Everyone knows that once baby is on the way, a well-known world of dietary changes and prenatal supplements await you. But what about when we are trying to conceive? Are fertility supplements cleverly marketed placebos, or helpful remedies containing nutrients vital to conceiving and supporting a healthy pregnancy?
A quick google search suggests many prospective mothers have the same question -- typing in ‘fertility supplements’ returns almost 9 million google hits in under half a second. One website sings the praises of a certain herb where dozens of women swear it cured their infertility, while the next site declares there aren’t any studies or a smidge of scientific evidence that suggests that same herb is worth your precious time or money. What’s a woman, or couple, to do with all of this contradictory information?
I am often asked if over the counter fertility supplements can actually boost a patient’s chances of conception, or if they are simply smoke and mirrors. What I tell my patients is that, yes, nutraceutical supplements are worth your time. What fertility supplements actually do is provide you with necessary nutrients that are lacking in today’s culture of processed and fast foods.
Here’s my cheat sheet to navigating the overwhelming world of fertility supplements.
What to Look for in Fertility Supplements:
- A great prenatal. This should have a minimum of 800 mcg of Folate.
- CoQ10. This supplement can help your body repair from free radical damage caused by our environment and gives mitochondria, the powerhouse of our cells, a rejuvenating boost (potential anti-aging supplement, anyone?)
- Inositol. A wonderful supplement for cycle regulation and mood stability, Inositol is particularly beneficial for women with PCOS.
- Vitamin D. I recommend getting your levels tested, as most of us do not get anywhere near enough sunshine to fill our body’s Vitamin D quota, especially in NYC.
- A good probiotic. This should be on everyone’s list, trying to conceive or otherwise! Many illnesses start in the gut, and an influx of healthy gut flora helps prevent those. This is especially important if you are taking antibiotics or have had gut issues in the past. When we take proper care of our digestive system, the whole body thanks us.
- Fish Oil. A wonderful anti-inflammatory supplement that is also good for baby’s brain and eye development. Unless you are eating high quality, low-mercury fish several times a week, you are likely not getting enough omega-3s for ideal preconception.
- Magnesium. While not necessary for conception, I recommend considering this supplement if stress is a factor for you. For most people, magnesium helps decrease stress and improve sleep (you can take it right before bed for maximum benefit).
When choosing supplements, be sure to do your brand research. The companies that you want to put your trust in will be reputable and focused on research, quality control and superior ingredient sourcing, so make sure you ask your healthcare provider if questions arise. They can help you identify natural vs. synthetic ingredients – for example, in prenatals, folate is naturally occurring while folic acid is a synthetic compound.
There are subtle but important differences in many supplements, even if the labels have the same claim.
What to Watch out For
There are a few things to watch out for. Be aware of fillers used by larger companies, such as artificial coloring, GMOs and even hydrogenated oils. Be mindful of all-in-one claims as well, as a supplement that has everything you need in one pill will ultimately end up sacrificing something. As far as I know, there is not a magic pill that contains all of the nutrients needed for fertility.
Supplements for Men
Supplements aren’t just for women, either. L-Carnitine and L-Arginine have both been shown to increase both sperm count and motility, and zinc boosts testosterone levels in studies.
Go Beyond the Supplements
Beyond fertility supplements I recommend making sure the basics are taken care of. This is just as important when trying to conceive. For example, focus on making sure you are properly hydrated, getting all of the nutrients you need, and sleeping for at least 7 hours each night. Set aside time in your day to do something you love that gives you a sense of peace - for example, exercising or meditation. These stress-releasing techniques will help you get into alignment, physically and mentally, with the energy needed to create life.
Once pregnant, make sure you see your doctor or trusted health care provider to determine exactly what your unique body needs for a healthy pregnancy and joyful baby.