If in the trying-to-conceive phase of your life, you’re probably feeling a mix of emotions ranging from full-blown excitement to full-blown anxiety. While the process of getting pregnant is easy for some, other couples have a bit more trouble. In fact, an estimated 1 in 8 are unable to get pregnant after one full year of trying, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This can be due to a myriad of factors, most of which are out of the couple’s control. But the nutrients you fuel your body with are important, and there are supplements for trying to conceive.
While most women will get the nutrients they need for a healthy pregnancy through diet and a prenatal vitamin with folic acid, sometimes certain medical conditions or medications you take prior to trying to conceive need to be reviewed and adjusted to optimize outcomes, explains Jessica Ryniec, M.D., OB/GYN, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at CCRM Fertility in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. “It can be hard to navigate this on your own and so I recommend a preconception counseling visit for most people, especially for those with medical problems that may impact pregnancy,” she says. “Additionally, even without known medical issues, there are certainly some who would potentially benefit from supplements in addition to a good prenatal.”
While most men don’t need to take anything “extra” to optimal fertility health, others could also stand to use a boost here or there. In fact, of all infertility cases, an estimated 40-50 percent of the time, per research published in the Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences. This is often the result of low sperm count and quality, notes Brandon Alleman, M.D. family medicine specialist in Wichita, Kansas and medical consultant for Sesame. “To best increase your chances of fertility, you need your body to be as healthy as possible,” he adds.
Food is, without a doubt, the best way to score your fair share of fertility-boosting nutrients, but supplements can also be helpful in upping amounts of certain nutrients.
Here, doctors share the best supplements for trying to conceive.
This is the best-known fertility supplement, and likely the only one that you really need. A prenatal is basically a multivitamin that contains higher amounts of key vitamins and minerals that are important for pregnancy. “Most prenatal vitamins now also contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid that’s good for baby’s development,” says Sanaz Ghazal, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist and founder and medical director at RISE Fertility in Newport Beach, California.“Make sure the vitamin you select contains 400-800 mcg of folic acid, which is an important vitamin that reduces the risk of neural tube defects in the baby.” She recommends starting a prenatal vitamin 1-3 months before you try to conceive.
This antioxidant provides support for metabolism, but has also been shown to boost fertility, especially in men. Studies have shown that the CoQ10 elevates sperm motility, sperm count, and sperm concentration for males with azoospermia and varicocele issues, notes Canada-based naturopathic doctor and birth doula, Sarah Connors, N.D. “CoQ10 also has a proven track record for increasing fertility for females, so this is a supplement you can share with your partner if the need arises.” While doses can range, she recommends taking between 100-200 mg a day.
Zinc is another supplement that has been shown to be beneficial for men’s reproductive health. “Zinc intake leads to boosts in motility, sperm volume, and standard morphology,” says Dr. Connors. “When there are deficient levels of zinc in the body, men typically experience various sperm irregularities.” She recommends taking between 10 and 50 mg a day.
Research shows that reproductive-aged women are at an increased risk of iron deficiency, so it is especially important to be mindful of your consumption if you’re trying to conceive. “Iron is important for carrying and delivering oxygen throughout the body, and to a growing fetus, and anemia, or iron deficiency, during pregnancy has been associated with preterm delivery, maternal depression, and infant anemia,” says Dr. Connors. While the recommended dose is 27 mg per day for pregnant women, if you have anemia, you may need a higher dose. Just check with your doctor before taking more iron, as too much can have unwanted side effects including constipation, vomiting and high hemoglobin levels.
This essential trace mineral and antioxidant can give men a fertility boost by improving sperm motility, morphology and count, notes Dr. Connors. “This nutrient can eliminate free radical damage, optimize sperm quality for men and provide critical assistance with reproductive health and metabolism,” she says. “Selenium also boosts MDA levels, a key metric for oxidative stress.” She recommends aiming for 50-100 mcg a day.
This powerful vitamin plays a role in several bodily functions, yet an estimated 41.6 percent of Americans are deficient, per research published in the journal Nutrition Research. The best way to score this vitamin is through sun exposure, which is one of the reasons for the high levels of deficiency. For this reason, Laura Erlich, LAc, founder and leading holistic fertility expert, author, speaker, and educator, recommends having your doctor check your vitamin D levels before you start supplementing.
“Ideal blood levels for fertility should be between 50-80 ng/dl, but if your levels are low, you can take a supplement with up to 5000 IU each day,” she says. “Just be sure to have follow up bloodwork in 6-8 weeks, as, once desired levels are reached, you should drop down to 1-2,000 IU each day for the long term.
This nutrient, which can be found in citrus fruits, beans, brown rice, and corn among others, has been shown to improve reproductive outcomes for those with a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which affects an estimated 1 in 10 women, notes Dr. Ryniec. “In some studies, inositol alone has been helpful in restoring ovulation which improves the chance of pregnancy and it is often much better tolerated than the drug metformin, which is prescribed for those with insulin resistance,” she says. “I usually recommend inositol in a ratio of 40:1 myo-inositol to D-chiro-inositol (DCI), typically at a dose of 1000 mg of myo-inositol and 25mg of DCI.”
Omega 3 fatty acids
This good-for-you fat can be found in several foods, including avocados, nuts and fatty fish. It’s important for the development of a baby’s brain in utero and may also protect against preterm delivery. “Maternal levels of this nutrient are important for proper fetal development and supplementing is considered generally safe,” says Dr. Connors. “Dose does seem to vary based on studies considered, but generally somewhere between 800 mg and 2000 mg seems to be helpful.”
This nutrient found in eggs, meat, fish and dairy has been shown to boost the brain development of fetuses in the womb and help prevent abnormalities of the brain and spine. While most prenatal vitamins come standard with choline, Apurva Shah, M.D., OB/GYN and member of the Mira Medical Advisory Board, notes that it is often included at a lower dose. “Recent literature supports including upto 930 mg of choline per day, which should be continued throughout the pregnancy,” he says.
Acai berry extract
This lesser known supplement, which is a powerful antioxidant, has actually been shown to be beneficial for diminished ovarian reserve and ovarian aging, according to Dr. Ryniec. “Animal studies have shown that acai berry extract can improve ovarian and egg health as well as fertility outcomes, including live birth rate for those with age-related infertility,” she says. She recommends taking 400-600mg twice a day to score the benefits of this antioxidant.
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