As anyone who has struggled to conceive knows, infertility can be a hard journey with various — and sometimes overwhelming — treatment possibilities. But there’s one option to boost your baby-making chances that’s relatively simple and non-invasive: your diet — and, more specifically, the micronutrients you get through food or supplements.

Fertility Vitamins

Before you make a beeline to the health food store, though, talk to your doctor. And if you’re wanting specifics to discuss, here’s a look at what vitamins and minerals might be worth your while.

Role of micronutrients infertility

By now, you might expect we’d have the role of vitamins and fertility all figured out. However, that’s not quite the case. Because fertility is a complex equation, and each person’s body is different, the science around micronutrients and conception is still, shall we say, in its infancy.

That said, some promising studies have begun to shed light on the role of vitamins in getting and staying pregnant.

Vitamins play important roles in female health. They’re essential for many functions, including:

  • menstruation and ovulation
  • thyroid function
  • energy production
  • immune function
  • oocyte (egg) quality and maturation

So adequate vitamin and mineral intake are critical when trying to create the right environment for a healthy pregnancy. Some nutrients may even reduce symptoms of the polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common underlying cause of infertility.

In men, studies have shown certain supplements may increase sperm count and motility, helping the little swimmers reach their target.

It’s important to remember, though, that more research is needed. “While promising, the majority of these studies were small and did not have a rigorous methodology,” says Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, chief medical advisor for MegaFood supplements.

We’ve broken down some of the most popular supplements for fertility, with the deets on their use, effectiveness, and dosage.

1. Acetyl L-carnitine

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Helps sperm motility; contains antioxidants that promote a healthy female reproductive system

When you think “vitamins,” acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) may not be the first to spring to mind — but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on your radar. This supplement is a form of the amino acid L-carnitine (LC), which occurs naturally in the body and helps turn fat into energy.

Sometimes ALC and LC are taken in combination to promote fertility in women.

A 2018 review found that, though LC has some benefits for female fertility, ALC has more powerful antioxidants. These are thought to slow age-related changes in the female reproductive system. The review also noted that supplementing with both LC and ALC improved symptoms of:

  • PCOS
  • endometriosis
  • amenorrhea (the absence of a period)

Other research has indicated that both ALC and LC can boost sperm motility in men. Dosing recommendations used to promote male fertility typically range between 1 and 3 grams per day for both ALC and LC. However, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before supplementing with LC or ALC to ensure safety and proper dosing.

2. B vitamins (other than folic acid)

Who they’re for: Women and men

Claimed fertility benefit: Help promote egg health and prevent ovulatory infertility; may give sperm quality a boost

You’ve probably heard folic acid (vitamin B-9) is important before and during pregnancy — we’ll get to that one in a minute. But other B vitamins play a role in fertility, too.

In the Nurses Health Study II — a large, long-running public health study — a higher intake of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6, and B-12 was associated with a lower risk of ovulatory infertility. (“Ovulatory infertility” is when an ovulation disorder is the cause of your infertility.)

Some studies have linked low levels of vitamin B-12 with female infertility. Plus, research shows that having higher levels of B-12 and folate may enhance fertility in women undergoing infertility treatment.

More research is needed, but some experts speculate that B vitamins might help give sperm quality a boost as well.

A B-complex multivitamin can provide adequate amounts of many, if not all, of your daily Bs.

3. Vitamin C

Who it’s for: Men

Claimed fertility benefit: Supports sperm count and mobility

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can reduce cellular damage throughout the body, as well as increase iron absorption. A 2016 review of multiple studies found that taking vitamin C with vitamin E improved the number, mobility, and sometimes DNA integrity (in other words, quality) of sperm in men.

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin C is 90 milligrams (mg) for men and 75 mg for women.

4. Calcium

Who it’s for: Women and men

Claimed fertility benefit: Helps create sperm

To be frank, research isn’t definitive that extra calcium boosts fertility. But it’s important for both men and women to get enough of this mineral to prevent deficiencies. A 2019 study found that calcium deficiency could be a cause of infertility in men since calcium is involved in the production of sperm.

The RDA for adult men and women is 1,000 mg per day. Unless you’re deficient in this mineral, it’s best to get your calcium from healthy dietary sources like full-fat yogurt, not supplements.

5. Coenzyme Q10

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Improves ovarian response in vitro fertilization (IVF); boosts sperm motility

Your body produces coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) on its own, but increasing the amount in your bloodstream may have benefits for baby-making, especially if you’re trying IVF. A 2018 study found that pre-supplementation with CoQ10 improved ovarian response in women undergoing IVF.

Although more research is needed, recent studies (one published in 2019 and one in 2020) suggest that CoQ10 supplementation may improve sperm concentration and motility in men with infertility. That being said, a 2013 review of studies and meta-analysis reported no evidence that it increases live births or pregnancy rates.

6. Vitamin D

Who it’s for: Women and men

Claimed fertility benefit: Improves ovarian stimulation and semen quality

Some studies have linked a deficiency of the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D, to infertility in women. A 2019 analysis found low levels of vitamin D in women who struggled with infertility due to polycystic ovarian syndrome. (However, this wasn’t observed in women with unexplained infertility.)

Vitamin D plays essential role in both female and male reproductive functions. Research has shown that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with infertility in both men and women, so it’s important to be tested for vitamin D deficiency. Get advice from your healthcare provider regarding an appropriate supplemental dose, depending on your levels.

7. Vitamin E

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Increases sperm motility; boosts general female reproductive health

Vitamin E has antioxidant properties that may promote sperm function in men and support general reproductive healthTrusted Source in women, but more research is needed to determine its effectiveness. The RDA of vitamin E for adults is 15 mg.

8. Folic acid

Who it’s for Women

Claimed fertility benefit: Helps achieve pregnancy; improves the outcome of fertility treatments

Getting enough folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) isn’t just a smart choice during pregnancy. It may be wise to supplement when trying to conceive, too.

“Folate supplementation prior to conception has been associated with a greater chance for getting pregnant, improved success with fertility treatments, and reduced risk of neural tube defects in the baby,” says Low Dog. “Though, more testing is needed.”

For pregnant women, the RDA of folic acid is 600 micrograms (mcg). Additionally, it’s recommended that women who are planning to become pregnant or who may become the pregnant supplement with a daily dose of 400 to 800 mcg folic acid starting at least 1 month before becoming pregnant.

9. Iron

Who it’s for Women

Claimed fertility benefit: Prevents iron-deficiency anemia

Ovulatory infertility (one potential barrier to baby-making) can be caused by iron deficiency. A long-term study of more than 18,000 women showed that supplementing with iron appeared to decrease the risk of ovulatory infertility.

If you know you have an ovulatory disorder, talk to your doctor about how to add iron to your diet or supplements.

10. Omega-3s

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Boosts sperm motility; helps achieve pregnancy over age 35

How about that ever-popular omega-3s from fatty fish and other dietary sources?

“When looking at dietary patterns, seafood consumption as part of a healthy diet has been associated with greater fertility in men and women,” notes Low Dog. “While we wait for more research, I would say that if you don’t regularly eat omega-3-rich seafood, taking a supplement may be worthwhile while trying to conceive.”

 

11. Selenium

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Improved semen quality; reduced risk of miscarriage

Selenium may not get much hype, but it’s an important mineral that may have a part to play in the reproductive system.

Research from 2015 reports that a selenium deficiency can be a factor in miscarriage, low semen quality, and poor sperm motility. According to a 2019 study, selenium may also help maintain the health of follicular fluid surrounding women’s eggs.

Since selenium is necessary for the male body to produce sperm, some research has indicated that a selenium and vitamin E combo could improve semen quality and sperm motility. The RDA for selenium is set at 55 mcg per day for adults.

12. Zinc

Who it’s for: Men and women

Claimed fertility benefit: Helps fertilization and egg development; improves sperm quality

Zinc is essential for the formation of sperm, and a handful of studies have suggested that a zinc deficiency might lead to low-quality sperm.

However, the connection between this mineral and male fertility hasn’t been proven. In fact, a 2020 study found that dietary supplements containing zinc and folic acid didn’t improve sperm count, sperm function, or rates of live birth.

As for zinc and female fertility, a 2019 study established that lower levels of this mineral in the blood were associated with a longer time trying to conceive. The current RDA for zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men.

Should you take a multivitamin instead?

Since so many micronutrients may influence fertility, you may find it more convenient to take one high-quality multivitamin, rather than purchase a boatload of individual supplements.

“I highly recommend a good, quality prenatal vitamin,” says Low Dog. “For women, look for a product that contains a minimum of 400 mcg folate (consider using the active methylated form), minimum of 300 mg choline, 150 mcg of iodine, 18 mg of iron, and at least 600 IU vitamin D. For men, look for a multivitamin with adequate antioxidants, providing roughly 200 percent of the daily value for vitamins C, E, and zinc.”

Risks of taking supplements

While most vitamins are sold over the counter, they aren’t necessarily risk-free. Many supplements can negatively interact with medications you may already be taking, causing unpleasant side effects or aggravating existing medical conditions.

Though it may sound far-fetched to overdose on vitamins, it’s also possible to take in excessive doses to the point of harm. Some micronutrients have set tolerable upper intake levels — meaning the amount you can consume before experiencing adverse effects.

To avoid overstepping these bounds, follow dosage instructions on a supplements label, and always consult your doctor before beginning a new vitamin or supplement.

The takeaway

When you’re struggling with infertility, there are so many factors you can’t control — your genetics, your age, an unpredictable cycle, to name a few.

However, providing your body with the best possible nutrition — including vitamins and minerals — is one area where you can take the reins. Work with your doctor to choose the right balance of vitamins to boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

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