What Are The Best Supplements For Fertility? | The PNW Clinic

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.

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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 and pregnancy dietitian, pregnancy couple

 

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

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.

As a bonus, research has found that women who took a multivitamin containing folic acid prior to conception had increased rates of conception and a lower risk of spontaneous abortion (5, 6).

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

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.

 

Vitamin D

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).

 

Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids have a myriad of benefits when it comes to health, including improving fertility. In fact, omega-3 has important roles in (8, 9):

  • 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.

 

Zinc

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.

 

Pregnant Couple With Scan Image, Fertility Nutrition

 

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.

Firstly, omega-3s have antioxidant properties which are important for reducing any inflammation around the reproductive organs and improving sperm quality (18, 19).

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.

 

Antioxidants

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

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

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.

If you want some guidance to get you started, we recommend booking a consultation or a free discovery call with our fertility dietitian Georgia.

Article written by: PNW Clinic Dietitian Georgia D’Andrea

 

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Boost Fertility on a Plant Based Diet – 5 Tips

HOW CAN YOU BOOST FERTILITY ON A PLANT BASED DIET

When should you start thinking about prenatal nutrition?

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive in how to boost fertility on a plant based diet. It’s never too early to start thinking about optimising your diet for fertility. Research suggests that 3 months prior to falling pregnant is thw most important window as it takes 90 days for an egg to mature.  Therefore, the 3 month lead up to conception is a key period to support egg health, optimise chances of conception and build up stores of essential nutrients such as folate, iron and iodine. 

vegan male fertility

Can nutrition impact male fertility?


It takes two to conceive a baby and as such the male’s nutrition is just as important. Sperm maturation takes roughly 60-70 days to occur.  The male partner’s nutrition in the 3 month lead up conception also plays a role. 

Key nutrients that men need to consider include:

  • Zinc: low zinc levels have been associated with infertility. Plant-based sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashews, almonds, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes. Read more on zinc here
  • Vitamin C: This nutrient acts as an antioxidant protecting the sperm from damage. Men with low levels of vitamin C have been found to have a higher likelihood of having sperm dysfunction.
  • Folate: low folate levels are linked with poor quality sperm. Foods rich in folate include broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas, chickpeas and kidney beans.
  • Vitamin E: As a powerful antioxidant this nutrient helps to protect sperm from damage known as oxidative stress. It also helps to improve the motility of sperm (how well they move) and increase sperm count. This nutrient is rich in sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, spinach, pumpkin, sunflower oil and peanuts.
  • Selenium: Lower selenium levels have also been found in men with fertility issues. As a nutrient that is often lower on vegan diets, selenium is one to pay particular attention to. It is richest in brazil nuts, but can also be found in sunflower seeds and beans.

Do plant-based diets improve fertility?


Plant-based diets are often criticised as being insufficient to provide adequate nutrition for pregnancy. However, this is not the case. A well planned vegan diet can meet all the nutritional requirements for a healthy pregnancy. 

Plant-based diets are often higher in antioxidant rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and wholegrains. These are all fertility friendly foods and provide a wealth of health benefits for families trying to conceive

Are you planning to conceive in the next year? Get expert advice from our plant based pregnancy dietitian

There are some nutrients which can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet. These include such as iron, zinc, iodine and omega-3s. This is especially relevant pre- and during pregnancy when nutrient requirements are increased.

 

plant based pregnancy dietitian

 

Here are 5 top tips to improve your fertility whilst on a plant-based diet: 

1: Stock up on dark green leafy veg


Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, rocket and silverbeet are rich in many essential pregnant micronutrients.

In particular, they are a great source of folate. This nutrient is vital in the early stages of pregnancy for foetal development and the prevention of neural tube defects

It is recommended that couples looking to conceive aim to eat 1-2 serves of green leafy vegetables per day (1 serve = 1 cup raw or ½ cup cooked). 

This may look like tossing them into salads, wilting into pasta sauces/curries/casseroles or blending it into a smoothie. 

As dietitians, we always promote a food-first approach which it comes to getting in your nutrients. However, due to the increased requirements for folate in early pregnancy, consuming a prenatal vitamin containing at least 400mcg folate per day is recommended. 

The amount and type you may require can vary from person to person. It may be beneficial to consult our fertility dietitian to determine which supplement is best for you.

 

green leafy vegetables are important to boost fertility on a plant based diet

2: Increase foods rich in plant-based iron 


Iron requirements almost double to 27mg/day when pregnant. Optimising iron stores before falling pregnant is helpful in helping to decrease the risk of becoming deficient during pregnancy.

Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores. This is due to plant-based foods containing non-haem iron. This form is more difficult for the body to absorb, thus requiring a higher amount.

Adding an iron rich food at each meal and snack is essential both pre and during pregnancy.

Those following a plant-based diet require up to 180% more iron than omnivores.

Iron rich foods include:

  • Tofu
  • Soy products
  • Legumes
  • Wholegrains such as amaranth and oats
  • Nuts including almonds and pistacios
  • Seeds particularly pumpkin and hemp seeds
  • Tahini
  • White potato
  • Leafy greens 
  • Fortified products such as weetbix

Consuming a food rich in vitamin C such as citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberry, broccoli and lime juice can help boost absorption further. Add lemon juice to a bean-based salad or use a tomato base in a chickpea curry.

Due to the high requirements of iron during pregnancy, obtaining enough from food can often be difficult and an iron supplement may be necessary. 

Our vegan fertility nutritionist can help guide you further on supplements and assist in developing a nutrition plan with you to boost your fertility on a plant based diet. 

3: Eat plenty of wholegrains


Wholegrains are an important food to boost fertility. This category include foods such as oats, barley, brown rice, freekeh, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, wholegrain bread, flour and pasta. These foods are excellent sources fertility friendly nutrients such as zinc, iodine and iron. These micronutrients are vital during prenatal nutrition but can be more difficult to obtain on a vegan diet. 

Research suggests women who eat more wholegrains have a greater chance of implantation compared to those who don’t. Zinc may also help to reduced the risk of preterm births.

To add more wholegrains into your diet, try:

  • Swapping white bread for wholegrain varieties
  • Having rolled oats as overnight oats or porridge for breakfast
  • Adding freekah into a roasted vegetable salad
  • Swapping white rice for brown rice or quinoa 

4: Boost up your omega-3 


Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role as an anti-inflammatory food for fertility.

They work by decreasing inflammation around reproductive organs which can help improve egg quality, sperm quality, chances of conception and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. 

Good sources of plant-based omega-3s are flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts. These can be added into your morning muesli, made into a chia pudding, blended into smoothies or added to salads. An algae-based omega-3 supplement containing DHA and EPA may also be beneficial to consider. 

Our vegan fertility dietitian can also provide you with a prenatal omega-3 test. This test can help assess your omega-3 status. Your dietitian can use this information to develop an individualised fertility diet plan to improve your levels. 

5: Cut down on processed foods

Highly processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, sugary drinks, ready meals and fake meat alternatives are high in added sugars. 

A diet high in added sugars has been linked to infertility in both men and women. 

In particular, consuming one or more sugary drinks (e.g. soft drinks, energy drinks) per day has been linked to a 20% reduction in the change of conceiving

Processed foods are also often high in saturated or ‘bad’ fats. These fats are associated with negative fertility and pregnancy outcomes.

In Summary

There are many nutrients to consider when trying to boost fertility on a plant based diet. When trying to conceive, it is recommended you fill your diet with an abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and legumes and start on a prenatal supplement regime which is right for you. 

For more individualised advice on how you can optimise your plant-based diet for fertility you can book in to see our plant based fertility dietitian here. 

 

This article was written by fertility dietitian Georgia D’Andrea.