Are there supplements to help me get pregnant?

Are there supplements to help me get pregnant?

Nicole Knight, AHCJ | February 7, 2020 | trying to conceive

When you’re trying to conceive, it’s natural to consider increasing your daily intake of vitamins and minerals because prenatal vitamins are, of course, a must — but also for a holistic fertility boost. In fact, by one estimate, nearly one-third of American couples have tried fertility supplements and alternative remedies with the aim of supercharging their fertility (1). 

And why not? Some fertility supplements may claim to support a healthy pregnancy and combat conditions affecting fertility, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). But it’s fair to wonder whether the hottest fertility herb on Amazon is just a skillfully marketed placebo, or actually backed by scientific evidence. 

It’s an excellent question, particularly because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require most supplement-makers to prove the effectiveness of their products in clinical studies. Yes, really.

Even when there is research, it may poorly done (such as with vitamin B-6), or show no discernible health benefit (such as with red clover) (2, 3). So it’s often hard to know what information to trust as you consider the multitude of fertility supplements available on the market. 

We’re here to help. We’ve compiled the latest research on fertility vitamins and herbs to let you know which ones have evidence-based benefits. And we’ve looked at two popular commercial fertility aids to see whether science says they work or not.

One quick note — before trying any of the fertility aids we mention below, consult your healthcare provider. They can steer you clear of potential drug interactions or side effects related to your health history or medications and supplements you’re already taking.

 

Folate (folic acid)

Taking folic acid may help you get pregnant and stay pregnant, according to multiple studies of this type of B vitamin. Women who took a multivitamin with folate had a significantly lower risk of developing ovulatory infertility, ovulated more regularly, and became pregnant more quickly than women who didn’t take multivitamins with folate — and researchers largely credited folate with these benefits (4, 5). 

Research also has linked higher levels of folate in the bloodstream to an uptick in luteal phase progesterone — which could be a giant win for your fertility. Progesterone is a hormone that’s essential for making your endometrium a welcoming environment for implantation AND sustaining pregnancy (5, 6). When researchers investigated whether folate would benefit women undergoing IVF, they found that women who took a daily multivitamin (containing 400 micrograms of folic acid) had a 16% higher probability of pregnancy than women who weren’t taking the multivitamin (5).

If you’re wondering about how much folate to take, guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend getting at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily, but talk to your provider about the appropriate amount for you (7).

Unfortunately, folate appears not to carry the same potential fertility-powers for men. The latest clinical research found no improvement in semen quality (sperm concentration, motility, volume, or morphology) in men taking in daily supplements of 5 mg of folic acid, plus 30 mg of zinc. Taking this combination also didn’t improve couples’ live birth rates when compared to couples in the placebo group, according to a brand new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (8).

Although these findings conflict with an earlier meta-analysis (an analysis of many, many studies) that showed some benefit from folate and zinc on semen quality, the authors of the meta-analysis weren’t super confident of the results due to flaws in the underlying research (8).

 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C shows the potential to address luteal phase issues, which subsequently may increase the likelihood of conceiving, according to a study in Fertility and Sterility. Researchers found that women with a short luteal phase conceived more quickly after taking vitamin C daily than women with the same luteal phase issue who weren’t taking vitamin C (9).

Meanwhile, a separate study showed that men seeking infertility treatment with their partner who took a supplement of vitamin C plus beta carotene (found in carrots) had more success impregnating their partners than men who didn’t take the supplement (10).

 

Vitamin D

PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility, potentially affecting your hormones, ovulation, and menstruation (11). As many as 85% of women with PCOS may also be deficient in vitamin D, and now a paper in Clinical Endocrinology suggests that taking vitamin D daily may not only address the symptoms of PCOS but also increase the likelihood of successful pregnancy. Vitamin D seemed to somehow combat hyperandrogenism, a condition where a surplus of androgens (male hormones) prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg (12). 

A more recent study in Clinical Nutrition linked Vitamin D supplements to blood sugar and hormonal regulation, which may have implications for female fertility, but it’s too soon to say (13).

 

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

CoQ10, a naturally occurring antioxidant, prevents cellular damage and may confer some fertility benefits (14, 15). One study found that pregnancy rates were a tad higher in women who took 200 mg of CoQ10 three times a day compared to women who didn’t take the supplement. However, the difference wasn’t statistically significant, and more research is needed to suss out the potential benefits of CoQ10 (15).

 

Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) and L-carnitine (LC)

Acetyl L-carnitine (ALC) and L-carnitine (LC) are a pair of antioxidants that may help improve conditions that affect fertility, such as endometriosis, PCOS, and amenorrhea (missed or absent periods). Studies of ALC and LC alone, and in combination with other nutrients and antioxidants, suggest they have the potential to restore reproductive functioning in women with these conditions, perhaps by attacking free radicals (16). 

 

Chasteberry

Chasteberry is an herbal supplement derived from the plant Vitex agnus-castus, which may confer possible benefits in the luteal phase, possibly thereby increasing fertility (17, 18). A German study of women with luteal phase defects due to very high levels of prolactin showed that a daily dose of 20 mg of chasteberry helped lengthen the luteal phase and improved progesterone synthesis (17). 

 

Do fertility dietary supplements work?

Science shows some fertility aids may increase your fertility (possibly because many contain the same fertility-boosting vitamins and herbs we just discussed!?). 

For example, one small study showed that women who’d tried unsuccessfully to conceive for three years and then took FertilityBlend® (which contains chasteberry and folate, among other ingredients) had a pregnancy rate more than three times higher than women in the control group who didn’t take FertilityBlend (18). 

Similarly, a small randomized study among women with PCOS investigated whether taking the fertility aid Vitacap® in conjunction with Clomid could improve fertility. The results? Twenty-two percent of the women who took Vitacap became pregnant, compared to just 2% in the control group (19).

However, bear in mind that these studies were small, with just 93 women in the FertilityBlend research and 200 in the Vitacap study. So, while these fertility aids may work for some women, larger clinical studies are needed to more fully understand the potential fertility benefits.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already, try an evidence-based fertility diet (more on that here) for a healthy fertility boost for you and your partner. Considering making other lifestyle changes — quit smoking or vaping, pass on those alcoholic beverages, or try a yoga class — to give you and your partner the best shot at natural baby-making. 

A side benefit? You’ll feel better — in body and mind.



Photo by Brandless on Unsplash

References:

  1.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2860047/
  2.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30570133
  3.     https://nccih.nih.gov/health/redclover/ataglance.htm
  4.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5850828/
  5.     https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(18)30428-X/fulltext
  6.     https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4436586/
  7.   https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Nutrition-During-Pregnancy
  8.   https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2758450 
  9.   https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(03)00657-5/fulltext
  10.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31287143
  11.   https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Polycystic-Ovary-Syndrome-PCOS
  12.   https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2265.2012.04434.x
  13. https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S0261561419301207?token=665A23D9DDA1C4E3D8E722F6AD3068DD61C53E2C2C606BD722880405CD2702DFD8C66FD5DA13E5BC3EFA5A1F8B6B525E
  14. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/coenzyme-q10-pdq
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5870379/
  16. https://rbej.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12958-018-0323-4
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8369008
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17211965
  19. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f730/503057bf555098bb441bda6f0c90a8552c2b.pdf