Supplements are usually a good news story for fertility, and they’re often advised for pregnancy and preconception to improve the health of parents and their babies, but do you really need them? Two reviews published in 2016 reached very different conclusions:
- A study in the BMJ concluded that prenatal and pregnancy supplements are generally unnecessary and over-sold to a vulnerable sector. The exceptions were folic acid and vitamin D, and the findings were made on the basis that everyone has a healthy diet i
- A review in Placenta concluded it’s good to supplement with a range of micronutrients (especially selenium) to reduce the chances of complications in pregnancy and contribute to a healthy start in life ii
These apparently conflicting conclusions raise essential issues:
- Pretty much everyone agrees a healthy diet and lifestyle are crucial for good health or that, in an ideal world, supplements aren’t needed for healthy pregnancies
- It’s also clear that a significant proportion of diets aren’t “healthy”
- Most of our food is mass grown with modern fertilisers in soils low in essential nutrients, which reduces their availability in foods in the way they once were. While many people may do their best to have a healthy diet, the loss of soil nutrients causes a “nutrient gap“
- Not everyone gets pregnant easily, and studies investigating pregnancy outcomes aren’t directly transferable to couples who’re struggling to get pregnant
- The broader (more difficult to measure) issue of if supplements affect people’s health and fertility wasn’t part of the BMJ research
- An extra issue is how differences in the quality and “form” of the multivitamins and minerals affect outcomes; for instance, folic acid as methylfolate is better for neural tube development and cognitive function than “straight” folic acid iii
There’s an enormous range of pre-and post-conception products, with an equally wide range of quality and price. Some relatively inexpensive brands contain sugar, “fillers”, or minerals in poorly absorbed forms, while expensive brands with big marketing budgets actively target a vulnerable audience.
Why take supplements?
There are two reasons to take supplements:
- For specific issues such as neural tube development
- For general health
When supplements are taken for general health rather than for specific reasons, they need to contain a range of antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress. Most oxidation in cells is an unavoidable side effect of cell function, but oxidation damage increases in bodys’ low on antioxidants as they help limit oxidative stress and can improve fertility levels. The antioxidant effect on male fertility is so marked that antioxidant levels in semen samples predict fertilisation rates more accurately than the number of healthy sperm. iv v
Antioxidants come in a range of forms, including minerals, vitamins and enzymes, and these are generally part of a healthy, varied diet. Having a range of antioxidants is more important than high levels of a few well-known ones as combinations of antioxidants prevent different types of “free radicals” from developing. A varied and healthy diet is also the best way to encourage a healthy gut microbiome that can extract antioxidants from the diet and also makes many antioxidants.
For couples with varied and healthy diets who get pregnant quickly, there’s little reason to add anything above folic acid and Vitamin D. But when this isn’t happening (and that’s true for many of us), it makes sense to add reasonable amounts of quality vitamins and minerals to provide a broad range of antioxidants that minimise oxidative stress and raise the health of parents and the baby.
It’s a dangerous idea to think “the more of a good thing you have, the better it is for you”, especially with supplements, as the following, in particular, are potentially harmful to health in high doses: vi
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
General supplement advice
- Please don’t take too many supplements and focus on their quality
- We recommend appropriate quantities of organic “food state”TM or “wholefood” nutrients because:
- “Food state”TM supplements are classified as raw food, and the minerals and vitamins in them are extracted from plants at low temperatures. They’re gentle, effective and suitable for vegans and anyone with dairy allergies
- “Wholefood” nutrients are minerals harvested from a type of broccoli in a “food state,” which makes them gentle and easily absorbed
Research supports the safety and effectiveness of taking nutrients this way and that collections of isolated nutrients in other products often don’t provide the same kind of benefits. We think a realistic and holistic approach to supplements is to:
- Focus on the appropriate diet for your fertility profile, and eat as varied a diet as possible
- Take probiotics to improve digestion and strengthen the microbiome
- Add an Omega-3 oil of some description
- Take a quality “wholefood” multi-vitamin
- If your digestion’s a problem, get it tested to find any hidden issues so you can improve your fertility health scientifically, which is a lot less expensive (or stressful) than ART
Nutritional tests avoid the possibility of “overdosing” and give important support for a crucial aspect of fertility health. And while there are additional supplements that can enhance immune function and support reproductive energy, not everyone needs them. Membership of morefertile® brings discounts on a range of reasonably priced, quality organic “food state”TM and “whole food” supplements for the whole family.