When you first start thinking about conceiving one of the most common recommendations around fertility supplements is to take a supplement with folic acid. Is folic acid really the only fertility supplement that helps conception? Is it the only vitamin that is important when we are considering getting pregnant? We know a deficiency in folic acid during early pregnancy can result in neural tube development concerns for the developing baby. What about other supplements or nutrients though? Do they also play a role in a healthy pregnancy?
One of the first and, in my opinion, most important things you can do to improve your chance of getting pregnant with a healthy baby is to make dietary changes. One of the comments I will make to patients is you can’t supplement your way out of a poor diet. When we are looking to optimize our health going into a pregnancy, it is important to make sure we cover off four specific areas that can impact our ability to get and stay pregnant, that results in a healthy baby. These areas, even with a healthy diet, often require a little extra support in the form of supplementation.
- Ensure we do not have any basic nutrient depletions. This can generally be accomplished by taking a good quality prenatal vitamin. Please see the blog post on Prenatals to help you decide on a good option for yourself. You want to ensure your prenatal contains active folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate- 5-MTHFR) not just regular folic acid. As well it must have choline for brain development, vitamin D, the active form of B12 (methycobalamin) and a source of iron that is easily absorbed. These are all nutrients that if deficient can impact your ability to conceive and maintain a pregnancy.
- Optimize the functioning of your immune system. Often in cases of infertility, one or both partners can have an underlying autoimmune disorder. One of the most common is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis but can also include concerns such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis. If you have an autoimmune disorder that is active, and your body is producing antibodies, this can have a negative impact on your ability to conceive. There are diet changes and supplement regimes such as using curcumin or black cumin seed that can help support lowering antibodies and improved function of the immune system. In addition, some patients may also require pharmaceutical medications to help based on the guidance of their medical doctor. You should consult with your Naturopathic and Medical doctors about how to ensure you are doing everything you can to minimize the impact of autoimmune disorders.
- Improve your capacity to deal with oxidative damage. This plays a very important role when it comes to quality of both developing egg and sperm. If the sperm or egg are exposed to higher levels of what we call free radicals or oxidants, they can cause problems during the important part of DNA replication. Your body’s ability to deal with free radicals diminishes as you age. This is one of the reasons we see a decline in egg quality and to some extent sperm health as you get older. We’ve also seen a considerable amount of research showing different nutrients can improve the quality of eggs and sperm through their ability to stop the damage that can be caused by oxidation. Nutrients such as CoQ10, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha-lipoic acid, Vitamin E, C and selenium can all play an important role in protecting developing eggs and sperm.
- Optimize your mitochondrial function. You may remember from grade 10 science, that mitochondria are the organelles that produce energy for all the cells in our body. They provide energy to developing eggs and sperm. If you do not have enough energy during egg development we can see concerns with DNA replication which ultimately can cause poor egg quality. For sperm, mitochondria provide the energy enabling sperm to swim to meet the egg. Our mitochondria function also declines with age which can contribute to poor quality in eggs or sperm. Nutrients such as CoQ10, Acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid can all help support healthy mitochondrial function and have been shown in research to improve egg quality and sperm health.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, your food choices will play a big role in the overall quality of your egg or sperm. Fertility supplements and vitamins can help improve your chances of conceiving a healthy baby. For more information on individual nutrients, you can also read our posts on egg and sperm quality as well as on Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).