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Fertility Supplements: Do they actually work?

Many pills exist, both for men and women, that will supposedly increase your chances of a pregnancy. How much truth is there to these supplements, though?

March 15, 2021
Charlotte Pearse

There are fertility supplements for both men and women that supposedly can boost fertility, as well as provide nutrients for a healthy pregnancy should they conceive successfully.

How many of these pills are rooted in fact, and how many in fiction? Which nutrients in supplements should you look out for— in both the good and bad ways?

Well, there has been a lot of research conducted on the subject, and there are in fact some fertility supplements that have legitimate and scientific reasons for their benefits.

Female Fertility

Many women hope for a pill that will magically increase their chances at pregnancy, though unfortunately even with fertility supplements a pregnancy is still not a guarantee.

However, there are plenty of fertility supplements that do have a legitimate effect on boosting female fertility— however big or small. Taking prenatal vitamins, for example, can make your body more fertile because they’re rich in nutrients that both you and the baby will need lots of.

One of these is omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in many fertility pills. It’s not only good for you, but can make your menstrual cycle more regular. Following a pregnancy, it can also decrease chances of complications such as miscarriages.

Many seafoods are rich in omega-3, like shrimp, salmon, sardines, herring, and scallops. You can also find it in walnuts, canola oil, tofu, and many other places. There’s no specific dose for it, but if you’re getting enough of it from foods you probably wouldn’t need to take supplements for it.

An image of a far along pregnant woman in a dress from the shoulders down, with both hands resting on her stomach.
No fertility supplement is going to magically result in a pregnancy, but the nutrients involved have been found to boost fertility levels in many studies. They’re also nutrients that will be good for the baby in the long run.

Vitamins C and E are both capable of decreasing free radicals— molecules that are harmful to DNA and can decrease fertility —so you’ll want to consume plenty of both, whether that be in fertility supplements or healthy foods. 

Vitamin C is common in oranges, grapefruits, tomatoes, kiwis, and peppers. Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and spinach. Broccoli has both! You’ll need 75 mg of Vitamin C a day if you’re hoping to get pregnant, and 15 mg of Vitamin E is important for both men and women’s daily diet.

Vitamin D is also essential for good chances at fertility, and the best way to get it is from sunlight, but looking into Vitamin D supplements if you find yourself not getting enough from the sun could be a good idea.

Folic acid is another incredibly common fertility vitamin, associated not only with healthier babies but also lowering infertility that’s related to ovulation. 400 mcg of folate will be best when you’re hoping to get pregnant, and 600 mcg for when you’re expecting.

There are also lots of supplements that are known to help fertility treatment like IVF be successful, like Coenzyme Q10, and ones to improve disorders that have a negative impact on fertility, such as L-carnitine. You can always ask your doctor if taking supplements rich in these would be a good option for you.

Male Fertility

There are also supplements known to help with boosting male fertility, though they may not be as popular, and aren’t for everyone.

Supplements for zinc, as well as foods rich in zinc like meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish have been suggested to improve sperm structure for men, and that combining zinc with other nutrients can improve sperm mobility.

Vitamin E has also been found by some to help with this in men with low sperm counts. This is important, since the movement of the sperm is one of the most important contributing factors to a successful conception. However, not all studies have had the same results regarding this vitamin.

Folic acid, which is famous in female fertility supplements, may be able to boost sperm counts in men. More research is needed to confirm this theory.

Another nutrient that can help boost male fertility is selenium. Being deficient in it can cause male infertility, though most men will get plenty of this with their diet already. Women who don’t get enough of this also take longer to conceive, however, so it’s important to keep in mind for both parties.

And also like women, there are many foods that men can add to their diet to increase their chances at fertility, such as nuts, fish, and tomatoes. Getting enough fruits and vegetables is important, too, just to cover all your bases.

An image of a pomegranate on a plain, white backdrop with almonds positioned around it, lines drawn behind them to make them look like sperm cells.
While images like this are used to show what could not be shown otherwise (i.e. the sperm swimming to the egg), the pomegranate and almonds are actually parts of two food groups that men should be sure they’re getting enough nutrients from to increase fertility levels and sperm movement.

The best way to make sure that you’re getting enough of every nutrient may well be balancing your diet rather than turning to supplements.

Risks

Above all, it’s important to note that fertility supplements don’t come without their own risks. It seems there’s some trade-off with the hope for the reward of a pregnancy.

As with any other pill, there can be some side-effects to fertility supplements, especially if you’re taking too high a dosage. If you experience any negative side-effects, it’s incredibly important that you stop taking the supplement and notify your doctor.

Supplements are regulated by the FDA in an effort to prevent taking too large doses, which can be very harmful, but the regulations are less strict than those of prescription and over the counter drugs and medication.

Too high levels of ingredients known to be in some fertility supplements— particularly those for male fertility —have been found to cause infertility, so it’s very important to be careful about what you’re taking.

Supplements could interact poorly with any drugs or medication you may already be taking, including those you might have been prescribed for infertility.

An image of a large assortment of loose pills in all different shapes and sizes sitting on a flat surface.
There are countless different kinds of fertility supplements that come in many different shapes and sizes. It’s always important to keep track of what pills you’re taking and what’s in them.

It’s difficult to predict what the outcome will be, so it’s important to keep communication open with your doctor about any supplements you are planning to take, no matter what the circumstances.

Specific nutrients common in fertility supplements have been found to increase fertility levels, but they’re not going to guarantee a pregnancy, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. They may work, but they’re not for everyone, and there are negatives as well as positives to them.

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