When trying to conceive, it’s important that your body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs to optimise your fertility and provide a nourishing environment for your baby to grow.
What are vitamins and minerals?
They are micronutrients our body’s need in tiny amounts to keep our internal systems working properly. They don’t contain calories or provide us with energy, but they do have an effect on our energy metabolism as they help the body convert calorie containing nutrients into energy.
Where do we get them from?
We can’t make micronutrients in our bodies so we have to get them from the food we eat or from taking synthetic forms that have been created in laboratories. It’s always best to try to eat a varied diet so you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs from the food you eat, however, supplementation can be beneficial, especially when trying to conceive.
Unless advised by your doctor, don’t take vitamin A (retinol) supplementation as having too much has been linked to foetal abnormalities. Check any supplements you take to make sure it’s not listed on the label and avoid eating liver, which is particularly high in vitamin A.
Instead, you can get your vitamin A intake from foods that contain Beta Carotene, such as carrots, apricots and spinach. Beta Carotene is a pigment found in plants that the body can change into vitamin A and it’s not associated with causing birth defects.
Deficiency in vitamin B1 is linked to ovulatory infertility. Good food sources include sunflower seeds, peas and macadamia nuts.
Deficiency in vitamin B2 is linked to increased risk of miscarriage and low birth weight. Good food sources include almonds, spinach and yoghurt.
Initial findings indicate vitamin B3 may help to prevent miscarriages and birth defects, however, further research is being carried out. Good food sources include avocado, sunflower seeds and peanuts.
Deficiency in vitamin B6 has been found to decrease the likelihood of conception and contribute to the risk of miscarriage. It’s important in both the production and balance of hormones. Good food sources include eggs, oatmeal and pistachio nuts.
Vitamin B9 (folate) is found in foods such as avocado, spinach and asparagus. It’s known as folic acid in its synthetic form and plays a vital role in the development of healthy babies. Women are recommended to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, two to three months before pregnancy and for the first trimester, to help reduce the risk of neural tube birth defects. In some cases, a higher dose may be recommended, so it’s best to check with your doctor. Men can also benefit from folic acid supplementation. One study showed how deficiency decreased sperm counts by 90% in rats.
Women who are deficient in vitamin B12 may experience temporary infertility and increased risk of birth defects. For men it has been found to increase sperm count, enhance sperm motility and reduce sperm DNA damage. Good food sources include salmon, shellfish and eggs.
Vitamin C can help to improve hormone levels, increase progesterone levels in women with luteal phase defect and assist with the absorption of iron. Vitamin C has also been shown to enhance the ovulation-inducing effects of Clomifene (Clomid). It’s been found that women who take both the drug along with vitamin C supplementation are more likely to start ovulating. For men it’s important in the prevention of agglutination, which is when sperm clump together. Good food sources include yellow peppers, citrus fruits and kiwi.
One study showed that women who are deficient in vitamin D are half as likely to conceive with In Vitro Fertilisation compared to those who aren’t deficient. It’s also been found to improve sperm function in men. The recommended amount for adults, pregnant and breast-feeding women is 10 micrograms daily. Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, you can get vitamin D from being outdoors and exposing your bare skin to direct sunlight. It’s also found in a few foods like oily fish, egg yolks and some fortified foods.
An association has been found between women who experience recurrent miscarriage and those with selenium deficiency. As an antioxidant selenium can help to prevent chromosomal breakage and DNA damage, which can be a cause of miscarriage and birth defects. In men it can protect sperm against free radical damage and has been found to increase sperm motility. Brazil nuts in particular are a great food source of selenium; other good sources include oats and mackerel.
Women who are deficient in zinc are more likely to experience foetal loss, intrauterine malformations, pregnancy complications and abnormal deliveries. Zinc plays an essential role in protein synthesis and cell division, which is important in the production of good quality eggs and embryo development. If you are undergoing IVF, make sure you’re getting enough of this mineral. It is also essential for men, having been found to significantly increase sperm quality. Good food sources include Adzuki beans, pumpkin seeds and shrimp.
Contraceptive pill and nutrient deficiency
Be aware that taking oral contraceptive pills can deplete the body of certain micronutrients including folic acid, vitamins B2, B6, B12, vitamin C and E, magnesium, selenium and zinc. If you’ve recently stopped taking the contraceptive pill and think you may be deficient in certain micronutrients, it’s best to see your doctor.
Which supplement should I buy?
Pre-pregnancy supplements vary in price and ingredients. Some contain just micronutrients, whilst others also include food supplements such as beta-carotene and maca. You don’t necessarily need to go for the really expensive ones to get all the micronutrients you need. Whichever one you choose, just make sure it definitely has folic acid in the ingredients.
By Juliana Kassianos, Natural Fertility Therapist, Founder of The School of Fertility.