Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
9 min read
If you’re trying to conceive, you may wonder if there are some proven ways to improve your chances. Supplements can quite possibly be part of the solution.
Female infertility is a condition in which the ability to get pregnant and give birth to a child is impaired in some way. At least 10% of women deal with some type of infertility issue. There are many possible causes of it, though determining the exact cause can be difficult. Some of the factors that can increase the risk of female infertility include advanced age, hormonal imbalances, lack of proper nutrition, oxidative stress from things like smoking (this study found conception rates higher among non-smokers), alcohol use, environmental toxins, and stress. Per this study, incidence of pregnancy was higher after stress levels were addressed.
Hormonal imbalances are among the leading causes of infertility among women. Depending upon the extent of the imbalance, they are often treatable, making conception and pregnancy possible. The entire endocrine system plays a role within the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries that manage hormones. Estrogen levels determine the fertility window in females (your level shouldn’t be either too high or too low), progesterone helps build the uterus lining to prepare for pregnancy (need levels to be sufficient), insulin and blood sugar levels need to be optimal, and thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) should be balanced. Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) helps regulate the menstrual cycle and induce the production of eggs. Luteinizing Hormone (LH), which sends a signal for the body to release a mature egg from the ovaries, generally increases dramatically immediately prior to ovulation.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals your body needs in small amounts in order to function optimally. Since preconception nutrition and female fertility are directly related, it is important to make sure your body is getting adequate amounts of micronutrients. Your physician can easily test for deficiency. The best way to get the nutrients you need is a healthy diet including leafy greens, citrus fruit, bell peppers, oysters, nuts, cashews, dairy products, bananas, black beans, and fish. You could also consider a prenatal vitamin.
The quality of eggs (oocytes) refers to the potential of an egg to lead to a viable and healthy pregnancy. The most significant factors used to determine the egg’s quality are whether the person attempting to become pregnant is past a certain age, whether they smoke or have been exposed to toxins, and whether they have a healthy nutritional status. One study suggests that higher levels of vitamin E can be helpful, while another found that the quality of eggs could be determined by its fat-soluble vitamin content (ADEK).
Oxidative stress negatively impacts oocyte maturation. Supplementation with melatonin may protect oocytes from this stress. According to this study, intake of antioxidant nutrients, including the use of multivitamins, impacts the generation of reactive oxygen species and may play a beneficial role in female fertility.
There is no consensus in the scientific community about the positive impact vitamins have on the potential for fertilization by spermatozoa. But there is widespread agreement that, in general, fertility in both parents can be influenced by diet, lifestyle, nutrition, and micronutrient status. This review on vitamins and fertility in men acknowledges the strong possibility of the influence of vitamins on fertility in men.
B-complex is a combination of B vitamins, many of which may be helpful with both fertility and fetal development. Higher levels of B12 seem to be helpful to female fertility, while B9 (Folate) has been shown to be extremely important to both overall male and female fertility. Vitamin B may even help combat negative effects from pesticides according to one study. B-complex is available individually, or as part of both multi and prenatal vitamins.
Myo-inositol has been useful in issues related to fertility and pregnancy. Several clinical trials have demonstrated that it can have a therapeutic effect in infertile women and that it can be useful as a preventive treatment during pregnancy, helping with both egg and embryo health. Though it was formerly called vitamin B8, myo-inositol is not a vitamin.
Vitamin E deficiencies in men can contribute to improper reproductive functions, as well as poor sperm quality and mobility. Deficiencies in women have also been linked to poor fertility. Vitamin E’s antioxidant properties are believed to have a positive impact on sperm count and function, as well as on reproductive health in women trying to become pregnant. It is possible to get vitamin E through a healthy diet that includes almonds, peanuts, avocado, red pepper, mango, rainbow trout, and lobster. It is also available in supplement form, but it is best to check with your physician before increasing your intake, as too much E can have some negative side effects.
Vitamin C is packed with antioxidants that are beneficial to the overall health of all people. The antioxidants are believed to help repair the damage of oxidative stress which may be a contributing factor in both male and female infertility. There is also some research indicating that sperm quality and motility can be improved with vitamin C, though further research on all claims is necessary. Vitamin C is available in a healthy diet abundant in citrus fruit, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, berries, potatoes, and peppers of all colors. It is also available as a supplement in capsule, liquid, powder, and chewable form. Vitamin C is water-soluble, so the human body excretes what it doesn’t use through urine. If you intend to supplement, it is important to monitor your intake on a daily basis. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for healthy adults is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women.
Omega 3s, which are found in fish oil supplements, are an important source of fat for the body, providing energy and keeping cell walls functioning. They are found in foods like fatty fish (salmon, cod, and trout), shellfish, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and green leafy vegetables. If you are lacking omega-3s in your diet, supplements can help. Research has shown that women taking omega-3s are more likely to conceive naturally than those who don’t. Other research has indicated that omega-3s help with semen motility and overall male fertility.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is essential for nearly 100 enzymes to carry out vital functions like cell growth, damaged tissue repair, and supporting a healthy immune system. It is found in shellfish, beef, poultry, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fortified breakfast cereals. It is important for sperm quality as well as female fertility, pregnancy, and cell growth. Zinc is also essential for the process of a complete egg fertilization.
Selenium is a trace mineral that is part of proteins and enzymes called selenoproteins. Selenoproteins help to make DNA, protect against cell damage, and are involved in the metabolism of thyroid hormones. Selenium is essential for fertility and helps with sperm quality. It also supports thyroid health and can be converted into glutathione, a major antioxidant. Selenium can be found in beef, turkey, chicken, Brazil nuts, and fortified cereals.
CoQ10 is an essential nutrient that works like an antioxidant in the body. It supplies cells with energy, transports electrons, and helps other enzymes work properly. Its antioxidant properties can increase egg quantity and quality, and one study found that a deficiency of CoQ10 can drive age-related infertility. It may also help with sperm motility and quality, according to another study. Most people obtain sufficient levels of CoQ10 with a diet including fatty fish (salmon, tuna), organ meats, and whole grains. It is also available in supplement form.
Vitex Agnus-Castus is a plant used in herbal medicine that, according to this study, when combined with Maca Root, can increase the likelihood of getting pregnant. It has also proven to help with PMS symptoms. One study shows that it can manage prolactin, LH, testosterone, and progesterone levels.
Acetyl L-Carnitine can support sperm motility, though there is not enough evidence to claim any significant impact on pregnancy after carnitine therapy.
Folic Acid (folate), also known as B9, is an essential vitamin known to prevent neural tube defects. Adequate folate levels are essential as the levels needed increase in pregnant people. There was a correlation between higher levels of folate and higher levels of birth rates after assisted reproduction technology treatment according to this study. The RDA of folic acid is 400 mg, then increases to 600 mg.
Alpha-Lipoic Acid could play a promising new role in couple fertility, according to this study. It may promote cycle regularity, egg maturation and fertilization, and embryo development, though more clinical studies are needed.
Positive lifestyle changes can help prepare you for pregnancy. Some of these changes can include exercising, stopping smoking, cutting down on your alcohol and caffeine intake, and staying hydrated. The stress of unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant may also factor into your infertility. Seek out stress-relief options like meditation, yoga, exercise, or even counseling. Supplements like a prenatal or multivitamin might also be considered. As always, consult with your physician about your best next steps.
Typically, if you are a part of a healthy couple that’s been trying to conceive for six months to one year, it’s probably time to consult a fertility specialist. There are, however, certain other factors, like age and overall health, that could hasten your decision to make that appointment. Your physician can help with this process.
At least 10% of people trying to become pregnant are struggling with infertility. And among those, one-third is due to female infertility, one-third to male infertility, and one-third to a combination of issues. The good news is that there are solutions that result in healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. It’s not always an easy journey, however. They involve diagnostic testing, medical procedures, uncertainty, and unplanned expenses. There are also many options available to anyone experiencing infertility. Make your choices in conjunction with your healthcare provider, including whether to use supplements. Almost everyone takes a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin as soon as they decide to conceive. Aside from that, let the professionals help guide you.