Many patients who are trying to get pregnant want to use natural supplements instead of prescriptions or in addition to their prescriptions. Many of these supplements are helpful and promote better health. The problem is, sometimes supplements can affect your fertility in a negative way.
In some cases, we don’t know what effects a supplement will have or even if it will help or harm your fertility. Some supplements are only helpful if taken during a certain part of the menstrual cycle.
One important requirement of getting pregnant is a perfect synchronization of the ovaries and uterus. At the time the embryo comes into the uterus, the uterus needs to be ready for it. There is a narrow “window” of time when the uterus can allow an embryo to implant. This window can be as short as one day.
Some supplements may shift this window and affect uterine “receptivity” or the ability to allow an embryo to implant. Other supplements can cause problems with the ovaries. Likewise, some supplements for men can affect the sperm numbers or their ability to swim (motility).
Supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you need to make sure you buy quality supplements from a reputable source. I recommend looking for a small seal on the container with a certification. This means an outside company has tested the product and verified that it is what they say it is. The most common symbol is a small “USP” symbol inside an oval (usp.org).
Here is a guide to some of the heroes and villains for fertility supplements.
- CoQ10 is an enzyme required by the body for a variety of functions. It has been shown to be helpful for both sperm and egg health. It can take several months to see a benefit. I typically recommend 400mg daily for men and 600mg for women.
- Vitamin C. This antioxidant can be helpful for normal sperm development. It can be found in any citrus food or orange juice.
- Folic Acid. This is vital for normal neural tube development of an embryo.
- Vitamin D. This is the “hot” vitamin right now. It is important for bone health, and early evidence shows that it may help with normal embryo implantation.
- Testosterone, androgens, and male boosters – When the male brain sees extra testosterone from these supplements, it shuts down sperm production. Many men take these supplements for work outs, or “recreationally.” Sometimes men are given testosterone from their general doctor or even urologist for other problems such as low blood testosterone levels. With these supplements, men often have no sperm at all. Luckily, this is usually reversible and sperm production can return, but it can take several months.
- Progesterone is an important part of a normal pregnancy. It can be found in some yam varieties. It is vital to getting pregnant, but if given at the wrong time, it can affect the uterine window of implantation. Progesterone causes changes in the lining and giving it before ovulation will dramatically decrease the chances of getting pregnant. There are several “bio-identical” progesterones that are available with a prescription that are (if given at the correct time) safe and effective for pregnancy or trying to get pregnant. I typically give my patients progesterone from 4 days after urine LH surge until pregnancy test.
- Vitex or Chaste Berry. This supplement is very common. It is supposed to balance hormones. I have, however, seen it cause big cysts on the ovaries of women taking it. Time after time, women will need to delay fertility treatment, or have procedures, or surgery to resolve the cysts. I am interested in knowing the biological action of this supplement, because I think that if used in the right way, we can find a way for it to help fertility. At this point, however, we do not know how to safely use it, and it can cause big problems for women trying to get pregnant.
Good or Bad? We Aren’t Sure.
There are several supplements that have good properties, but have unknown outcomes when it comes to effects on fertility. We just don’t have enough clear information to know if they might be harmful or helpful. These can include supplements such as DHEA. We know that it can be helpful for egg development, but there are some concerns since it is a male hormone, and also increases progesterone levels that can decrease pregnancy rates. Some other questionable supplements include royal jelly, raspberry, and green tea.
Talk with your reproductive endocrinologist to see how you can safely incorporate supplements into your fertility plan. There is a lot of misinformation on the internet, and I encourage patients to be mindful of people trying to take advantage of fertility patients who are trying to find their cure.
Supplements can be safely incorporated, but it’s important to work with your doctor to ensure they are beneficial and not harmful to your chances of getting pregnant.
By, September 18, 2015