There's no way around it—discussing fertility is delicate. For some, the journey is simple; for others, it's a very sensitive topic because the journey hasn’t been as easy. So it's frustrating when I see marketing for fertility supplements that target couples struggling to conceive that aren't backed by science.
Fertility is multi-dimensional. Some of it is absolutely in our control, but factors like genetic predispositions may not be. I’m a firm believer that we should focus on what’s in our power. While nothing is 100%, good things happen in my practice when I work with my patients on the behaviors that support the body's best chance of conception. Nothing with fertility is guaranteed, but the foundations of fertility are in our control and that feels so empowering for women. Fertility supplements can be a part of that plan.
There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to fertility support. What works for one person may not work for another, so sometimes it can depend on your unique situation. Some of my patients open the fertility conversation before trying to conceive, while others have been struggling for a while and need extra support. This article will walk you through the nutrients in fertility supplements I use in practice and how they work, so you can make the best decision for your body.
Hormonal Imbalances and Female Fertility
Hormonal imbalances and female fertility go hand-in-hand because your sex hormones are the key to conception. They control the function of your reproductive organs and menstrual cycle.
When even one hormone doesn't signal as it should, it can disrupt the delicate balance needed for reproduction. This can manifest as irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation, difficulty getting pregnant, or miscarrying.
Progesterone, estrogen, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH) are the primary hormones required for fertility. All of these exist in balance with each other to support your reproductive cycle and conception.
But sex hormones aren't the only ones that matter. Your thyroid hormones and insulin—the hormone that regulates blood sugar — also can impact your ability to conceive.
Hypothyroid and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)— linked to insulin resistance, as you'll learn about below—are two of the most common reasons for infertility, so alterations in these hormones can significantly impact fertility.
While not primarily a sex hormone issue, endometriosis, age, a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, and fibroids can also contribute to fertility issues. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the other 50% of the baby making equation (sperm) should also be evaluated.
Micronutrients and Female Fertility
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that the body needs in small amounts to function properly. The functions of micronutrients are so vast that it would be impossible to list them all here. In short, they are responsible for supporting energy production, detoxification, antioxidant defenses, the nervous system, and so much more.
Ensuring you're getting enough of these essential nutrients is vital for optimal health and fertility. Certain micronutrients may reduce the risk of anovulatory infertility, while others may support egg health or pregnancy rates (as you'll see below).
Best Supplements to Balance Hormones and Micronutrient Levels for Fertility
Here are my favorite supplements to balance hormones and support nutrients for fertility:
- Acetyl L-Carnitine
- Vitamin D
- Alpha Lipoic Acid
Let's look at each of these in more detail to understand how they might help with fertility.
Inositol Fertility Benefits
I talk about inositol all the time because it's such a powerful supplement, especially for fertility. Inositol is a part of your cell membranes, but it also works as a signaling molecule in the body and is vital for many cellular processes—especially for reproductive health and insulin regulation. There are nine forms of inositol, but myo-inositol and D-chiro inositol are the most well-studied.
Inositol fertility benefits are especially noted for PCOS because it can help optimize insulin levels, which can help balance hormones and improve ovulation. Insulin resistance is present in the majority of people with PCOS. When insulin goes down, androgens like testosterone also drop, which helps with hormone balance and symptoms like hair growth.
Women with PCOS may have alterations in how their body makes inositol, which can lead to less than optimal amounts in the body. A large body of research shows that inositol supports improvements in fertility in women with PCOS. In one study, inositol supplementation improved ovulatory activity and menstrual cycles to support fertility after six months.
Another study showed that myo-inositol may help improve egg quality in women with PCOS. And even more powerful, inositol may be as effective as medication for women trying to conceive with PCOS, according to some research.
I recommend Inositol Plus to my patients on their trying to conceive journey.
How Does N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) Help With Fertility?
NAC has many benefits for fertility, including reducing oxidative stress, helping the body detoxify, and improving egg quality. The main reason NAC is helpful is because it supports a powerful antioxidant in your body called glutathione.
NAC (N-Acetyl Cysteine) is a Precursor to Glutathione
NAC is an amino acid precursor (building block) to glutathione, your body's most powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from damage. As a precursor, NAC helps the body produce more glutathione.
Antioxidants are essential for fertility because they help to protect cells from damage from free radicals. This is important because when cells are damaged, it can make it harder for a woman to get pregnant or carry a baby to term.
Glutathione also helps with hormone regulation, including sex hormones. Studies show that NAC could help with fertility by increasing the frequency of ovulation and improving egg quality. It's even linked to higher pregnancy rates.
Zinc is an important mineral for fertility because it could help with healthy eggs and fertilization. It's also needed for healthy sperm—worth mentioning since it takes an egg and sperm to make a baby and many people overlook the importance of sperm when talking about fertility challenges.
Low zinc levels may make it harder to become pregnant or carry a baby to term. A review found that low zinc also contributes to pregnancy complications. Zinc is also needed for proper hormone balance, including sex hormones, and for women with PCOS.
Selenium is a mineral that's especially supportive for my fellow hypothyroid and Hashimoto's mamas because it's needed for thyroid hormone production and conversion.
As I mentioned earlier, thyroid conditions can make it more challenging to become pregnant, and selenium is essential for supporting a healthy thyroid. Selenium is also an antioxidant, so it has similar benefits to NAC in supporting egg quality and protecting cells from damage.
Studies show that low selenium may be linked with infertility in women with PCOS, but selenium supplementation could support thyroid function in women with Hashimoto's.
This is why we’ve included 200 mcg of selenium as part of our Prenatal Plus, to help support thyroid health during this crucial period in a woman’s life.
CoQ10 is an important antioxidant made by your body that helps protect cells from oxidative damage. It's also needed for energy production in the mitochondria, which can be essential for fertility. Mitochondrial dysfunction is linked to aging, so CoQ10 may reduce the aging process in reproductive cells.
A CoQ10 supplement may be beneficial for women trying to conceive after 35, possibly because of its positive effect on egg quality. It's also considered a good supplement to use in conjunction with in vitro fertilization to support ovarian reserve or how many eggs are available for fertilization.
Vitex is another one of my go-to supplements for fertility and hormone balance. It helps normalize progesterone levels, a common reason for difficulty conceiving. It can also help with luteal phase defect, a condition in which the second half of the menstrual cycle is too short to support a pregnancy.
Vitex may help with fertility due to its effects on prolactin. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates milk production, but high levels when you aren't breastfeeding can interfere with conception and progesterone production. One study found that taking vitex helped drop prolactin levels and restore normal progesterone levels.
Acetyl L-carnitine is another antioxidant that may support fertility. Its job in the body is to turn fat into energy, and it's been shown to improve mitochondrial function. This means it can help cells produce more energy, which is especially important for cells that frequently divide, like eggs.
Its antioxidant activity means acetyl L-carnitine helps reduce damage and aging to the reproductive system, which could translate to healthier eggs. It's been noted to support fertility in studies examining PCOS, amenorrhea, and endometriosis.
I'm a big fan of vitamin D simply because it's involved in so many functions in your body, including cell production in the ovaries. Sunshine is the best way to get vitamin D, but if you don't get much sunshine or wear sun protection, supplements are the next best option because food really isn't a great source. Some people even have genetic defects that disrupt how they absorb and use vitamin D, so supplementation may be necessary to reach optimal levels.
Although it's not entirely clear how vitamin D affects fertility, the studies are interesting. Deficiency is linked to infertility for women with PCOS, while normal vitamin D levels are linked to higher pregnancy rates. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with miscarriages in the first trimester.
When taking vitamin D, it’s important to include vitamin K2. Here’s the vitamin D I recommend.
Folate is a B vitamin usually found in prenatal vitamins because it lowers the risk of neural tube birth defects, but it may also be supportive for becoming pregnant.
In research, folate is linked to higher pregnancy rates, including for those undergoing fertility treatments. It's also linked to improved egg quality, especially in combination with myo-inositol. Folate may help improve mitochondrial function and DNA methylation.
@drjolenebrighten An easy 4 to include in your diet #fertility #fertilityjourney #fertilityfoods #hormonedoctor #hormones #progesterone #progesteronecheck #thyroidhealth ♬ Shootout – Izzamuzzic & Julien Marchal
How to Increase Fertility Rate Naturally
As I mentioned in the introduction, supplements are only one part of the puzzle for supporting fertility. Lifestyle changes can also go a long way in boosting your fertility and overall health.
There are no guarantees, but based on my experience, here's how to support your fertility naturally:
- Exercise regularly. Movement is essential for reproductive health, and some studies have shown that moderate exercise can improve fertility. On the other hand, overdoing it can stress your body out and have the opposite effect, so make sure to take rest days and listen to your body.
Physical activity is also helpful for insulin resistance because it makes the cells more responsive, lowering blood sugar and insulin levels, which is especially protective for people with PCOS.
- Consider cutting back on alcohol. The research isn't exactly black and white, but there is some indication that reducing alcohol intake may help fertility. You can still enjoy a few drinks, but it might be worth cutting back if you're trying to get pregnant.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep is vital for overall health and fertility. Lack of sleep raise stress hormone levels, which could disrupt reproductive function. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Manage stress levels. Stress can negatively impact fertility, but worrying about fertility is stressful, so it can be a bit of a catch-22. Try relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation (or whatever works best for you) to help manage stress levels.
- Swap refined grains for high fiber foods. Refined grains are quickly digested and raise blood sugar levels, which can disrupt fertility. Studies on the best foods for fertility found that people who ate more refined grains had a greater risk of anovulatory infertility.
Include high fiber foods like beans, legumes, vegetables, and whole grains, which help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Avoid trans fats. These man-made fats are found in processed and fast foods and can negatively impact fertility. Trans fats significantly increase the risk of anovulatory infertility (trouble conceiving because you don’t produce an egg) and lower sperm concentration and quality.
Fertility is a complex subject, but these supplements that support hormone balance and micronutrient levels can help improve your chances of becoming pregnant.
If you're trying to conceive, it's worth considering adding these supplements to your daily routine. You may also want to make some lifestyle changes to support. If you aren't sure where to start, I've created a free Hormone Balancing Kit with all the information you need to get started on your journey to better hormone health. Click here to get the kit now!
KEEPING IT REAL, WHILE KEEPING YOU EDUCATED
Featuring a 28 day plan to take back your cycle and dozens of charts, checklists, and diagrams to help along the way.
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