TRYING TO GET PREGNANT – do you really need “fertility” supplements?
Posted on 15th November 2023
The correct nutrient intake is vital to produce adequate sperm, to produce quality eggs, to ovulate and maintain pregnancy.
Taking nutritional supplements can help support a balanced diet in ensuring you have the nutrient reserves to support your fertility.
But, do we really need supplements, can't we get all our nutrients from diet alone?
The NHS advises that all women start to take 400mcg folic acid daily when trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is because women require up to 10x more folate during pregnancy in order for a baby to grow healthily. If a woman has healthy levels of folic acid before getting pregnant, the risk of the baby developing neural tube defects, such as Spina bifida, is reduced by up to 70%.
Our typical Western diet, high in sugar, refined carbs, saturated fats and a low intake of fibre is linked to inflammation and has an adverse effect on our gut microbiome. Chronic inflammation in the body can make it more difficult to conceive.
A healthy gut microbiome not only plays an important role in the production and bioavailability of key vitamins that are needed for optimal fertility, but can also balance hormone levels and support a healthy vaginal microbiome in women and increase testosterone levels in men.
Alcohol and sugar can deplete the body of key fertility nutrients such as vitamin A, the B vitamins (including folate), vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium as well as having an adverse effect on our delicate gut microbiome.
However, the list of fertility supplements to take can be overwhelming - and are all these supplements necessary or are you wasting your money?
If a couple is just starting out to conceive I recommend covering basic nutrients that are proven to enhance fertility:
1) A general fertility multi vitamin/mineral : made specifically to enhance fertility:
For women: a good range of vitamins & minerals including the B vitamins and folate (this is the natural form of folic acid and is easier for the body to use), vitamin D, iron, zinc, iodine
For men : this should include nutrients that optimise sperm health such as selenium, zinc, vitamin D, the B vitamins, co-enzyme Q10
Some people may need an additional dose of Vitamin D : I recommend a simple blood test to check your vitamin D status and then take the correct dosage for your body
2) An Omega 3 supplement - made from wild sustainably caught fish, low in mercury. There are numerous studies highlighting the benefits of supplementing omega -3 in relation to both male and female fertility.
3) A probiotic that contains a number of strains to support fertility, in particular the Lactobacillus strains such as Lactobacillus rhamonus, Lactobacillus reuteri and Lactobacillus plantarum.
Beware of any nutrients that have little evidence of safety or efficacy. For example, certain supplements may exacerbate the problems of poor egg quality, for example women should take caution with L-arginine, as there is inconsistent evidence to support its use in women.
Advice needs to be taken if you are on medication as certain supplements may be contraindicated, for example omega 3 supplements and blood thinning medication.
It is important to always check with a health professional before taking supplements to check they are safe for you. A health professional could be your doctor, a pharmacist or a nutritional therapist. This is especially important if you are taking medication and/or other supplements. Some supplements companies have in-house experts that you can chat with who can give you personal guidance.
A 2021 review concluded that many fertility supplements contain ingredients that research has not found effective, and the authors suggest that many dietary supplements for fertility are not as effective as the manufacturers claim.
So how do you know if the brand of supplement you are looking to buy has nutrients proven to support fertility, at optimum dosages?
Things to consider:
when choosing a general all round multivitamin/mineral supplement - choose one that is specifically made to support fertility
Choose a brand that uses nutrients in as natural a form as possible (for example look for folate, rather than it's chemical form : folic acid) and is without added fillers and binders. Ingredients to avoid include: anti-caking agents such as magnesium stearate, acacia gum talc, sucrose, silicon dioxide, potato maltodextrin, microcrystalline cellulose.
Why is it important to avoid these?
These ingredients can cause adverse reactions and certain anti-caking agents can interfere with the absorption of key nutrients such as iron, zinc and magnesium, all key fertility nutrients.
My favourite supplements for fertility
I particularly like the fertility supplements for men & women made by Wild Nutrition. Fertility Collection | Natural Fertility Supplements | Wild Nutrition | Wild Nutrition
General Probiotic :Gut Love – The Naked Pharmacy
Omega 3 supplement : Bare Biology | Omega-3 & Collagen Supplements You Can Trust
If you would like to speak to a professional and get personal recommendations, you can book a 30 minute session here
So, if I take these supplements, will they help me to get pregnant?
Experience has shown me that to optimise fertility, conception and giving birth to a healthy baby requires a holistic approach for both men and women.
By this I mean addressing foundational pillars. These include:
By prepping your body before conceiving, you are not only improving your health and your fertility, but also helping your future child be in the best health possible for growth and development.
If you've been eating a standard Western diet rich in refined, carbs, processed foods, sugar, alcohol, caffeine - you may be deficient in key nutrients that are essential for fertility and have increased inflammation.
Elevated levels of inflammation negatively affect sperm and egg quality, reducing fertilisation and conception rate.
Most Western diets tend to overdose on inflammatory omega-6 oils and under consume anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils.
Omega-6 oils are mainly found in vegetable oils such as sunflower and corn oils, while the highest amount of omega-3 oils is found in:
oily fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies
seeds: chia, flaxseed, hemp, pumpkin, walnuts
Adopting the principles of a wholefood Mediterranean Diet can be a good start as this diet is high in fruit & veg and healthy fats, such as olive oil and avocadoes.
If you are Vegan, you need to manage your diet carefully to get the right amount of protein and be aware that you may be prone to other nutritional deficiencies that can affect fertility such as low levels of vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, iron and omega 3 oils.
Reduce/avoid processed "vegan" foods as these are high in omega 6 fats, which are inflammatory.
Additional dietary guidelines specific to women:
Seed Cycling: The basic idea is that during the first half of your cycle (pre-ovulation) you provide estrogen support by eating seeds that boost your body’s natural production of estrogen and that assist your body in processing it appropriately (flax and pumpkin). This means they boost the right kind of estrogen and block excess inappropriate estrogen.
Then, during the second half of your cycle (post-ovulation, or your “luteal phase”) you eat seeds that provide progesterone support to help the successful implantation of a healthy embryo (sesame and sunflower).
A note about fasting & women:
Protect your progesterone : don't fast during the 5-7 days before menstruation, as progesterone is very sensitive to fasting.
My approach to helping clients with their fertility (at least 3 months - as this is the average time it takes for quality eggs and quality sperm to be produced in the body)
1) Start them on a personalised fertility diet, adopting a Mediterranean lifestyle if appropriate, plus:
For women: focus on cruciferous veg, seed cycling
For men: lower alcohol and red meat consumption, daily anti-oxidant-rich smoothie
2) Start basic fertility supplements (ie. a general fertility supplement, an omega 3 , a probiotic and possibly additional vitamin D)- women need to start folic acid (ideally taken as folate) at least a month prior to conception.
3) Functional testing can help to identify underlying health dysfunction which can impact fertility (for example nutritional or hormonal imbalances). I like to use Functional DX Fertility - Functional DX.
If you would like to speak to a professional and seek personal advice then book an introductory session here
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