You may have heard about a specific supplement or ingredient that can help you conceive from an ad on the internet. Supplements to support natural fertility or improve the outcomes of fertility treatments like IVF are widely available in tablets, chews, and even teas.
What’s more, are these fertility supplements worth the money? Our review of the most commonly sold fertility supplements for women will help you understand if (and how) they affect fertility and pregnancy rates.
Is There Evidence That Female Fertility Supplements Work?
In order to be considered an evidence-based practice, a treatment, intervention, therapy, or even the way a provider communicates about care has been thoroughly examined through appropriate research and found to make a significant difference in patient outcomes. In healthcare, “evidence-based” is the gold standard. Are fertility supplements scientifically proven? No, by a large margin.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other regulatory bodies do not regulate fertility supplements, as they do all nutritional supplements. That means no one is keeping track of what’s in these supplements, much less ensuring that they do what they claim. Fertility supplements, unlike over-the-counter or prescription medications, are not required to undergo clinical trials to prove their effectiveness (or any other research).
When researchers looked at 39 different brands of women’s fertility supplements, they discovered that not one of the companies had provided any evidence that their products helped women conceive.
So, how does a savvy shopper and hopeful parent proceed? When it comes to fertility supplements, keep in mind that you and/or your doctor will need to conduct your own research into the evidence that supports the use of specific ingredients. This guide will be an excellent place to begin.
The Best-Known Supplements For Female Fertility
Dehydroepiandrosterone is a “prohormone” that aids in the production of other hormones and is more commonly referred to as DHEA. Estrogen and testosterone are produced in the body by DHEA, which is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Early adulthood is the time when DHEA levels in the body are at their highest, and they gradually decrease with time.
There are some cases in which DHEA supplementation may increase testosterone levels in the body, which may aid in female fertility. Contrary to popular belief, all bodies use a combination of male and female hormones, albeit at differing levels. PCOS and other ovulatory disorders can be brought on by an excess of testosterone in women with ovaries, but a deficiency of this “male” hormone can also affect the maturation of eggs and ovulation in women with ovaries.
Women with low ovarian reserve may benefit from DHEA fertility supplements, according to research. In one study, the pregnancy rate more than doubled for women taking DHEA prior to IVF, according to a review of the research on the hormone. Higher follicle counts, more eggs, and lower doses of medication were also noted for IVF patients who used DHEA prior to their cycles, as was the case with other studies.
DHEA isn’t a magic elixir for boosting fertility. None of these studies was able to pinpoint the precise reason for the elevated pregnancy rates associated with DHEA.
To date, however, it has not been proven to help women with normal ovarian reserve, nor has it been proven to increase egg count or success rates for women who are trying to conceive through freezing of their eggs.
- Coenzyme Q10
Free radicals are waste products that your body produces as it processes food, heals wounds, and responds to its environment. It is thought that oxidative stress, a term coined to describe the cell damage caused by unstable atoms, is responsible for the aging process and other diseases. Antioxidants are substances that help to neutralize free radicals and prevent cell damage. They are both produced by the body and consumed through food and supplements.
Mitochondria store CoQ10, a compound produced by the body and stored therein. It has antioxidant properties as well as being used to promote cell growth and maintenance. Consuming a significant amount of CoQ10 through food is difficult as one gets older.
There’s some evidence that CoQ10 fertility supplements (often combined with DHEA) can improve outcomes for women with low ovarian reserve. An IVF cycle that was preceded by the use of CoQ10 resulted in more healthy embryos, lower dosages of medications, and a slightly increased pregnancy rate. The number of antral follicles and the ovaries’ ability to respond to medication have been shown to increase with the use of CoQ10 and DHEA fertility supplements during an IUI or IVF cycle. The use of CoQ10 as a supplement for women who are freezing their eggs has never been studied.
What is going on here? CoQ10 has been shown to support the mitochondria in the egg cells, which may slow reproductive aging in mice. Aside from DHEA, CoQ10 is one of the few fertility supplements that has evidence to support its use, and it’s generally safe.
- Evening Primrose Oil
These fatty acids are found in the oil extracted from the evening primrose plant, which grows in North America. Evening primrose oil is said to aid in conception in a number of ways:
As an anti-inflammatory supplement, evening primrose oil (EPO) has been touted as a fertility aid by some advocates. Infertility has been linked to inflammation, but there is conflicting evidence about how much of a role it plays. In vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes were not linked to levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a substance produced in the body in response to infection and inflammation.
Additionally, it’s possible that EPO’s fatty acids aid in preserving sperm by thickening cervical mucus, which is the viscous fluid expelled by the cervix during the menstrual cycle. However, no large, well-designed studies have shown a connection between fatty acids and cervical mucus.
It’s also worth noting some believe that EPO can help regulate female reproductive hormones, reducing PMS symptoms and increasing the chances of getting pregnant with regular cycles. Though one study on obese female rats suggests EPO may affect the regularity of the females’ menstrual cycle, there is no evidence that the same holds true for humans, and studies on its impact upon PMS have concluded that it is “of little value” for the treatment of symptoms.
It’s unclear whether EPO has a direct impact on pregnancy rates, but research on fatty acids and fertility has yielded mixed results. Women with higher fatty acid levels in their blood had higher pregnancy rates during IVF, but another study found that they were no more likely to conceive naturally or have lower miscarriage rates or higher AMH levels than women with lower fatty acid levels.
In the end, there is not enough evidence to support the use of this fertility supplement for any reproductive or menstrual issues, and most studies evaluating the use of EPO for hormone-related conditions have concluded that it is not helpful.
Although Inositol is sometimes referred to as “vitamin B8,” the marketing term is simply a misnomer, as it’s actually a type of sugar. Inositol, a nutrient found in nuts, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, and grains, has a number of important functions in the body, including influencing the actions of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine in the brain and regulating insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the body use sugar from food. Inositol’s final role as a fertility supplement for PCOS sufferers holds the most promise.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS, is a hormonal imbalance that interferes with ovulation in women. An overview: the ovaries contain “follicles,” which contain immature eggs, and they mature and release one egg in a normal cycle. In women with PCOS, this process is disrupted, leading to abnormally high androgen (male hormone) levels, irregular or no periods (indicating irregular or no ovulation), and ovaries filled with cysts from multiple cycles of infertility. PCOS is a common cause of infertility in women, as regular ovulation makes it difficult to get pregnant.
We don’t know for sure what causes PCOS, but we do know that it has a strong correlation with insulin resistance and obesity. If you have insulin resistance, you will require higher insulin dosages to maintain a normal blood sugar level. The delicate balance of hormones required for ovulation can be disrupted by excess insulin in the bloodstream. Taking inositol, which has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, may help alleviate the symptoms of PCOS.
What’s the evidence? Studies have shown that inositol fertility supplements can help PCOS women ovulate more frequently, improve their hormonal profiles, and increase their chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy baby, despite the fact that the majority of these studies are small. Inositol treatment improved the menstrual cycle and ovulation in 88 percent of patients with PCOS, while 72 percent maintained normal ovulation after treatment.
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Risks of Taking Female Fertility Supplements
Despite the fact that most vitamins can be purchased over the counter, there are some risks to taking them. If you’re already taking medication, it’s possible that certain supplements will worsen side effects from the other medications you’re taking.
Overdosing on vitamins may seem impossible, but it is possible to take too much of them to cause harm. Tolerable upper intake levels — the maximum amount you can consume before experiencing negative effects — have been established for some micronutrients.
Follow the dosage instructions on the supplement’s label and always consult your doctor before starting a new vitamin or supplement.
Vitamins and supplements aren’t monitored or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way as medications. Batch-to-batch consistency may not be possible. This is why it’s so critical to work with a reputable company.
Infertility is complicated by a slew of uncontrollable factors, such as genetics, age, and the vagaries of the menstrual cycle.
A part of your health is in your hands when it comes to getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs.
Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page when picking the right vitamins for your pregnancy.
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