Commencing your fertility journey is always an exciting (yet slightly daunting) time. If you’ve started looking into what you can do to optimise your chances of falling pregnant, you have likely found that diet and the best supplements for fertility can play a pretty important role!
As general and pregnancy dietitians, we always advocate for a food-first approach when it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, when it comes to the preconception period, establishing a good supplement routine also has a place. With so many fertility supplements on the market, choosing the right one for you can be overwhelming.
So, what are the best supplements for fertility that you might want to consider? Our pregnancy nutritionists are here to tell you all you need to know about fertility nutrition and the best supplements for fertility.
What do we know about nutrition and fertility?
Before we get too far into what supplements you need, let’s answer the big question. How important are your diet and nutrition for optimising fertility?
The role of nutrition in supporting fertility is actually not a recent concept. In fact, the link between the two can be dated back as far as Hippocrates (1). In more recent years, many studies have supported the importance of nutritional interventions to optimise fertility in both men and women (2, 3).
A few of the fertility outcomes which can be influenced by diet and nutrition factors include (4):
- Time to conception
- Spontaneous and regular ovulation
- Sperm quality (motility, morphology, concentration)
- Embryo development
- Treatment success using Assisted Reproductive Therapies
- Live birth rates
Fertility supplements for women
The first step when it comes to fertility supplements for women is starting on a prenatal. Not only does a prenatal contain many nutrients with fertility-boosting properties, but they are also useful to help build up nutrient stores in preparation for pregnancy and make sure women are covered when they become pregnant.
As egg development takes around 3 months, it is recommended to ideally start on a prenatal at least 3 months prior to trying to conceive. There are a few nutrients, in particular, that should be covered in your prenatal. These include:
Folic acid is probably the most well-known supplement when it comes to preconception nutrition. If you are going to start on just one supplement, we would recommend it to be folic acid.
Folic acid is key for neural tube development early on in pregnancy. Because so many pregnancies are unplanned and many don’t realise they are pregnant until around 4-6 weeks, it’s recommended women start supplementing as early as possible so that levels are adequate by conception.
A prenatal should contain at least 400mcg of folic acid but ideally 600mcg. However, the dose can be up to 1-5mg for some people such as those with a family history of neural tube defects or who have undergone bariatric surgery. It’s always best to check in with your healthcare team to ensure you’re getting the correct dose.
On the note of folate, it is also worthwhile to mention the MTHFR gene mutation. This is a genetic mutation that impacts the body’s ability to break down folic acid into its active form of folate that the body uses to perform the above functions.
The best way to find out if you have this mutation is through a blood test which you can discuss with your doctor. If you have this mutation, it is recommended that you choose a supplement that also contains folate in its active form. We recommend speaking with your doctor/dietitian about this to find the best one for you.
Iodine is another nutrient that’s essential in a prenatal. Not only is iodine key for early foetal brain development in early pregnancy, but it also plays an important role in egg maturation (7). It is recommended for women to take at least 150mcg iodine daily, but ideally 220mcg.
Recently, more and more research has found associations between vitamin D and positive fertility outcomes. Adequate vitamin D levels have been associated with more positive pregnancy tests and live births (7).
- Production of reproductive hormones and maintaining regular menstrual cycles
- Reducing inflammation around reproductive organs which has positive flow-on effects for improving egg quality and improving chances of successful implantation
- Increasing blood flow to the uterus
A recent study found that women who took an omega-3 supplement in the lead up to pregnancy were 1.5 times more likely to conceive than those who took a pre-conception multi with no omega-3s. However, a big limitation of these findings was that women who were supplemented with omega-3s were also found to be much more health-conscious overall (10).
Supplementation is especially important for those on a plant-based diet (or who don’t eat oily fish at least 2 times per week) as dietary intake won’t be sufficient. We recommend opting for a daily algae oil-based supplement with at least 300mg of DHA.
In women, zinc plays a crucial role in maintaining normal hormonal balance and regular ovulation. This is a foundational step when it comes to optimising your fertility (11). Zinc is also important for healthy egg development, making it one of the best supplements for fertility.
What about antioxidant supplements for female fertility?
Antioxidants are important molecules that fight against free radicals in the body. We want to reduce free radicals as they are compounds that can start to cause us harm when levels get too high.
When it comes to female fertility, antioxidants can play an important role as high levels of free radicals can damage egg quality. They also increase inflammation around the reproductive organs which has negative effects on embryo development and implantation chances (12).
We can get antioxidants through the diet by eating a wide variety of colourful fruits and vegetables as well as nuts, seeds and whole grains. In fact, research suggests that an antioxidant-rich diet may even be more effective than supplements (13).
There is some research backing up the potential benefits of supplementing with antioxidants when it comes to improving female fertility. However, the evidence is quite low quality and it is unclear which antioxidants (or combination of antioxidants) you should supplement with (14).
A common antioxidant supplement that may have some merit is ubiquinol.
Ubiquinol/Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Ubiquinol, also known as coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10, may help boost egg quality by protecting eggs from damage (DNA damage in particular) as well as improving chances of successful ovulation and implantation (15, 16).
There is emerging research that suggests that CoQ10 may be a beneficial supplement to include for women trying to fall pregnant over 35. This is because, although our bodies produce CoQ10 naturally, the amount we produce declines as we age. If you are over the age of 35, this might be a good one to discuss with your pregnancy dietitian to see if it’s right for you. For those under 35, it is likely unnecessary.
What if I have PCOS?
If you have PCOS, your supplement and fertility needs may be slightly different. You can read more about diet and PCOS here and learn about the potential benefits of supplementing with inositols here.
Fertility Supplements for Men
Now that we’ve established the role of supplements in female fertility, what about for men? It takes two to successfully make a baby, yet the impact of fertility supplements for males is often overlooked. However, optimising nutrition for sperm quality is just as important.
We have a whole blog post dedicated to our top tips for optimising fertility (on a plant-based diet) for males already which you can read here.
But to focus more specifically on the role of supplements, the research currently shows that certain male fertility supplements can improve sperm quality. That includes the sperm’s ability to successfully reach and fertilise the egg as well as the quality of DNA that will be passed on to your future child (17).
So, what nutrients should you be looking for in a male fertility supplement routine? Here are the best supplements for fertility for men.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Just as they are great for optimising female fertility, omega-3s are just as important when it comes to male fertility. This is for two main reasons.
Plus, omega-3s are actually a building block of sperm so play a very key role in creating healthy sperm. In fact, one study in particular has found that infertile men have lower levels of omega-3s in their sperm compared to fertile men (20, 21).
As mentioned previously, supplementation is especially important for those on a plant-based diet (or who don’t eat oily fish at least 2 times per week) as dietary intake won’t be sufficient.
As mentioned above, antioxidants are molecules that can help reduce inflammation in the body by fighting against free radicals. Large amounts of free radicals have been found to have multiple negative effects on male fertility including (22, 23, 24, 25, 26):
- Decreased sperm motility which impacts the ability of sperm to reach the egg
- Sperm morphology (the shape of the sperm) which can impact successful egg fertilisation
- DNA damage within the sperm
- Abnormal fertilisation, reduced implantation and poor embryo development
Common antioxidants in well-researched and effective male fertility supplements include vitamins E and C, selenium, lycopene and CoQ10. Current consensus recommends that supplements should be taken for at least 3-6 months for best results (27).
Folate and Folic Acid
Folate has been suggested to help boost sperm count as well as protect the genetic content they contain. This is all important for successful conception (28). However, so far the research suggests that getting enough folate through the diet is likely going to be more beneficial than adding it in as a supplement (29).
Luckily, there are an abundance of folate-rich foods you can consume in the lead-up to conception. These include green leafy vegetables, oranges, Vegemite, chickpeas and fortified breads/cereals.
Zinc and male fertility go hand-in-hand as zinc is essential for sperm maturation. Adequate zinc intake has also been associated with increased sperm count and quality (30).
However, similarly to folic acid, research suggests that supplementing with additional zinc is unlikely to provide much benefit and it is much more important to focus on getting enough through the diet instead (29).
This is especially something you may want to pay attention to if you are following a plant-based diet, where it can be harder to meet requirements. Fortunately, we have a blog post all about getting enough zinc on a plant-based diet which you can read here.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that is crucial for male fertility. More specifically, it plays a role in normal hormone production. Correcting a vitamin D deficiency has also been tied to improving sperm motility (31, 32).
However, supplementation with vitamin D will likely only be beneficial if you are vitamin D deficient. Plus, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin, excess intake will be stored and can cause toxicity. It is important to check in with a health professional before you supplement vitamin D to make sure you aren’t getting too much.
The bottom line on the best supplements for fertility
Although there are many supplements that may help improve both male and female fertility, we recommend consulting with a dietitian first before starting a new supplementation routine. This is because supplementation is highly individualised and the supplements that might be best for you will likely look quite different for each person depending on their needs.
Article written by: PNW Clinic Dietitian Georgia D’Andrea