You’re eating right and getting just the right amount of exercise. You know that if you treat your body well, you can increase your chances of becoming pregnant. And you’re taking your daily fertility vitamins because you know it's important to supplement your nutrition. But do you know what vitamins actually help with?
The term “vitamin" refers to a limited category of nutrients, but it is used more commonly to refer to any number of chemicals that help the body function or grow. True vitamins are named with single letters-- though vitamin B is actually a group of chemicals. Let’s take a look at the effects of fertility vitamins on your body.
Vitamin B is actually a complex of eight chemically distinct vitamins. The B vitamins are interrelated, and some of them require others in order to work. You should make sure your multivitamin includes the complete B vitamin complex. You will often see vitamins B1, B2, and B3 listed as thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, respectively. Vitamin B9, or folic acid, is so important, we’ll talk about it by itself a little later.
Vitamin B6 is linked to fertility in two ways. First, it contributes to the luteal phase of the ovulation cycle. That is the period in which the uterine wall thickens and prepares for the embryo to implant. Second, B6 lowers the level of homocysteine, an amino acid that is associated with heart disease risk. Studies have found that lower levels of homocysteine correlate to higher rates of pregnancy. High levels of homocysteine are also connected to poor sperm quality in men.
Vitamin B12 can increase sperm count, and deficiency of B12 is linked to genetic damage in sperm. Some studies have also linked B12 deficiency in women to problems in ovulation and implantation of a fertilized egg.
Vitamin C regulates hormone levels, especially the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is important in the development of uterine lining, and medications containing progesterone can increase the chance of successful implantation after repeated failure. Studies also show that vitamin C can increase sperm count and sperm quality in men by up to ten times.
Vitamin D deficiency in women has been linked to ovulatory disturbance and polycystic ovary syndrome. In men, research shows a connection between vitamin D levels and sperm motility, and male vitamin D deficiency is also linked to lower fertility rates.
Vitamin D is found in egg yolks and fatty fish, and it is often added to milk. Your body is also able to synthesize its own vitamin D simply through exposure to the sun. However, sunscreen blocks the necessary ultraviolet rays, so be careful about how long you soak up those rays.
Vitamin E deficiency in men is associated with lower sperm quality and motility, and it can lead to long-term testicular damage. In women, increasing the intake of vitamin E may prevent ovulation decline, and could boost the success rate of fertility treatments. It also helps form and maintains the placenta during pregnancy.
Women trying to conceive should take folic acid, but its effects are more important after conception than before. Folic acid helps prevent certain birth defects, particularly spina bifida and anencephaly which affect the brain and spinal column. These defects can develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid has other, everyday health benefits, which is why it’s recommended even to those who aren’t trying to conceive.
Vitamin A & Beta-Carotene
Vitamin A is another nutrient that has more effect after you are already pregnant. Still, it’s important to talk about that effect when you are setting up a vitamin regimen. While vitamin A is important for healthy body functions, including fetal development and breastfeeding, too much vitamin A can cause birth defects. Women who are trying to conceive or who may be pregnant shouldn't take supplements that contain more than 1,500 mcg of vitamin A.
In fact, it may be safer to avoid supplements and get your vitamin A from food in the form of beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A during digestion. Beta-carotene is found in many fruits and vegetables, including cantaloupes, mango, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
Alternative supplements and their effect on fertility
Throughout human history, people have relied on natural remedies to treat health issues, including fertility problems. In many cases, science cannot replicate the results. Companies offer supplements that they claim work in new and unexpected ways, and people around the world extol their benefits. These mixed reviews beg the question: can these traditional cures and new supplements naturally improve your fertility? Perhaps, but science is still seeking answers.
A few traditional and unorthodox treatments deserve a bit more scrutiny, as early research has shown promising results:
- Inositol, in the form of myo-inositol particularly, has been found to be somewhat effective in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It can reduce triglyceride and testosterone levels, decrease blood pressure, and promote ovulation in women with PCOS.
- Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that the human body can naturally produce, but that can also be synthesized in a lab from plants like wild yam and soy. Research is mixed, but some studies suggest that DHEA can increase the chance of becoming pregnant through IVF, and it may also reduce the risk of miscarriage.
- Royal jelly is a milky substance produced by bees that nurture the development of queen bees in the hive. Some research suggests that a vaginal application of royal jelly and other bee products, including honey, may improve fertility in couples that suffer from poor sperm motility.
L-Carnitine and L-Arginine
- L-Carnitine and L-Arginine are just two of your body’s amino acids - the 20 different chemical building blocks of the proteins that make up most of your body’s tissues. These two amino acids may be helpful for improving male fertility. Much research shows that L-carnitine increases sperm count and sperm motility, while l-arginine - in combination with pycnogenol, which is derived from sources like pine bark - may reduce erectile dysfunction.
- Eurycoma longifolia is an evergreen plant whose roots and bark may also improve male fertility. Studies of a Eurycoma longifolia supplement showed that it can increase sperm quality and sperm concentration.
While many swear by the power of natural supplements, researchers are still working to determine the efficacy of them. If you're interested in supplementing your fertility with natural aids, carefully consider your options first. It's important to understand how a treatment interacts with medications you take or conditions you're managing.
Consult with your doctor to determine if supplements have a place in your fertility efforts. Your doctor will recommend the right supplement for you. Understanding their possible effects can help you work with your doctor as you navigate conception and pregnancy.