Vitamins, minerals and supplements to increase fertility
Your nutrition is important when trying to get pregnant. Below are extracts from my fertility book on what vitamins and supplements to take to increase your chance of conceiving and having a healthy baby.
You should try and have most of these vitamins in your daily diet, depending upon your infertility problem.
Agnus castus - can help to reduce PMS and regulate the menstrual cycle. However, it may have an effect on fertility hormones and could increase levels of LH, oestrogens or progesterone. I therefore do not recommend taking this supplement if trying for a baby. If you have PMS or an irregular menstrual cycle, acupuncture and Chinese herbs can be used instead.
Alpha lipoic Acid (ALA) - also known as thioctic acid. It’s present in the body in small quantities where it reacts with B group vitamins to speed up metabolic reactions needed for energy production. It’s a powerful antioxidant that enhances other antioxidants such as Vitamin C and E. I recommend a daily dose of 50-100mg.
Bee pollen - is a rich source of protein and vitamin B12 and is considered one of nature’s most completely nourishing foods for people. In Chinese medicine, it is used to enhance jing, yin and blood levels. I recommend a daily dose of 2-5g.
Beta-carotene - is converted in vitamin A only when the body needs it. It is an antioxidant and can help to prevent damage by free radicals. Do not take if you have hypothyroidism. Beta-carotene can be found in spirulina, apricots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, carrots, mangoes and peaches. I recommend a daily dose of 3-6mg. Men should reduce their intake of this compound as it can reduce testosterone levels.
Biotin - is essential in the synthesis and metabolism of glucose, fatty acids, amino acids and stress hormones. As biotin has the potential to improve glucose metabolism by stimulating insulin secretion, it can be of benefit to women with PCOS, who are often insulin resistant. Biotin is found in meat, oily fish, whole grains, rice, nuts, cauliflower and egg yolk. More biotin is needed during breast-feeding. I recommend a daily dose of 30mcg increasing to 35mcg whilst breastfeeding.
Calcium - we all know that calcium is important for our bones. Around 99% of the calcium we consume goes into our bones and teeth. It plays an important role in blood clotting and the production on energy. Calcium is absorbed in the small intestine, which is dependent upon vitamin D. Calcium is found in milk and dairy products, eggs, broccoli, tinned salmon, nuts and seeds. I would suggest not sourcing calcium from dairy products as it can weaken the digestive system, which weakens the body and fertility. Caffeine affects the absorption of calcium. During pregnancy around 50% of the mother’s reserves are taken by the baby, so stocking up before and not drinking coffee is beneficial. I recommend a daily dose of 1000mg, increasing to 1500mg when pregnant.
Chlorella - also known as blue algae is similar to spirulina. It helps to tonify the essence (jing) and is ideal to improve sperm quality. It contains vitamins B, C and E as well as zinc and iron. As it can boost the immune system (Th1 cells) much like spirulina, I would only recommend that men take this supplement. I recommend a daily dose of 5g.
Choline - is vital for the development of your baby’s memory in future life. It becomes depleted during pregnancy and lactation. Egg yolks and green leafy vegetables are a good source of choline. I recommend a daily dose of 450mg.
Chromium - deficiency in chromium is thought to be common and linked to glucose intolerance, weight gain, depression, infertility and a decreased sperm count. Chromium is found in egg yolk, red meat, cheese, fruit, fruit juice, whole grains, honey, vegetables, black pepper and thyme. I recommend a daily dose of 30mcg.
Cod liver oil - contains important omega 3s and vitamin A. However, as the level of vitamin A within cold liver oil is difficult to determine it’s easy to overdose on, which can lead to birth defects. I would therefore recommend avoiding cod liver oil supplements when trying to conceive or when pregnant.
Coenzyme Q10 - also known as ubiquinone, it is a vitamin like substance that processes oxygen in cells and to generate energy rich molecules. It is vital in male fertility where the man suffers from poor sperm mobility. Although popular on the internet for female infertility, there is very little research to back this up. It’s only been shown to help atrial follicle count (AFC) when taken together with DHEA at a daily dose of 600mg and DHEA at 25mg. It’s therefore assumed that it could help with embryo quality, but this is still unclear. Coenzyme Q10 is found in meat, fish, eggs, whole grains, nuts and green vegetables. I recommend a daily dose of 600mg.
Copper - is an essential trace element that is found to be deficient in most people. It helps with oxygen and iron transportation as well as the breaking down of fat cells into energy. A deficiency of can cause anemia, weight gain and fertility problems. Copper is found in liver, nuts, wholegrain cereals, dried prunes, avocados, artichokes, radishes, garlic, mushrooms and green vegetables. I recommend a daily dose of 1-2mg.
Dong quai (dang gui) - is a Chinese herb that’s used a lot in Chinese medicine to tonify the blood, regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle and relieve pain. It contains phytoestrogens, so should be used with caution if self prescribing. Dang Gui is a root and is split into three sections; the head has anticoagulant effects and should therefore be avoided in high doses in pregnant women or those breast-feeding, the middle part is a tonic, whilst the tail is used to move blood stagnation. Its use should be stopped one month before starting an IVF cycle. I would recommend seeing a qualified Chinese herbalist if you are considering taking this herb as it’s difficult to know what part of the root is being sold in health food stores.
DHA - stands for docosahexaenoic, an omega-3 essential fatty acid. DNA appears to be essential in brain development and growth, ultimately affecting learning abilities. Around 50% of the brain’s DNA is formed during the fetal stage, whilst the remaining 50% is formed in the first year of birth. DHA is especially important for breast-feeding mothers where it helps in the development of the baby’s eyes and brain in the first 6 months of life. DHA has been shown to improve semen quality by reducing damage caused by free radicals (ROS). Consumption of polyunsaturated vegetable oil (omega6s) can inhibit the formation of DNA. Good sources of omega-3s are oily fish, algae, walnuts and flaxseeds. I recommend a daily dose of 14g.
DHEA - is a natural sex hormone that exists in both men and women that decreases with age. It increases male and female hormones. It has been shown to reverse some signs of aging, for example, poor egg quality and aging skin. The ideal daily dose is 25-75mg a day. Do not take DHEA in doses higher than 50-100mg a day or for more than 3 months. The body needs to create this hormone, so you cannot get it in foods like yam or soy. It is available as a supplement (not currently available in the UK). Soy (dan dou chi) and liquorice (gan cao) can increase the effects of DHEA in the body. Do not take if you have a family history of cancer, Autism or have high testosterone levels.
Folic acid (vitamin B9) - is well known for its benefits in fertility and the only supplement recommended by western medicine (4mg daily), yet only 28% of women take it when pregnant. It not only helps prevent a form of anemia but also prevents birth defects such as spina bifida when taken during the first few weeks of pregnancy. Folic acid also helps to offset the side effects of metformin, where it increases levels of homocysteine. Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables and whole grains. I recommend a daily dose of 400mcg and 800mcg to lower levels of homocysteine. It’s important not to overdose on folic acid, too much can be harmful to your baby. New research has found that mothers who had four times the amount of folic acid in the body doubled the risk of their baby developing Autism. Some cereals and breads are fortified (additionally added) with folic acid. Read the labels of foods you eat to make sure you don’t consume too much in your diet.
Ginseng - is a root herb that boosts energy levels. It contains phytoestrogens, so might be a problem for women with high estrogen levels. It’s generally ok to take during pregnancy but not when there are signs of hypertension, pre-eclampsia or immune type infertility. Recent research has shown that combining red ginseng with vitamin C can increase NK and T cell levels including CD25 and CD69. This could be a problem for women with immune type infertility and for this reason I recommend that women do not take this supplement. I would only recommend that men take this supplement. I recommend a daily dose of 5g.
Green tea - green, white and black teas all come from the same shrub; Camellia sinensis. Black tea is fermented green tea. The antioxidants in green tea extracts are 100 times more powerful than vitamin C and 25 times more powerful than vitamin E. It can help reduce excessive weight, blood pressure and blood stickiness thereby improving fertility. However, green tea still contains caffeine, which can affect the absorption of calcium. It also contains tannin, which can affect the absorption of iron. I would therefore limit drinking tea to a few cups a day and decaf if possible.
Iodine - is an essential trace element that is vital for the production of two thyroid hormones thyroxin (T4) and tri-iodothyronine (T3). A deficiency of iodine may lead to an underactive thyroid and in new-borns a condition called cretinism. In conjunction with iron, it helps to replace blood loss occurring during menstruation. Iodine is found in fish, seaweeds and unrefined sea salt. Most salts are refined and have been stripped of nearly all their sixty trace elements and replaced with fortified iodine. Try to use salt that hasn’t been refined or altered. I recommend a daily dose of 200mcg.
Iron - is an essential mineral needed for the production of hemoglobin, the red blood pigment which transports oxygen and carbon dioxide around the body. Vegetarians, menstruating and pregnant women tend to be deficient in iron. Half of all women in Asia are iron deficient. Iron requirements double during pregnancy as a mother’s red blood cell and hemoglobin count increases by 30%. Iron in pregnancy is important as a lack of it can lead to anemia, however too much iron in pregnancy may lead to pre-eclampsia, although this is rare. Iron together with vitamin B12 and folic acid are needed to increase blood levels. To absorb iron, there needs to be adequate levels of copper, B vitamins and vitamin C. Taking a liquid iron supplement is ideal in a glass of fruit juice as the vitamin C helps with absorption. Stools maybe dark in color, which is normal. If constipation occurs, try taking a ‘friendly iron’ supplement. Iron is found in red meats, sardines, wheat germ, whole meal bread, egg yolk, green vegetables and dried fruit. I recommend a daily dose of 18mg increasing to 27mg when pregnant. If your blood test comes back as iron deficient (ferritin ug/liter <30), then I recommended a daily dose of 100mg.
L-arginine - is an amino acid that can help with sperm health and improve fertility in women. L-arginine forms the basis of nitric oxide, am inactive free radical that is protected by antioxidants. Nitrtic oxide is found in sperm and is needed for good motility. Seminal fluids contain around 25% l-arginine. It also aids blood flow to the penis thereby improving erectile function. Research has also shown that it improves fetal growth in pregnancy. L-arginine is found in nuts, seeds, pulses, beetroot, onions, grapes, rice, egg yolk and red meat. Do not take if you have PCOS, diabetes or are breast-feeding. I recommend a daily dose of 15g.
Lycopene - is a powerful antioxidant, more so than beta-carotene. It has been shown to increase sperm count, motility, morphology and reduce DNA damage. It is found in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit and other fruits with a red color. It best absorbed when heated, as cooked tomatoes release five times as much as raw tomatoes, i.e. a pasta or pizza sauce. Adding olive oil increases the absorption of lycopene by three-fold. I recommend a daily dose of 20mg.
Maca (lepidium meyenii) - is often referred to as Peruvian ginseng, it increases energy levels and stamina and is used as an aphrodisiac. Research has shown it to be of benefit to male sex drive, performance, sperm count and motility, whilst in women it may increase LH levels, when taken in high doses (50-100g a day). Traditional dosage of maca in the Andes of South America ranges from 50-100g a day. I recommend a daily dose of 10g for better energy and 50g a day for those with male infertility or women with low LH levels.
Magnesium - is the fourth most common metal found in the body and yet deficiencies are commonly seen in people. It is needed for the function of over 300 enzymes. A deficiency of magnesium can lead to cell death. Amongst its uses is its ability to regulate the interaction of fertility hormones to their receptors. Chocolate contains high levels of magnesium, however before you go out and stock up on your favorite bars; it is often made with refined sugars and hydrogenated fats. Magnesium also contains theobromine, a caffeine like substance that if eaten daily, reduces overall mineralisation of the body. Magnesium is found in beans, nuts, whole grains, seafood and dark green, leafy vegetables. I recommend a daily dose of 375mg.
Manganese - is an essential mineral involved in several aspects including the production of fertility hormones and blood clotting. A deficiency is related to blood type deficiencies within Chinese medicine including poor memory, nails, hair and infertility. Manganese is found in black tea, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruit, eggs, milk and green leafy vegetables. I recommend a daily dose of 2mg.
Melatonin - is a powerful antioxidant produced by the pineal gland that reduces levels of free radicals, which can reduce egg and improve sperm quality. Melatonin production decreases with age. It is mainly produced at night when we sleep, therefore sleeping enough can help to maintain good levels. Melatonin is found in foods such as tomatoes. Within the body, high concentrations are found in the female reproductive organs. Drugs such as aspirin and NSAIDs can reduce the pineal gland’s production of melatonin by 75%. I recommend a daily dose of 1-3mg.
Myo inositol - is a B complex vitamin found in meat and plants. It’s useful in maturing eggs in women with poor egg quality or PCOS. Myo inositol is found in fruits, beans, grains, and nuts. Fresh vegetables and fruits contain more myo inositol than frozen, canned or salt-free products. I recommend a daily dose of 250-500mg.
Passionflower - (passiflora incarnata) has been shown in research to improve libido function, increase sperm count and fertilisation. It contains apigenin, which can increase testosterone levels.
Probiotics - probiotics that contain lactobacillus reuteri have been shown to reduce the damage caused by anti-biotics, improve cognitive function and increase levels of oxytocin, which contribute to reduced weight gain, breast-milk production and reduced Autistic traits. I recommend a daily dose of 5-10 billion CFUs. Always buy probiotics that have a long shelf life.
Pyrroloquinoline quinone (PQQ) - is a vitamin like substance that is a powerful antioxidant. Preliminary research in animals has shown that it can improve fertility and the growth of offspring. I recommend a daily dose of 300mcg.
Royal jelly - also known as bee’s milk, is the sole food of the queen bee and baby bees. It is a potent energy source, rich in vitamin B5, A, C, D and E plus amino acids, essential fatty acids and minerals such as acetylcholine, potassium, calcium, zinc, iron and manganese. In Chinese medicine, it helps improve jing, yin and blood levels, whilst strengthening the reproductive systems in both men and women. I recommend a daily dose of 50-100mg.
Selenium - is considered the most important trace element in our diet. It is important for both male and female fertility. Low levels have been linked with miscarriage and pre-eclampsia, whilst in men it can help with poor sperm motility. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, fish, poultry, meats, whole grains, mushrooms, onions, garlic, broccoli and cabbage. Selenium is lost in a man’s semen. I recommend a daily dose of 100-200mcg.
Spirulina - is a super food and known as blue-green algae (arthrospira platensis). It’s packed full of protein with more than 60% per 100g. It also contains high levels of iron and vitamin B12, all the essential amino acids as well as essential minerals and vitamins. It can also help with weight loss. It contains 180% more calcium than whole milk, 670% more protein than tofu, 3100% more beta-carotene than carrots, 5100% more iron than spinach. However, some research studies suggest that taking spirulina can increase TH1 cytokines, which can affect implantation. I would therefore recommend only men take this supplement, as it’s a great substitute for meat. I recommend a daily dose of 5g in tablet form, as it doesn’t taste nice.
Ubiquinol - is the activated form of Coenzyme Q10. It is a powerful antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, thereby improving the HPA and HPO systems and increasing levels of FSH and LH. I recommend a daily dose of 150mg.
Vitamin A - is important in maintaining sexual health and fertility. However, is it important not to exceed the daily dose when pregnant, especially during the first seven weeks. Taking double the recommended dose can increase the risk of birth defects. Foods that contain high levels of vitamin A include fish oils (cod liver oil), liver, pates and fortified foods such as cereals and flour. I recommend a daily dose of 800mcg or take beta-carotene instead as it can be converted into vitamin A when the body needs it so reduces the chances of overdosing.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) - is needed for the production of energy and red blood cells. The body can only store it for one month. It is present in lots of foods, however food preparation drastically decreases levels of vitamin B1, for example meat that has been frozen looses 50% of vitamin B1. Vitamin B1 can be found in whole grains, oats, pasta, meat, seafood and nuts. This vitamin is destroyed by drinking large amounts of tea or coffee. I recommend a daily dose of 1.5-2mg.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) - can be stored in the liver for several years, however vegetarians, especially vegans tend to be deficient in it. In conjunction with folic acid it is needed when new genetic material is made during cell division, which helps to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. It also benefits men with a low sperm count. Vitamin B12 can be found in oily fish, such as sardines, red meats, white fish, eggs and diary products. I recommend a daily dose of 3-5mcg. Be careful not to overdose on vitamin B12, as too much can be harmful to your baby. New research has found that mothers who had very high levels of vitamin B12 in their body tripled the risk of their baby developing Autism. Read the labels of foods you eat as some foods such as bread and cereal are fortified with vitamin B12, so don’t consume too much in your diet.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) - is important in the production of energy and the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. It is needed to convert B6 into its active form and helps with PMS. Vitamin B2 can be found in whole grains, eggs, dairy products, green leafy vegetables and beans. This is the vitamin that turns urine into a bright yellow color. I recommend a daily dose of 1.6mg.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) - is important in the production of energy and the use of oxygen in cells. Vitamin B3 can be found in whole grains, nuts, meats, poultry, oily fish, eggs, dairy products and dried fruit. I recommend a daily dose of 15-20mg.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) - is important in the production of energy and adrenal gland hormones during stressful times. Vitamin B5 can be found in whole grains, beans, eggs, nuts, green leafy vegetables, meats and royal jelly. I recommend a daily dose of 6mg.
Vitamin B6 - is essential in the action of over 60 enzymes and can help with PMS. Vitamin B6 can be found in whole grains, meat, oily fish, bananas, nuts, green leafy vegetables, avocados and egg yolks. I recommend a daily dose of 2mg.
Vitamin C - cannot be stored in the body so regular intake is necessary. It is needed for over 300 metabolic reactions and is vital for reproduction. It helps with the absorption of iron. It is important in protecting sperm quality by stopping it from clumping together and protecting the sperm’s DNA. Research has shown that taking vitamin C daily can increase sperm count, morphology and motility. As vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant it reduce free radical damage to eggs and sperm and benefits implantation. Vitamin C is found in most fruit and vegetables and green leafy vegetables. I recommend a daily dose of 1g.
Vitamin D - is found in 5 different forms (1,2,3,4 & 5). Some vitamin D3 is made from sunlight when the UV index is higher than 3, when not using sunscreen. Due to the risk of skin cancer caused by too much sun exposure, it is recommended to expose the skin to 10-15 minutes of sunlight before using sunscreen. Even low sunscreens such as factor 8 reduce vitamin D production by 95%. A lack of vitamin D can cause rickets in children. Vitamin D is found in sardines, herring, salmon, tuna, eggs and butter. I recommend a daily dose of 15mcg in the summer months and 20mcg in the winter months.
Vitamin E - is an antioxidant that protects sperm and egg from free radical damage and is important in antibody production. Vitamin E is good for men with poor sperm motility and egg fertilization. Vitamin E can be found in wheat germ oil, soybeans, eggs, spinach, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, walnuts, pecans avocados, butter. I recommend a daily dose of 12-15mg.
Vitamin K - is essential for normal blood clotting. A deficiency can lead to heavy periods and bruising easily. Vitamin K can be found in cauliflower, broccoli, dark green, leafy vegetables, egg yolk, alfalfa, safflower, kelp, soybean oil, yoghurt, rapeseed, olive oils, tomatoes, meat sand potatoes. Vitamin K is commonly given to newborns. I recommend a daily dose of 100mcg.
Zinc - is an important mineral for male fertility that plays a crucial role in the sensitivity of bodily tissues to circulating fertility hormones. It is vital for sexual maturity. A deficiency of zinc can lead to low testosterone levels and delayed male puberty. Each ejaculation contains around 110mg of zinc, therefore excessive sperm loss or a poor diet can lead to a deficiency of zinc. It is also important in sperm health as zinc helps to maintain the DNA in the sperm head, whilst also ensuring the sperm do not become too excited and release the enzyme acrosome before a woman’s egg is released. During fertilization, zinc is released causing a “zinc spark” a flash of light at the moment of conception. Zinc can be found in red meats, liver, pumpkin seeds, whole grains, ground mustard, eggs and cheese. I recommend a daily dose of 15mg.