be found in foods we eat daily such as nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Inositol has been shown to play many roles throughout the body, including the important job of affecting insulin’s function. Many with PCOS have insulin resistance that requires extra insulin to control one’s blood sugar. However, increased insulin can lead to disruption in ovulation. Because of this, many doctors suggest patients with PCOS take inositol.
The limited studies have shown that Inositol supplements can help promote ovulation and pregnancy in patients with PCOS, as well as improve clinical pregnancy rates in patients with PCOS undergoing ART. Despite the promising data, more research is needed.
Supplements have a role in select patient groups. With your doctor, decide whether or not you may benefit from a supplement. And don’t forget to be a smart consumer … the advertisers are NOT medical professionals!
Barry Perlman, DO earned his medical degree from Rowan University as the valedictorian of the class of 2014. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in Molecular Biology. Dr. Perlman completed his residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Following his time as Chief Resident, Dr. Perlman finished his fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School. He is an attending physician in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.