Vitamins for Fertility: What Should You Be Taking?

Vital Micronutrients for Male and Female Fertility

Various vitamins

Michela Ravasio / Stocksy United

There's no question about it: food is important for all aspects of life, and fertility is no exception. Our bodies get the vitamins and minerals we need from our daily diet, and creating a new life­—which is exactly what fertility health is all about—also requires micronutrients. So, what vitamins are important for fertility?

We don’t completely understand yet how diet and micronutrients directly influence fertility, but researchers are learning more every day. We know that some deficiencies can cause fertility problems. We also know that some diseases that impact the body’s ability to absorb nutrients (such as untreated celiac disease) can increase the risk of infertility.

Should You Take Vitamin Supplements?

It’s important to get the nutrients you need through a healthy diet, or with the help of supplements if that’s what your doctor recommends. For those with specific vitamin deficiencies, taking a supplement may help.

But what if you’re not really missing anything nutritionally? Will a vitamin supplement boost your fertility? The answer isn’t clear. Some studies say yes, but many have not found that supplements improve fertility factors compared to a placebo. Many studies on micronutrients are also small or not well designed. With that said, below are vitamins and minerals thought to be essential to fertility health.

B Vitamins

B vitamins include B-3 (niacin), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folate or folic acid), and B-12. All types of B vitamins play vital roles in the formation and proper functioning of red blood cells. A B-12 deficiency can cause anemia, which occurs when the blood has an abnormally low number of red blood cells or amount of hemoglobin. Proper nerve function and cell energy are also dependent on healthy levels of B vitamins.

When it comes to fertility, B-6 and B-9 (better known as folate or the synthetic version, folic acid) are the most essential B vitamins to focus on.

Vitamin B-6 and Fertility

A study published in 2007 found that women with higher blood levels of B-6 are more likely to be fertile. But does that mean female infertility can be treated by simply increasing B-6 levels? Unfortunately, that has not yet been researched or proven.

One possible reason for the B-6 connection to fertility may be due to levels of homocysteine, which is a common amino acid found in the bloodstream. At high levels, homocysteine is associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart disease.

High homocysteine levels in the folicles is also associated with ovulation problems. Low homocysteine levels, meanwhile, may improve the odds of becoming pregnant. In a small study published in 2017, women who took supplemental folate, vitamins B-6 and B-12 lowered homocysteine levels in women with a history of pregnancy loss. However, the researchers didn't measure serum B-6 levels, but did note that supplementation increased folate levels.

Vitamin B-9 (Folate) and Fertility

Perhaps one of the most important B vitamins for fertility and healthy fetal development is folate or B-9. Folate is vital to both male and female fertility.

For women, we know that a low intake of folate is associated with an increased risk of neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida. Research in 2012 found that proper folate intake may impact progesterone levels and low levels of B-9 may lead to irregular ovulation.

For men, low levels of folate in semen are associated with poor sperm health. Men with low dietary folate are more likely to have a higher percentage of DNA-damaged sperm. Folate supplementation (along with zinc) may also help improve semen analysis results, in certain cases.

Folate vs. Folic Acid

Folic acid is the synthetic form of B-9. When foods are fortified with B-9, it's almost always in the form of folic acid. Also, the vast majority of vitamin supplements contain folic acid. This is because folic acid is inexpensive and easy for manufacturers to use. But ideally, you should take folate and not folic acid if you decide to supplement. (Look for 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or 5-MTHF, rather than "folic acid" on the label.) Although folic acid is absorbed almost as well as 5-MTHF and is easily converted to the active form, taking folic acid supplements may cover up potential problems with low vitamin B-12 levels.

Folate is the more readily bioavailable form of B-9. When you take folic acid supplements, your body must transform folic acid into folate. Otherwise, your cells can't make use of the nutrient. Folate is the form of B-9 found naturally in foods such as lentils, chickpeas, dark leafy greens, asparagus, and broccoli. You can get vitamin supplements with folate instead of folic acid, but it's less common and usually more expensive.

Additionally, some people's bodies can't properly absorb B-9 in the folic acid form. This means they can be getting the right dosage of folic acid through fortified foods or supplements, but because their cells can't make use of the vitamin, they still aren't getting what they need.

Those with the genetic MTHFR mutation (changes to a gene that are linked to certain medical conditions) can experience this. Women with the MTHFR genetic mutation may be at a higher risk of miscarriage, some pregnancy complications, and having a child with a neural tube defect, risks which may be related to poor folic acid/folate absorption.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is best found through fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits, berries, and peppers. This vitamin helps maintain healthy connective tissue and is also important for wound healing and proper immune function.

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant. These antioxidant properties play a major role in fertility. Antioxidants reduce the negative impact of free radicals, reducing cellular damage in the body. Often combined with vitamin E in research studies, vitamin C has been found to improve sperm health and decrease sperm DNA fragmentation.

Calcium

You probably already know that calcium is a mineral we need for healthy bone function, but did you know it also plays a role in heart health, muscle function, nerve transmission, and hormonal balance?

Research published in 2013 found that women who consume more dairy products (which are high in calcium and fortified with vitamin D) had higher serum vitamin D levels and were at a lower risk of having endometriosis and ovulatory problems. This may imply that calcium is an important fertility mineral. That said, there's currently no specific research on calcium supplementation and fertility.

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)

Coenzyme Q10, more commonly referred to as CoQ10, is an antioxidant that our cells require for proper functioning and for creating energy.

CoQ10 may help improve sperm function. Men with higher levels of CoQ10 in their semen are more likely to have better sperm motility, however, a 2013 analysis of previous studies reported that CoQ10 supplementation in men has not been associate with an increase of live births or pregnancy rates.

In women, CoQ10 fertility research has been limited to applications in women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), but the results have been promising. One 2017 study found that a higher level of CoQ10 (found naturally in follicles) was associated with higher-quality eggs and a higher pregnancy rate in IVF patients. Two more 2018 studies found that taking CoQ10 prior to an IVF cycle significantly increased egg quantity and quality, which was linked to more eggs being fertilized and a higher percentage of healthy embryos. More research is needed, however, to determine whether supplementing with CoQ10 positively affects female fertility outside of the IVF space.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is found in few foods and is primarily obtained through sun exposure. Vitamin D works along with calcium to help maintain strong bones. But it also is important for cell growth, immune function, and regulation of inflammation in the body.

Low levels of vitamin D are associated with infertility. Both the female and male reproductive organs contain vitamin D receptors and metabolizing enzymes, suggesting that vitamin D may be vital to healthy fertility. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with ovulation problems and an increased risk of endometriosis. IVF success rates tend to be higher in men and women with higher levels of vitamin D.

All that said, there is currently no evidence that supplementing with vitamin D will improve fertility.

Iron

Iron is a mineral we need for healthy blood cell creation and function. Low iron can lead to anemia, which, in turn, can cause infertility. While iron is a mineral we typically get from animal protein consumption, you can also get it from beans, lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals.

Selenium

Selenium is a trace element that is vital to health. It plays a role in proper thyroid function, DNA synthesis, protection from oxidative stress, and reproduction. Brazil nuts contain very high levels of selenium; other common sources include tuna, halibut, sardines, ham, and shrimp.

In women, having an inadequate dietary intake of selenium-rich foods increased the risk of a luteal phase defect. There are currently no studies on selenium supplementation and female fertility. A small 2017 study of men with reduced sperm motility found that supplementation with selenium significantly increased sperm count, motility, viability, and normal morphology.

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral, responsible for proper cellular function, immunity, wound healing, DNA synthesis, and cell division. It’s also necessary for healthy growth and development, from pregnancy through adulthood.

There have been numerous studies on male fertility and zinc. Zinc is vital to male hormone health, as well as normal sperm development and maturation. Zinc deficiency is associated with low sperm counts and hypogonadism. Men with poor semen analysis results tend to also have low levels of zinc both in their semen and blood serum tests.

A Word From Verywell

While certain vitamins and nutrients are undeniably necessary for fertility, it's always a good idea to talk to your provider to go over your individual needs before beginning to take supplements. Some supplements don’t mix with prescription medications, and it is possible to overdose on some vitamins and minerals. Your doctor can help you determine whether any deficiencies can be improved by taking a supplement, or by simply making changes in your diet.

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Article Sources

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