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 multivitamin because you know, vitamins are important; but, do you know what they ‘re exactly doing for you?
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 vitamins and how they can improve your fertility.
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, so 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, 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 both in ovulation and in the 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 in the United States. 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 main
tain the placenta during a 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, but 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 think they may be pregnant should avoid taking supplements that contain more than 1,500 mcg of vitamin A.
In fact, it is 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.
It is important to know how the nutrients you take affect your chances of becoming pregnant. Your doctor will recommend the right supplement for you, but understanding their possible effects can help you work with your doctor as you navigate your way through conception and pregnancy alike.